Where do we go from here? A postmortem on SMU 41, TCU 38

Saturday’s loss to SMU doesn’t end TCU’s season, but reading twitter, it sure felt like most fans think it did. At times, it felt like we spent more time flagging and blocking people than we did watching football, as fans turned to name-calling, slurring, and even as far as mentioning whether Art Briles might be a good fit for the Horned Frogs in the future.

I guess that’s what losing to SMU for the first time in the last eight tries will do to you.

We had a commenter in the post game call me out for saying Saturday’s game was SMU’s Super Bowl, but I stand by the assertion – since the dawn of the Gary Patterson era, The Battle for the Iron Skillet has meant more to our neighbors in Dallas than it does to the Fort Worth side of things, and that was evident at The Carter Saturday. Patterson said as much post game, admitting that the Mustangs “out-played, out-coached, and out-emotioned” the Horned Frogs for four quarters. This time, they had enough talent to turn that into a win.

And if you still don’t buy it, watch how the players and fans celebrated the victory. For a program that hasn’t won a conference title since 1984, beating the program that could have been them has to be sweet. And while I am definitely throwing some backhanded compliments their way, I have to admit – this is the best the Ponies’ program has looked in a long time. Sonny Dykes and Rhett Lashlee have this thing rolling, and the Mustangs are a legitimate threat in the AAC. In all reality, this might not be a terrible loss for TCU by the time things are said and done – if they can right the ship at least.

So let’s look at the ship. After being a little slow out of the port in week one, the SS Horned Frog seemed to hit smooth sailing on the road at Purdue. The defense looked dominant – like an all-time unit of the Patterson era – and the offense, while concerning, looked like it could do enough to not screw it up.

Everything changed Saturday, at the hands of an SMU offense that drove up and down the field with relative ease early and a TCU offense that took far too long to find its’ groove until late. There was the 1-10 start by freshman Max Duggan, who vacillated between looking like a freshman and being a moment away from putting his name forever into Horned Frog lore. There was the play call on fourth and one, when Sonny Cumbie elected to have Sewo Olonilua throw a pass instead of basically fall forward for a first down, there was the offensive line’s whiff late that led to a ball being thrown up for grabs on fourth and ball game. And then, most telling of all, there was Gary Patterson sending offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie to the podium post game, something that none of even the most veteran reporters in the room could recall having happened before.

All is not right in Funky Town, and the question isn’t just “how do we fix it?” but also “can it be fixed?”

I think Gil LeBreton did an exceptional job addressing the Cumbie question in his Pressbox DFW article on the issue:

“Here’s what you guys have to understand,” Patterson said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. You guys want to do it so you can write and you can blame somebody.

“There’s no blame. If you want to blame somebody, blame me. I’m the head coach. I’m the guy that’s supposed to be responsible for getting them ready to go.”

OK, but a couple of minutes later Patterson was leaving the podium to Cumbie.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, here’s my offensive coordinator to explain why the offense sucked.

Patterson didn’t say that, but the whole scene blatantly smacked of it.

It’s been building, it seems. Little by little, the head coach has been throwing varying amounts of shade in Cumbie’s direction since summer practices began.

Mac Engel reported earlier in the week that Doug Meacham wanted to return to TCU, but that Patterson and his staff declined due to personality issues the last time around. Now it seems that GP is having issues with the OC he kept, and momentum is building all around the building and the fan base for a move to be made. Not far removed from having every major program at his doorstep, the ace recruiter could be out of a job before October. And while GP took the blame with one hand while all but pointing his finger at Cumbie with the other, his defense absolutely deserves a deeper look, too. Yes, they were starting a true freshman at corner and a redshirt freshman and sophomore at safety, but this was essentially the same unit that completely destroyed what was expected to be an explosive offense at Purdue, blowing up plays on the ground and through the air, only to get shredded by SMU a week later on their home field. If you give up 41 points to SMU, what’s going to happen when Texas comes to town or in Norman when the Frogs face OU?

At the end of the day, the TCU players and coaches treated the Iron Skillet like a birthright, and the Mustangs came to town and flat out took it.

It didn’t help that the new in-and-out policy seemed to backfire a bit; amidst the heat, the humidity, and the significant first half deficit, the stadium emptied out at the break – especially the student section. Because of the policy, it remained so as the Frogs made their comeback in the fourth quarter, robbing the team of any help from the crowd down the stretch. It’s not that much of a fallacy to say that the Pony fans were nearly as loud late as those clothed in purple, and that was a bad look for TCU. And you have to think things could look even worse next week, when Kansas comes to down for what is sure to be a terrible muggy and warm 11:00am kickoff. I believe ADJD made the right move, but days like Saturday certainly open things up for second-guessing.

There were plenty of complaints, a lot of them valid. There was also a lot of legitimate defending of Max Duggan and Darius Anderson, and others who showed something. On that note, let me be clear – Duggan was BAD in the first half, that’s pretty obvious. There were more drops, and the fumbles looked very freshman-esque, but anyone calling for Alex Delton after the way Duggan finished is being a little reactionary, in my opinion. Duggan is a gamer who makes opposing defenses respect the passing attack. Delton is a great leader and runner, but a QB who allows defenses to stack the box because he hasn’t shown he can consistently move the ball through the air – thereby hurting the best part of the TCU O, the running game. I think there are ways to involve Delton more, to utilize his strengths, and to make him an effective part of the offense – but I am ready to ride with Max, good, bad, or ugly.

Of course, GP didn’t want to hear any of that.

“There is no silver lining. As soon as you become silver lining, then you become average.”

That was Patterson’s message post game, and he’s not wrong. But, while we might not be looking for a silver lining, we can point to two things that should keep Frog fans from completely checking out this season.

For one, no one really thought the Frogs were a playoff team heading into 2019; there were too many questions at quarterback to make them a national contender. We got our hopes up after Purdue, believing TCU could ride their running game and an elite Patterson-era defense to a lot of wins and maybe a birth in the Big 12 Title Game. But, now, maybe we have to realize that the version of Purdue we saw in West Lafayette was very bad – with no running game, and inexperienced QB, a bad defense… it was too easy to take away one player and take advantage of a depleted Boilers squad that looked inept against the speed of the Frogs.

Two, this is a team that was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12. To be good, to win the games they should, and to compete against those ahead of them. That’s still an achievable thing. Losing to SMU blows, but it doesn’t impact the Big 12 standings. And, outside of OU and maybe Kansas State, every team has revealed pretty significant flaws early in the season. TCU can still be upper-echelon in the conference hierarchy, and maybe this was just the wakeup call they needed headed into conference play.

I guess we will find out.

Oh, one more thing, courtesy of Mark Cohen:

The Frogs are 2-1 with at least nine more games to play. Maybe they can do it again.

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Melissa B. Triebwasser