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FORT WORTH — Through six career games, TCU quarterback Max Duggan had not completed more than 19 passes, passed for more than 250 yards, or thrown a single interception. When he faced a depleted, boom or bust Texas defense with a season-long inability to stop Power 5 teams, he was able to make personal history.
Duggan guided the Horned Frogs to a 37-27 victory, taking advantage of youth in the Longhorn secondary and general defensive ineffectiveness on his way to a career day.
“When he got out of the pocket, he’s a tough guy to catch up to and get down on the ground,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said of Duggan after the game. “He then made some unbelievable throws. Hats off. He played a great game, and their defense, it’s the best defense in our conference for a reason.”
TCU’s defense started three juniors and four seniors. Texas’ defense started two sophomore corners, a freshman safety, and a sophomore safety along with senior Brandon Jones at nickel. Caden Sterns and DeMarvion Overshown were unavailable, and BJ Foster was available for emergency situations only.
The two safeties who started in their place, Montrell Estell and Tyler Owens, were beaten for several of TCU’s biggest plays.
“With younger guys sometimes, the game is a lot different than practice is,” Jones said after the game.
In the second quarter on third-and-17, Duggan found Pro Wells in the end zone for TCU’s first touchdown and a 10-3 lead. Estell saw the play develop, but couldn’t reach the football before Duggan’s pass reached Wells.
In the third quarter, Duggan threw downfield to Taye Barber. Owens was in coverage, but Barber was able to haul in the 51-yard catch that set up Sewo Olonilua for a rushing touchdown two plays later to tie the game at 20.
They weren’t the only members of the defense that struggled. D’Shawn Jamison had his eyes in the backfield instead of on one of the best wide receivers in the Big 12 in Jalen Reagor in the third quarter. Reagor blew by him and made it 27-20 TCU with his 44-yard catch.
Texas’ defense was in a position to make a stop and offer the offense a chance to get back in the game. TCU took over with a 30-27 lead with 6:50 remaining in the game. Their first opportunity to get off the field came on a third-and-11 from the TCU 24. Texas sent a blitz that failed to reach Duggan, who found John Stephens for 16 yards. Five plays later, the Longhorns needed one stop on third-and-14 to give Ehlinger the ball back. Texas sent another blitz that failed to reach Duggan in time.
He lofted a ball downfield for Barber with Owens in coverage. Barber was able to bring it in for a 36-yard gain, and Duggan rushed in on the next play to make it 37-27.
“We’re not good,” Herman said of his defense. “We need to be better. I think the off week will help. We’ve got to do a better job as coaches. The guys that are out there, we’ve got to get them ready to play. We’ve got to make plays and put them in position to do so.”
The Longhorns’ hopes for a comeback were extinguished on the next drive by TCU’s Innis Gaines when he intercepted Ehlinger on a fourth and nine with under a minute left.
Defense continued to be an issue for Texas, but a problem Tom Herman alluded to following Kansas appeared for the Longhorns. Herman said that while the defense was struggling, his offense needed to improve in their complimentary football. Things like scoring off turnovers or scoring in the red zone.
When Texas received the ball in TCU territory twice in the second quarter, they scored zero points. One possession ended in a missed 26-yard field goal. The other ended in a punt.
The offense did little to help in the second half. After touchdown throws to Devin Duvernay and Keaontay Ingram in the first half, Ehlinger and the rest of the offense struggled against TCU, typical of so many of the Longhorns’ trips to Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Texas now is 5-3 and 3-2 in the Big 12. Texas was able to reach the conference championship game last year with a 7-2 conference record. Those two conference losses were to Oklahoma State and West Virginia in back-to-back weeks.
Herman said Malcolm Roach addressed the team after the game and said they needed to come together and fight. He also mentioned that if they needed an example of a team coming together they should look to the 2018 team that lost those games to OSU and WVU.
“We’ve lost a game, and we’ve got an open date to get back to the basics,” Herman said. “Get back to the fundamentals. Find out what we can do and who we’re going to be doing it with. The only thing to do is improve.”
For Texas to fulfill their conference title game aspirations, they’ll have to do as the 2018 Longhorns did; put on a repeat performance and improve.