SAN DIEGO, Calif. — TCU’s band appeared unprepared for the Horned Frogs to exit the tunnel and commence Poinsettia Bowl festivities. The PA system in what we’re apparently calling Snapdragon Stadium was blaring Walking in Memphis as the boys in purple and white hurtled onto the field, setting a tone of tentative incongruity that suited tonight’s proceedings admirably. Had either team’s fits been fittier or their starts startier, a Frogs blowout or Bulldogs upset would have been entirely within reach. Alas, the first meeting between the Horned Frogs and Bulldogs was not a memorable one.
From two conference champs in such a fine setting for sports, an audience hungry for quality ball deserved better. But really, can you blame the Frogs for sulking, if that’s what was so wrong with them in the first half? On paper, this is a team that deserved a better bowl. The Frogs can’t be happy with the hand they’ve been dealt, even with the win. Penalties, interminable replay reviews and lackadaisical special-teams play were the hallmarks of the evening. Apart from the scoreboard, LaTech might have more to feel proud about walking away. “Good losses” can be a term of careless condescension. Not tonight.
To be fair, the Bulldogs did get the face-plant party started in the first quarter. Ryan Allen, announced over the loudspeakers as the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, punted on the Bulldogs’ first possession, and landed it just outside the end zone. Tech promptly followed this up with an offsides penalty on the very next play that moved the Frogs’ feet out of their own end zone, and fumbled toward the end of the quarter to set up TCU’s first scoring drive.
TCU would one-up this frittering and then some with boneheaded penalty after penalty, and the lead would change and change again, but the Frogs got it together late just in time for a drive the likes of which they hadn’t put on in Fort Worth or anywhere else all season: Converting two fourth downs (and gaining some key pass interference penalty yardage from the Bulldogs), TCU strung together an 18-play, 72-yard, 9-minute-plus drive, its longest all year in both number of plays and time of possession. The drive ended with a one-yard Luke Shivers run to tie the game at 24-all with just under eight minutes on the clock. Wonder of wonders, a defense Fort Worth faithful were likely justifiably maligning at home all night got a sack on Colby Cameron that killed the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, and the Frogs’ answering drive was much more in character: Five plays, 69 yards, a mere 1:58 run off the clock, culminating in a neat over-the-shoulder catch from Skye Dawson for a 42-yard touchdown and a 31-24 lead. It was all the separation TCU could get, but it would be all the Frogs would need.
Let’s not speak too ill of Casey Pachall, who had a lot put on him in his first season as the starter, both on the field and as a team leader in succeeding the Ginger Avenger, Andy Dalton. Plus, Pachall wasn’t the one getting penalized up and down the field. He broke two of Dalton’s single-season passing records this evening; safe to say he’ll be a threat to watch with interest in the Big 12.
And let’s give due credit to the guys who showed up to play. With neither team visibly interested in defending kickoff returns, some of the most explosive action came from Tech’s Levander Liggins and TCU’s Waymon James and Greg McCoy. The Bulldogs actually finished with more kick return yards (196) than rushing yards (96), and the Frogs gained nearly 100 themselves.
But given the choice, I want to see more of these Bulldogs. Quarterback Colby Cameron pulled off the prettiest play of the night, hitting Myles White for a 61-yard touchdown pass that would give the Bulldogs their last lead. Sonny Dykes lost, and he doesn’t have to like it, but he’s also just signed a contract extension through 2017, and if LaTech is smart it”ll do what’s in its power to keep him happy.
Dykes muttered in his postgame conference that most of a national media audience probably couldn’t name the state where Tech resides. That could change in a hurry. This is only Year 2 of his regime; with a full complement of personnel to operate Dykes’ particular brand of Air Raid, Ruston could get fun before too long. There’s fixing to be a power void among the have-nots, with everybody who’s anybody moving up to AQ conferences, and for however much longer the current alignment lasts (and that may not be long at all), the Bulldogs are poised to be the swaggeringest team in the mid-majors sandbox.