Sometimes you don’t get to swagger. You just have to survive.
The TCU Horned Frogs were reminded of that again and again and again Saturday night.
Their quarterback, at times, played like a new guy. Their defense, for most of the night, performed like a sieve.
In the end, the Frogs prevailed 59-41. But the visiting South Dakota State Jackrabbits made it an uneasy squirm for TCU all night.
A proper perspective is in order first, one would think.
Namely, lay off the South Dakota State jokes. The Jackrabbits may hail from the FCS side of the college football tracks, but they were both unawed and well-prepared.
Their skill position players – in particular, quarterback Taryn Christion and receivers Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert — were both athletic and poised.
That’s right. Christion, a sophomore from Sioux Falls, S.D., at times performed like the best quarterback on the field. The two receivers, 6-foot-4 and 6-5 respectively, seemed to keep the highly regarded TCU defense dazed and confused all night.
For the new guy at quarterback for TCU, Kenny Hill, it was a night to remember — though almost one to forget. Hill, a transfer from Texas A&M, threw two first-half interceptions and, at times, struggled to find his rhythm in those opening two quarters.
But he is the new guy. The rust from his long layoff was understandable. His footwork seemed ... anxious. His throws, at times, were more ambitious than well-advised.
“Kenny managed the game after the early two turnovers,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting in shape up front. We got tired, and we got some holding penalties because we didn’t move our feet.”
Growing more comfortable as the game went on, Hill appeared to do a better job of making his route progressions, waiting for the open receiver to emerge.
Sometimes you don’t get to swagger. You don’t get to dazzle in front of a national TV audience on your first night, as Hill once did against South Carolina on his first night as an Aggie.
But leave the nit-picking of Kenny Hill’s performance to the coaches. Hill’s offense put 50-plus on the scoreboard, and he threw for 439 yards and ran for two touchdowns.
Hill was one of the reasons the Frogs won Saturday, not part of the reason they struggled.
It was Patterson’s proud defense that was bruised beyond recognition all night. With seven returning starters, the Frogs’ defense was roundly expected to smother the visiting Jackrabbits into submission.
Instead, misalignment and confusion appeared to be the order of the night in the TCU defensive backfield. Christion threw three touchdown passes and Wieneke and Goedert combined to catch passes for nearly 300 yards.
A lively discourse ensued in front of the TCU bench nearly every time the Frogs defense returned to the sideline. Patterson did all of the gesturing and talking.
“Here our safeties fix things,” Patterson said. “Their job is to fix things, and we didn’t fix things. And the only person I can blame for that is me.”
The TCU defense gave up seven plays of 20 yards or more. Normally among the national leaders in holding opponents to three downs and out, the Frogs didn’t register their first three-and-out Saturday until 4:41 remained in the third quarter.
Sometimes, though, you don’t get to swagger. You get yelled at, not cheered.
“When you’ve got young guys, it doesn’t do any good to scream at them,” Patterson remarked. “We’ve been there. We’ve got to clean up our free safety position. Our linebackers have to tackle better.
“It’ll be quite a learning process tomorrow when we watch the film.”
The heavily favored Frogs were reminded of that lesson again and again and again Saturday night.
Sometimes you don’t get to swagger. On Saturday, just surviving the night seemed like a fair consolation prize.