This year’s TCU football team is not near the level of the Horned Frog teams of the past few years. Still, TCU is as talented as any team on BYU’s schedule this year. The Cougars knew defeating the Horned Frogs was going to be a tall challenge even before they left for Texas. The only chance BYU had to beat the Horned Frogs was to play flawless football, which the Cougars did not do.
Here are five key reasons the Cougars fell 38-28 to TCU Friday night at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
Not so special play from BYU’s special teams:
Even though Cody Hoffman had a 52-yard kickoff return in the second quarter and J.D. Falslev had a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, there were no other highlights for BYU’s special teams. OK, Justin Sorensen’s two field goals weren’t exactly chip shots (42 and 44 yards), so that’s one additional positive for the Cougars.
But the rest was bad, real bad. And very costly. To start with, the Cougars gave up a 39-yard kickoff return to start the game. That was followed up a short time later by a bad snap on a punt attempt that gave TCU the ball at BYU’s 8-yard line. Both of those mistakes resulted in 14 quick points by the Horned Frogs. Four offensive plays into the game and TCU had a two-touchdown lead.
Later in the first half, a blocked punt by TCU and a 35-yard kick by BYU punter Riley Stephenson resulted in two straight possessions that the Horned Frogs started in BYU territory. The Horned Frogs scored on both of those short-field possessions. And then there was the confusion on the fourth-and-three that spoiled a BYU scoring chance in the second quarter. The confusion on Sorensen’s field goal attempt at the end of the first half was, well, inexcusable.
So guess how BYU’s first second-half drive ended? Another bad long snap on a punt attempt for a loss of 16 yards.
How can a team have 191 total yards to 218 total yards for its opponent at halftime, yet still have a 28-10 lead? Or finish with 71 fewer yards at the end of the game and still win by 10? Being efficient, that’s how.
The Horned Frogs crossed midfield five times in the first half and scored on four of them. They scored after every one of BYU’s mistakes. They only settled for a field goal once. Even though BYU mounted a brief comeback and was poised to actually take the lead after the 14-0 early deficit, there was no chance of a comeback without forcing TCU to turn the ball over, either on downs or via an interception or fumble. None of those happened.
The Cougars, on the other hand, had three first-half drives that stalled inside TCU territory.
The Horned Frogs ended all the suspense for good when they took advantage of BYU’s snapping troubles again to score early in the second half to take a 35-10 lead. The Horned Frogs made BYU pay for all of its miscues.
Where a team starts its drives is so important in the momentum game. And that’s why BYU rarely had it in this contest.
In the first half alone, the Horned Frogs started drives on their own 39, 32, 8, 29 and 48. That’s five drives that started on BYU’s side of the field before the intermission. That’s the main reason the Horned Frogs had 28 points on the board during the mid-game cool-down.
The Cougars needed a change in the trend to start the second half. Instead, TCU took over on its very first drive on BYU’s 37-yard line. The result was another touchdown and a deficit far too large for BYU to handle.
Frogs are faster than Cougars:
Real frogs out in nature would never have a chance of eluding a cougar or chasing one down. But on the football field in Arlington on Friday night, the TCU version of a frog was much quicker and faster than BYU’s version of a cougar.
Did you see the second play of the game? Once Skye Dawson had a little space behind Brandon Ogletree, there was no chance the Cougar was going to catch the Frog. One reason TCU caused so much trouble for BYU’s special teams was speed. One reason BYU averaged less than three yards per rush was TCU’s linebackers’ ability to quickly close the gaps.
The biggest influence TCU’s speed had on BYU was in the Cougars’ passing game. BYU’s receivers were locked up all game down field, forcing the Cougars into short passing routes. And the pressure on QB Riley Nelson obviously affected his stats. He finished 15 of 31 for 215 yards. But TCU’s pass defense forced BYU to run the ball 50 times. It’s tough to come back from an 18-point deficit on the ground.
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The biggest speed-related play of the game came when the Cougars were mounting a brief second-half comeback, had closed to 35-20 and were driving. But after reaching TCU’s 17-yard line, Nelson was pressured on a drop-back, smothered before he knew what had hit him and then flung a backwards pass that Horned Frog Jon Koontz quickly raced over and smothered. That pretty much did it.
This is related to all of the above, and pretty obvious. But, nonetheless, when BYU commits three turnovers to zero for TCU, the Cougars’ chances are pretty slim. Nelson tossed two interceptions and fumbled the ball away (actually lateralled it away) once.
Even though BYU racked up 354 yards, many of those yards were nullified by BYU’s mistakes. When you hand it over three times and never have the favor returned, you’re looking at a loss.