Big 12 all shook up as revitalized TCU brings Oklahoma State back to Earth
The Horned Frogs looked a lot like their old selves on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater
STILLWATER, Okla. -- How to alter a Heisman, conference and national championship run …
For No. 16 TCU on Saturday, it was playing a not-so-elaborate game of keep away on a stiflingly hot day. In upsetting No. 6 Oklahoma State, the Frogs held the ball for 39-plus minutes on artificial turf on a day when the temperature reached the lower 90s.
For Kenny Hill, it was grow up physically and mentally in front of everyone. TCU's quarterback, who washed out at Texas A&M, now leads a controlled passing game that has him completing 73 percent of his throws.
Oh, and take a hyperactive coach who thinks he's being slighted. That's where the pot-bellied Gary Patterson thrives most. Tell him what he can't do and he usually does it.
"Told ya," Patterson crowed as he left the field following a 44-31 win.
That's one way of looking at it.
The other is the Big 12 might have just lost a title contender in the Cowboys. Oh sure, you're never out of it in the fourth game of the season, but this is the Big 12, which can't afford an image problem, even in September.
One unbeaten was certain to go down here, but the top-10 Cowboys had the better path to the College Football Playoff. It's never too early to worry about the Big 12 going 1-for-4 in the first four years of the CFP.
"It's a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things," said Pokes quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was harassed into his worst game of the season. "This team has so much potential on both sides."
After Oklahoma State's 3-0 start, there were those already looking ahead to the Nov. 4 Oklahoma game. That was supposed to be the opener of a two-game series to be decided in the Big 12's reinstalled conference championship game.
And it still might be but at least one of those teams is already defeated.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy went out of his way three times to say his team had been outcoached. That's never a good thing -- whether it's September or December -- trying to score points with the CFP Selection Committee.
"It makes it difficult to come back," Gundy said in reference to the national picture. "I don't think anytime you're completely out."
"I'm not braggin'. We gave up 31 points," said Patterson who thrives playing the disrespect card. "I saw where we're the underdog and they picked the four teams that are going to be in the playoff, and we weren't one. We're still way out in left field."
But the storyline here was better and so easy to like. Gundy and his mullet, Rudolph and his rocket arm, the receivers who had been called the best group in the country.
But it's hard to score if you don't have the ball.
A week after scoring 49 points in a half at Pittsburgh, the Oklahoma State sputtered. Two TCU defensive linemen intercepted passes.
A series after James Washington caught an 86-yard scoring pass, TCU's secondary adjusted. Patterson began playing two safeties high, taking away Rudolph's ability to go downfield.
Both Rudolph and his Heisman hopes took a hit. He threw both of those picks in a middling performance (22 of 41, 398 yards, two touchdowns).
His starting right tackle and guard were injured going into the game. When third-team tackle Dylan Galloway, a redshirt freshman, had to enter as a replacement, Rudolph was noticeably more uncomfortable.
The Frogs sacked Rudolph three times.
"I didn't see it coming," Gundy said of the result. "I didn't see the week before it coming either."
The program's all-time leading passer still has a heck of a Heisman shot. His story resonates: being overlooked coming out of South Carolina. Rudolph is friends with Clemson slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.
But it was an incredibly questionable play to another slot receiver that may have decided the game. Down 37-24 with 4 ½ minutes left, Gundy called for a lateral to slot receiver Jalen McCleskey, who then threw an interception at TCU's 5.
"Do I wish I had it back now?" Gundy said. "Sure."
TCU's balanced attack might even be better now that co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham left for Kansas. Sonny Cumbie has the offensive lab all to himself.
At halftime, the Frogs had run 48 plays and were in the process of running the Cowboys off the field.
Coming into the game, the Cowboys hadn't trailed all season. On Saturday, they never led after falling behind 13-7 midway through the second quarter.
Oklahoma State was exploited at its weakest point. That would be defensively. There were as many missed tackles for the Cowboys as third-down conversions by the Frogs (11).
In fact, TCU came into the game as the efficient team in the country in that statistic.
It's early but these Frogs have the look of Patterson's 2010 Rose Bowl and 2014 Big 12 co-champion teams. Patterson also has the look of a coach in demand.
That didn't keep him from calling Gundy in midweek to offer his condolences on the passing of the Oklahoma State's father-in-law.
"We all have to compete, and we're all people and we all have the same problems," Patterson said. "For me, I'm in high regard for what he does. TCU and Oklahoma State, we don't get the four- and five-star guys.
"Winning is one thing, life is another. That's how [I've] stayed somewhere 20 years. It's not about having to win to keep your job, it's about people. "
When told he'd been mentioned this week for the possible opening at Nebraska, Patterson demurred.
"At some point, you have to say 'no' [to offers] more than you say 'yes,'" he said.
For now, TCU in the Big 12 isn't going anywhere either.
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