FORT WORTH, Texas — Gary Patterson arrived wearing a third set of clothes for the day. A muggy, nerve-racking first half and a third-quarter monsoon snatched the blame for the first two sets grabbing a spot in the laundry bag. By the end of the weirdest 31-point victory as a 20-point favorite in recent history, the TCU coach sounded ready to put nonconference play behind him and focus on next week’s trip to Oklahoma.
“I thought it was supposed to be cooler today,” said Patterson, a few minutes after securing the Iron Skillet with a 48-17 win over metroplex rival SMU.
The Horned Frogs trailed 10-7 at halftime and gave up the first score against a team 16-0 in its last 16 games in which it scored first.
Quarterback Trevone Boykin had completed just 7-of-16 passes and usually reliable kicker Jaden Oberkrom missed a 42-yard field goal that would have left the Frogs tied at 10 heading into the locker room.
Patterson was most frustrated with a receiving corps that entered the season as one of the Big 12’s best, but has underwhelmed in TCU’s 2-2 start. Patterson’s voice usually goes hoarse about 45 minutes into preseason camp, but he used what he had left to give a halftime blistering to the entire offense.
“They didn’t score. It’s as simple as that. Their job is to score one more point,” Patterson said. “Everybody wants to blame it on the quarterback, but the bottom line is, (the receivers) have gotta get open, they’ve gotta catch it and run the right route.”
Too many times, Patterson added, Boykin left a ball in the air that wasn’t caught at its highest point, or landed in a receiver’s hands before bouncing free for a variety of reasons, from a lack of concentration to a hit from the defense. Regardless, neither is acceptable.
The Frogs responded in the second half. Boykin completed 8-of-10 passes (one incompletion was a screen pass in a downpour that went through Cam White’s hands before a game-tying field goal early in the third quarter. The rest of the way was all TCU, including a 31-point fourth quarter. No team in college football had scored that many points in the fourth quarter this season. Texas transfer Garrett Gilbert, of befuddling talent fame, tossed the Frogs a pick six in the final minutes and the Mustangs followed up his only touchdown pass of the second half by letting receiver LaDarius Brown return an onside kick attempt 45 yards for a touchdown.
By the end of the day, no one glancing at the final score would recognize how ugly the first 30 minutes had looked. The full 60 minutes, though?
The Frogs did exactly what they had earned a reputation doing in the Mountain West Conference before joining the Big 12: Played great defense, made plays in the special teams and beat teams by 30 points.
Along the way, young receivers like Ty Slanina, Cameron Echols-Luper and Ja’Juan Story turned Patterson’s mood toward the receiving unit in the second half from exasperated to impressed.
“Every week you’re growing people up, when we have as young a team as we are, you’ve got to grow people up,” Patterson said. “The young group has to step up, they’ve got to start understanding what we do and in the second half, they did it.”
There wasn’t a big change, Boykin said. A shift in scheme wasn’t necessary. Sometimes, it’s as simple as catching passes that earlier had fallen incomplete. Slanina did it in the back of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown that put TCU ahead late in the third quarter. Story did it by turning a simple hitch into a 56-yard touchdown by breaking a few tackles and getting some help from Echols-Luper on a big block downfield.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Patterson said.
He’s right, but TCU is 2-2, and in a wide-open Big 12, the Frogs are trying to climb back in a league title race that still has a handful of contenders. The Frogs are 0-1, but so is fellow conference favorite Oklahoma State after a loss at West Virginia on Saturday. Informed of the Cowboys’ 30-21 score, Patterson left no doubt on where his mind is, even in charge of a talented team still searching for consistency and confidence.
“Good, and they come here, too,” Patterson said, noting West Virginia’s trip to TCU on Nov. 2. Earlier, he noted that the Frogs would have to play a lot better if they planned on beating Oklahoma in Norman.
It’s easy to scoff now at TCU’s title chances. If the Frogs turn in many more performances like they did in the second half on Saturday, it’ll be a whole lot harder.