Horned Frogs top Texas, 31-9

Malik Jefferson on the tackle (Will Gallagher/IT)
Malik Jefferson on the tackle (Will Gallagher/IT)

AUSTIN — As TCU began to distance itself from Texas midway through the third quarter Friday, an LSU beat writer posted that Houston’s Tom Herman will meet with UT officials this weekend. Now, that’s all that matters.

This time tomorrow, UT fans won’t be thinking about TCU 31 – Texas 9. The future is now for the program that has more upside than any other in college football, despite the chronic over-reach from self-important, big-money donors and its lame duck, interim athletic director. It’s a future, though, that Charlie Strong still wants to be a part of.

“I told the players I look forward to coming back and getting this thing on track,” Strong during a post-game availability that felt more like a wake than a press conference. This returning roster has the foundation to win the national title, he said for the second time this week. The turnaround is just around the corner, he said for the umpteenth time in his tenure. He likened the team’s progress to a cake that’s already been baked and, now, only needs to be frosted and sliced.

“We’ve been building it for three years,” Strong said. “I said (previously) the third year we’ll make progress; the fourth year will be our year.”

Wherever Strong is next year, it’s not expected to be at Texas. His biggest problem has been this pesky thing called scoreboards.

Case-in-point: TCU has outscored Texas, 129-26 the past three seasons. Its three-game winning streak in the series is TCU’s longest in 80 years. Meanwhile, Strong has never won three straight in Austin. For the second straight year, his team is home for the holidays. His record falls to 16-21. He has the worst record of any three-year coach in program history.

If you think the buy-out for Strong and his staff is steep, consider that Strong has been paid $1 million for each of his 16 wins. Strong made passing references to his won-loss record, choosing instead to emphases the life-lessons who hoped to impress upon his athletes. Somber players insist they love him and want him back, but the Texas football coach has to be more than the nation’s most overpaid guidance counselor.

To his credit, Strong tried to rally his troops toward next season by exhorting them to never quit, to pick themselves up and to “stay the course.”  The official announcement of whether Strong stays in Austin is expected this weekend.

Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, kept out of the end zone for the first – and probably last – time in his one-year tenure, conceded he had no idea what will happen now. Strong has yet to have that kind of the clarifying conversation with the staff, Gilbert said Friday evening.

“I have no regrets,” Gilbert said. “When you look back, in 2011 I’m a high school football coach and a few years later I’m at the University of Texas. It’s been a great experience and I have no regrets.”

Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson has already begun the work of steering the ship past the fourth losing season in seven years.

“It happened today, honestly. I talked in the locker room, and I said this can’t happen again. I know we’ve said that multiple times. I know we said that last year. It really relies on our hands because we have no idea what’s going to happen (with Strong).”

Lost in the frenetic spins of coaching carousels is that junior RB D’Onta Foreman enjoyed a season for the ages. His 165 yards on 31 totes was his school-record 13th straight game of 100 yards rushing. His 2,028 yards on the ground this season trail only Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. Foreman’s 2,782 career rushing yards ranks No. 9 in school history.

Foreman knelt alone in the end zone after the final seconds ticked from the clock and, presumably, from his career. The Doak Walker Award finalist is expected to declare for the NFL early next year.

“I knelt and cried because this it’s emotional to put everything on the field,” he said. “I’ve given my all in every game, in every practice, in every step I’ve taken, and to come up short in a game like this, is very emotional.”

The bitter irony is that Texas’ latest version of Black Friday starts with the offense. The Horns moved the ball between the 20s but managed just three FGs on five trips inside the Red Zone. Particularly glaring was the inability to move the chains, as the Horns were a combined 4-of-22 on third- (and fourth-) down conversions.

“TCU had a great game plan,” Foreman said. “They blitzed all day and had extra men that we didn’t block.”

It was a ragged night for freshman QB Shane Buechele, finishing 16-of-39 for 218 yards.

“It was just a lack of execution on my part,” Buechele said, who has always shouldered the blame rather than pointing fingers at teammates. “Everybody was in the right spots. It’s my job to put the ball in their hands.”

QB Kenny Hill carved up Texas’ zone like leftover turkey, hitting all six attempts on an eight-play, opening drive to take an early 7-0 lead.

Next series, Devin Duvernay’s diving 48-yard catch off play-action put Texas in prime real estate at the TCU 11.  A busted played on 3rd-and-four from the six saw the Horns settle for a 21-yrd FG. The visitors took a 7-3 lead into the second quarter.

Malik Jefferson’s seven-yard sack on 3rd-and-21 forced a 30-yard TCU punt. Shane Buechele found TE Andrew Beck over the middle for 20 but misfired on a 4th-and-three pass to Dorian Leonard at the Horned Frog 30.

Next UT drive, Foreman rumbled for 50 yards on five straight carries. But Texas stopped feeding the beast, and the drive stalled. Trent Dominigue’s 38-yard FG attempt drifted wide right. And Dominigue’s day was done

Consecutive series perfectly illustrated Texas’ ineptitude inside the 10. The Horns had a 1st-and-goal from the five, and later a 1st-and-goal from the nine, but managed all of three points from two trips inside the shadow of the goal post.

First, Collin Johnson’s 23-yard catch-and-run spotted the ball at the TCU 30. Back-to-back grabs from Duvernay, totaling 25 yards, set-up 1st-and-goal from the five. Problem is, Foreman managed 4.99 yards on four straight runs, and Texas turned it over on downs at the one-inch line.

Here, you’re thinking it’s going to take a defensive score to finally get Texas into the end zone. Sophomore safety DeShon Elliott nearly did it with his 24-yard INT return to the nine. Same song, different verse: Texas fell behind the chains when Buechele’s left sideline pass to Johnson fell incomplete on first down. A chorus of boos greeted the decision to settle for a 24-yard Mitchell Becker FG and a 7-6 halftime deficit, despite four trips inside the Red Zone.

TCU came out fast and furious on their opening driving, mixing pass and run. Two Hill scrambles got 21 yards while his 25-yard toss to a wide open Emanuel Porter down the left sideline set up a 28-yard FG.

TCU put nine in the box on Texas’ opening drive of the second half, but Foreman rumbled past the first line of defense for 44 to the 12. The fact that Texas reached the Red Zone meant TCU had ‘em right where they wanted ‘em. A six-yard sack saw Texas settle for Becker’s 31-yard FG.

Hill ran untouched on a 41-yard TD scamper, 17-9, midway through the third. TCU’s most impressive drive, however, came courtesy of a backup QB. Sophomore Foster Sawyer engineered an eight-play 97-yard drive against a gassed defense to make it a 24-9 scoreboard. Still to come was Darius Anderson’s 71-yard TD run to cap the scoring with 7:32 left in the game and, presumably, Strong’s tenure.

“You look at the foundation that’s been laid here now,” Strong said, “it’s going to just get stronger, and it’s going to strengthen, and it’s going to be there because it’s there for you…You’re just going to see positive results.”