FORT WORTH, Texas — TCU running back Kendre Miller had just slipped into the end zone to clinch No. 13 TCU’s 43-40 double-overtime win over No. 8 Oklahoma State on Saturday. The TCU student body spilled over the walls of Amon G. Carter Stadium to celebrate what was the Horned Frogs’ third straight win over a ranked team.
Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan looked around. Four years into a college career that saw him toggle between the bench and the starting lineup, a season that started with him sitting behind Chandler Morris for the season opener, only to assume the job after an injury. He hasn’t given it up since.
But a thought ran through his mind as that sea of purple humanity surrounded him, the same thought that he said to the media about 45 minutes later.
“That’s (Saturday) the reason I didn’t leave,” Duggan said.
Without any context, Saturday’s game looked like your traditional, Big 12 scorefest. But the context mattered, especially for TCU.
The Horned Frogs started by falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 24-7 midway through the second quarter. Linebacker Dee Winters said they were so “amped up” they were missing defensive assignments. Head coach Sonny Dykes said they made “every mistake we could possibly make” in the first half.
And, yet, TCU was only down 14 points at the half.
Maybe last season the Horned Frogs don’t come back from that. Dykes wasn’t here last season. He wouldn’t know.
“I really thought we had a good mentality at halftime,” Dykes said. “I didn’t get the sense that anyone was panicking.”
Turns out, no one was. The Horned Frog defense held the Cowboys without a touchdown from the 10:04 mark of the second quarter — a score that made it 21-7 Cowboys — until the first overtime. OSU kicked field goals to protect its lead as best it could. But the offense sputtered. Some of that was play-calling that Dykes said was designed to slow the Horned Frogs’ offense down.
Some of that was the TCU defense.
“(The coaching staff) just pushed us to focus on the next play,” Winters said.
Meanwhile, for much of the game, the Horned Frog offense looked like a unit waiting for a breakout play. They seemed to be on the cusp of one several times, one that would change the complexion of the game. But it never arrived. Until the fourth quarter.
The Horned Frogs, down 14, scored twice in the fourth quarter, the second one a 10-yard touchdown pass from Duggan to Jared Wiley. It was originally called down at the 1-yard line before it was reviewed and changed to a touchdown.
It came with a wrinkle that the Horned Frogs never would have used in the Gary Patterson era. Duggan and running back Kendre Miller started in a normal alignment and then shifted one lineman to the left. The snap went to Miller, he handed it to Duggan and he rolled right to throw to Wiley in the flat.
Then came overtime and the touchdown pass to Quentin Johnston — who had a monster game for the second straight week — and then the Miller touchdown run, sandwiched around a touchdown run by Oklahoma State’s Dominic Richardson at the end of the first overtime and a 52-yard Tanner Brown field goal at the start of the second overtime.
Some might chafe at being defined as an “overachiever.” Dykes was OK with it after the game. So was Johnston, and Winters, and Duggan. They know the Horned Frogs were picked last in the Big 12’s preseason poll. Few saw this coming.
Miller had a different label.
“I knew we were going to be special,” Miller said. “I know we were picked last. But seeing how we worked this summer, I knew we would be special. And this just proved my point.”
But 6-0 special? Really?
TCU is 6-0, the league’s first bowl-eligible team. The Horned Frogs are the only undefeated Big 12 team overall. To say the folks in Fort Worth are excited would be an understatement.
Duggan is happy to be bowl-eligible, but quickly reminded everyone that “we haven’t done anything yet.”
Dykes was quick to remind everyone that it gets no easier.
“Our reward for winning tonight is host Kansas State (5-1, 3-0 in Big 12) coming off a bye,” Dykes said. “So, congratulations. That’s life in the Big 12.”
For the last two games the Horned Frogs have played to hold onto a share of the Big 12 lead.
Next Saturday, they’ll play for the lead itself.
Overachievers? Special? No one saw it coming?
Maybe all of those terms apply to these Horned Frogs.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard