When the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its initial set of rankings on Tuesday, many felt surprised to see undefeated TCU sitting at No. 7 behind Alabama, Clemson and several others.
“We’re looking for a balanced team, offense and defense,” said committee chairman and NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan. “They’ve gotten behind in games.”
If the Horned Frogs felt slighted, the team didn’t seem to use it as any extra motivation for their “Big Noon Kickoff” debut Saturday against a Texas Tech side facing a narrow path to make a bowl game in 2022. Instead, Sonny Dykes’ team did exactly what it’s done all season, getting behind early before storming back late, using another impressive fourth-quarter flourish to net its ninth win thanks to a 34-24 victory over the Red Raiders.
As a result of overcoming that sleepy start, TCU not only remained right in the thick of things when it comes to the Playoff but also moved one step closer to a Big 12 Championship Game appearance next month down the road at AT&T Stadium.
Highlights: No. 7 TCU pulls away from Texas Tech
Kendre Miller rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown as TCU remained unebeaten.
Here are three key takeaways from Fort Worth:
1. Special teams lends a hand
TCU’s normally prolific offense was hit-or-miss most of the afternoon but used a decided advantage in the third phase of the game to squeak out a win.
That was highlighted by Derius Davis’ 82-yard punt return for a touchdown as the speedy wide receiver weaved between the hash marks several times as the home team took an early lead less than two minutes into the game. In addition to getting the Amon G. Carter Stadium crowd on its feet, the score set a new school record for return touchdowns in the process — breaking a tie with recent USFL MVP turned Dallas Cowboy returner KaVontae Turpin — as it was Davis’ sixth special teams score and the fifth punt he took back to the house. He also added 36 yards receiving and
Kicker Griffin Kell also knocked in a pair of field goals, including a 30-yarder just seconds before halftime.
Given how the Horned Frogs have been living on the margins all season long, the fact that special teams came through to keep them in the game was a big plus for Dykes and company.
Derius Davis takes punt return to the house
TCU took a 7-0 lead over Texas Tech on Saturday thanks to an 82-yard punt return by Derius Davis.
2. Exit stage left
While the outcome was naturally decided by a handful of big plays down the stretch for both teams, each felt the impact of some key absences that could have led to a different result.
Perhaps the most notable was TCU receiver Quentin Johnston, one of the leading candidates for the Biletnikoff Award and a potential Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year selection. While he did suit up for the game, he didn’t see any time on the field after aggravating a right ankle injury, according to FOX’s Jenny Taft.
The Horned Frogs were also down starting linebacker Dee Winters, who had four tackles and two sacks in the first half but was ejected for targeting in the third quarter.
Texas Tech was not immune from having key players on the sideline either. Quarterback Tyler Shough (9-of-22, 84 yards, one touchdown) was inserted midway through the second quarter after starter Behren Morton was ruled out with an undisclosed injury.
The Red Raiders scored on two of their first four drives under Morton, including when Jerand Bradley found a soft spot in the middle of the field and took it 47 yards for the score to cap a 41-second drive. Things were decidedly mixed after that with Shough at the controls, as the offense put together just two sustained scoring drives in the second half and turned it over on downs with a questionable fourth-down call on their own 34-yard line (which TCU turned into a touchdown the other way three plays later).
Max Duggan finds Emari Demercado for TD
Max Duggan connected with Emari Demercado for a 16-yard touchdown as TCU pulled away late vs. Texas Tech.
3. Duggan regroups late
Horned Frogs quarterback Max Duggan has been floating around the fringes of the Heisman Trophy race behind others like Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. If he wanted to lend weight to his dark horse campaign, the performance against Tech didn’t quite do the trick.
Duggan was just 12-for-23 passing for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the day, really looking like he was missing his top target in Johnston on just about every dropback. The signal-caller had trouble looking down the field, too, connecting on just a pair of passes over 30 yards when he typically does that in a quarter.
It didn’t help that his offensive line allowed four sacks and several pressures throughout the contest, including Duggan getting taken down on fourth down in the red zone during a key third-quarter possession.
Not that it mattered in the end, largely due to the QB’s backfield running mates Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado. The former rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown, including a remarkable 50-yard scamper where he stumbled a few times but still managed to keep his balance and elude a few tacklers. Demercado chipped in with 43 on the ground and a 16-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that allowed the Frogs to breath easily.
Still, even with it not being the cleanest of performances, Duggan got what mattered most — TCU’s ninth victory on the season to keep the Horned Frogs undefeated and in the running for the College Football Playoff.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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