It was just one year ago that the South Dakota State Jackrabbits put up 41 points against a Big 12 opponent in the form of Kansas and won. They scored 41 points against a Big 12 team again on Saturday night in the form of TCU, but the Horned Frogs wouldn’t fall victim to the trap that the Jayhawks fell into in 2015, as TCU outdueled SDSU for a 59-41 win that was all too close for comfort.
“You’ve got to give credit to South Dakota State,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson. “I told you on Tuesday they’re good players and tonight they still were good players.”
The Frogs survived, but it was nothing short of an eventful night at Amon G. Carter Stadium as the game kept fans on the tips of their toes from start to finish.
In a contest that marked the beginning of the Kenny Hill era of TCU Football, the Frogs got on the board after an opening drive that saw Hill convert on three straight first downs to open it up before Kyle Hicks rushed into the end zone for a 7-0 TCU lead. It wouldn’t last long though, as the Jackrabbits silenced Amon G. Carter Stadium with 17 unanswered points to build a 10-point lead. The teams would enter halftime tied at 24 amidst an Amon G. Carter crowd that was silenced in shock – the No. 13 nation struggling to pull away from an FCS opponent.
It would be a back and forth affair until the fourth quarter when the Frogs finally pulled away by outscoring the Jackrabbits 14-3 in that frame, propelled by a tipped touchdown pass that landed in the hands of TCU wide receiver and newcomer Taj Williams. The Frogs won 59-41, avoiding what would have been one of the most shocking week one upsets in recent memory.
TCU’s offense was nothing short of what many expected them to be entering the game. Kenny Hill, despite struggling early on with two interceptions, passed for 439 and two touchdowns in his TCU debut, taking it into the end zone three times himself in the win. Taj Williams, also making his TCU debut, caught for a team high 158 yards and one touchdown, a tipped pass that separated the Frogs for good against SDSU late in the 4th quarter. Kyle Hicks led the TCU charge in rushing with 61 yards and two touchdowns on the night. In total, TCU amounted a whopping 662 yards of offense in a game that toppled the 1,000 yard mark between the two teams.
While the defense returned much more experience entering tonight’s confidence than TCU’s offense, the unit struggled tremendously against the Jackrabbits. The pass defense was the biggest concern of all for Frogs on Saturday in any part of the game, getting torched for 333 yards allowed through the air. SDSU wide receiver Jake Wieneke, coming off back to back 1,000 yard seasons, finished the contest with two touchdowns and 196 receiving yards, the most of any player in the game. On the other hand, the Frogs’ defense only allowed 128 rushing yards on the night, reinforcing TCU head coach Gary Patterson’s remarks earlier in the week about SDSU being all about the passing game.
TCU players on offense and defense that made a difference
Kenny Hill, QB) – Making his first regular season start since 2014, the start to the Kenny Hill era in Fort Worth appeared to be a bright one as Hill recorded four straight completions out of the gate en route to the first score of the game on that drive. Things then took a sharp turn, as the Hill threw two interceptions as the Frogs surrendered 17 unanswered points. But Hill was not finished. After a KaVontae Turpin punt return put the Frogs just 3 points down in the 2nd quarter, Hill would give TCU the lead back with four-yard rushing touchdown just under two minutes later. It would be the first of three rushing touchdowns for Hill on the night, and he would also add on passing touchdowns in the second half to Jaelan Austin and Taj Williams, giving Hill a solid finish to night in which some initially doubted his ability to compete.
“I may have been too pumped up before the game,” Hill said. “I tried to stay positive and let everyone know that I’ve got them. I made some mistakes but I wasn’t going to make any more of those. I knew the defense would get some stops and that we were going to go score some points.”
Patterson praised Hill for ability to recover from his shaky start.
“He was able to control the game after his mistakes early on,” Patterson said.
James McFarland, DE) – Making his first start since a foot injury that sidelined him for the entire 2015 season, defensive end James McFarland shined Saturday when it mattered most. A huge 4th quarter sack on SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion for a loss of eleven ended any chance of the Jackrabbits knotting the game up during that drive, forcing them to settle for a field goal before the Frogs responded with a tipped pass touchdown on the ensuing drive. McFarland ended the evening with 3 solo tackles, two solo sacks, and two and half tackles for losses (one combined tackle).
“It was a long game and SDSU is a good team,” McFarland said. “Coach P just told us to stay level, keep our heads in the game and that we just need to go out and finish. We had that mentality and we were able to finish. It felt great to be back out there with the team and get that win.”
It was a solid night for the redshirt senior who had not stepped on the playing field since the 2014 Peach Bowl, and we can expect McFarland to continue to be a leader on defense as the season progresses.
Thoughts going forward
From what we saw tonight in Fort Worth, the defense has to be the biggest concern for the Frogs. Allowing 41 points to an FCS team, even the No. 8 FCS team to be exact, simply won’t cut. At least not when you are playing in a Big 12 Conference that is stacked with high flying offenses. Patterson gave credit to South Dakota State for coming out as strong as they did Saturday night, but was well aware of the concern that many have for a defense that the public has expected to carry TCU this season.
“We didn’t fix things at first and that’s on me. We need to get better on defense as a whole,” Patterson said.
In regards to next weeks’ matchup against an SEC opponent in Arkansas, Patterson said he is not in a panic mode after tonight’s defensive debacle, but said the pass defense is in need of serious improvement.
“We’ll see what happens next Saturday,” Patterson said. “We’ve given up big plays before. We just need to do a better job at rushing the passers.”
Arkansas surprisingly struggled against Louisiana Tech in an ugly 21-20 victory Saturday, but that doesn’t change the fact that TCU is going up against a quality SEC team. While the offense bailed out TCU Saturday night, the Frogs shouldn’t expect 59 points again next Saturday against a tough Arkansas defense, and if we see anything that we saw tonight recur next week, it could spell trouble for a team that entered the season at No. 13 in the season. It’s likely TCU will already lose some ground in the polls with tonight’s scare against the Jackrabbits.