One Big Dagger On Defense Led To TCU Momentum
FORT WORTH, Texas – West Virginia had all its names back. But what faced it was the most daunting challenge.
A TCU team ranked eighth in the nation and had put up 44 points in whitewashing Oklahoma State’s defense two weeks ago. WVU, meanwhile, had given up a school-record in single game rushing yardage to Khalil Herbert in the victory over Kansas. But that was without Kyzir White, Toyous Avery, David Long, Mike Daniels and more. With his full complement of 11 starters for the first time this spring – since Long injured a meniscus – the Mountaineers showcased themselves well.
Just not well enough to win when paired with an offense that faced bad field position and a pair of turnovers that set-up TCU with short fields.
“I thought our kids played hard,” coordinator Tony Gibson said. “We had everybody back. They flew around and made some plays. (TCU) made more plays in the second half than we did.”
For the first two quarters, West Virginia controlled the Horned Frogs, allowing just 131 total yards and seven points – and those coming off the fumble on the punt return gaffe when TCU needed to drive just 33 yards. In the third and fourth quarters, attrition took hold as the lack of depth forced Gibson to play his starters longer than he would have liked.
But there was little recourse. Either get gashed like WVU did at Kansas, or ride with the group that got you into a 17-17 battle on the road against a top 10 team going into the final minute of the third quarter. Alas, Texas Christian struck for two touchdowns over the final 15:15 that helped seal the defeat, including one on a trick play in which wideout KeVontae Turpin threw back to quarterback Kenny Hill after a hand-off for a 48-yard score.
“Good call by them. What are you going to do?” Gibson said. “TCU had 131 yards at halftime. What am I going to change? It’s not like I can pull (the starters) out. Our guys we had been playing with hadn’t played well, and now we got our guys back and they are going to play. Game’s on the line, I want them 11 in there.”
And they were, until late when the starting corners in Daniels and Kenny Robinson gave way to Elijah Battle – he of near-interception fame – and Hakeem Bailey. The biggest dagger of the game wasn’t the final two touchdowns, however. It was when West Virginia’s offense turned the ball over on Will Grier’s interception over the head of Marcus Sims when the freshman got hung up on a rub route deep.
The pick set-up TCU at the 45-yard line, and as teams are prone to to, the Frogs went for the immediate strike. Hill dropped and eyed big-play threat Jalen Reagor running along the sidelines. The Mountaineers, with a three deep zone, were in the perfect defense for protecting against the deep ball. But Robinson was a step slow and Reagor pulled in the scoring pass for a 17-3 lead with 6:06 left in the third quarter.
“The one that (upsets) me most is coming off our turnover, everybody in American knows they are going to take a shot,” Gibson said. “We tell our guys right before that, and they take a shot. Now, we’re in cover three. Unless they let us play with 12, there’s no better coverage for the deep ball than that.
“That’s the one that broke our back. They had zero momentum and they couldn’t do anything offensively.”
The play helped jumpstart a TCU offense that failed to score on five of the first six possessions, then pieced together three touchdowns and a field goal over their last six series. Call it depth, execution or a simply inability to capitalize on opportunities as did TCU on its 14 points of turnovers. In the end, it was a mix of all and more that made the effort a noble one, but not quite enough to pull just the third top 10 road upset in school history.