Rapid recap: Kicking, miscues doom TCU in 31-23 Liberty Bowl loss to Georgia

TCU squandered a 16-7 first half lead en route to a 31-23 loss to Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

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It’s been a common theme this season for the TCU Horned Frogs to fall in contests where they were just a few botched plays away from emerging victorious. Alas, the Horned Frogs found themselves in that situation one final time this season in Memphis Friday, squandering a 16-7 first half lead en route to a 31-23 loss to Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Kicker Brandon Hatfield, who had plenty of ups and down this season, found himself in a funk once again in the contest, missing two field goals and one extra point that cost the Frogs 7 points in the loss. Two promising drives ended in lost fumbles. And Kenny Hill, who recorded a team-high 100 rushing yards on the day, took a costly sack on third down just when the Frogs had a chance to go ahead late.

When it was all said and done, Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs were taking home some hardware while Gary Patterson’s squad faces a long offseason after a 6-7 finish in 2016. Here are some of takeaways from the latest game to slip away from the Frogs.

TCU has a kicker problem

It’s not really anything new for the kicking game to cost the Frogs a win this season. In week two, Ryan Graf had his potential game winning field goal against Arkansas blocked with just seconds left to play in regulation. In October, Brandon Hatfield could hardly sink one through the uprights in what turned out to be another overtime loss. And Friday afternoon in Memphis, Hatfield found himself struggling again. He sent a PAT attempt off the upright in the first quarter before missing a 41-yard attempt left later in the half when the Frogs led 16-7. The gut punch came in the fourth, when he missed a 47 yard attempt for a go-ahead field goal wide right, resulting in a turnover and ultimately another Georgia touchdown on the drive. Certainly Frog fans have been a bit spoiled over the past few seasons with former kicker Jaden Oberkrom’s talent, not to mention that Jonathan Song was intended to be the kicker for the Frogs this season prior to an injury before the season began. Nonetheless, TCU may need to invest in a new foot for next season if they intend to prevent close games from slipping away.

The turnovers and miscues came at the worst times

While the missed kicks Friday hurt, some ugly turnovers were equally damaging to the Frogs chances of pulling out the win in Memphis. Up 14-6, TCU had a chance to extend their lead in the closing minutes of the first half, but the opportunity was squandered when Hill fumbled in Georgia territory at the 44 yard line and the Bulldogs recovered. It was then seemingly déjà vu on the opening drive of the second half, as running back Kyle Hicks fumbled at the TCU 47 yard line, only for Georgia to recover en route to a touchdown for a 21-16 lead. And that’s how what potentially could have been a three-possession TCU lead turned into a deficit that ultimately doomed the Frogs. The final blow though may have been Kenny Hill’s inability to get rid of the ball on third and 10 late in the fourth quarter, getting sacked for a loss of 10 that ultimately set up Hatfield’s miss from 47 yards out. TCU would have a chance for a game tying drive down eight in the final minutes of the game, but Hill was unable to find his man on fourth down, turning the ball over to Georgia before they ran out the clock for the win.

John Diarse has some impressive hands

There’s just something about that number 9 with TCU. After a relatively quiet regular season, LSU transfer John Diarse finally showed off his skills Friday, recording two touchdown receptions, including a spectacular one-handed leaping grab that gave the Frogs a 23-21 lead in the second half. It also just happened to be that the two touchdowns were his only two receptions of the day. Pretty efficient if you ask me. With still one more year of eligibility, look for him to be a playmaker in the upcoming 2017 campaign.

Can the tackling issues ever end?

More of the same old in this department. While the Frogs defense certainly shined at times, especially early on when it came to stopping Nick Chubb and the Georgia running game, TCU finished the season still unable to make seemingly routine tackles. Look no further than Jacob Eason’s pass to Georgia’s Sony Michel, as five TCU defenders missed tackles on what ended up as a 33 yard touchdown reception to make it a two-point game. That wasn’t the first time in the contest that bad tackling reared its ugly head in the contest either, as the Frogs missed several tackles on a 77 yard pass to Isaiah McKenzie that set up the opening score of the game for Georgia in the first quarter. If you’re at all curious about what Patterson will have his defense work on over the offseason, guess no more.

We’ve witnessed a rare sub-.500 season for the Frogs

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It’s not too often that we see a Gary Patterson led unit finish the season under. 500, but here we are with the Frogs ending the year 6-7 overall. That marks just the third time in the Patterson era that TCU recorded a losing season, the other two coming in 2013 (4-8) and 2004 (5-6). Of course the wide-spread success over the past sixteen seasons overshadows the low points, but this is certainly a year that TCU players and fans alike would prefer to quickly forget. They’ve been able to in the past, as the Frogs followed up the other two losing years with 11-1 and 12-1 records, respectively. Now we can only wonder if they can replicate that success next season.

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