September 02, 2011
Baylor 50, TCU 48.
All good things come to an end, and I doubt there was anyone who sincerely believed TCU's three-year reign as the No. 1 defense in college football wouldn't come to an end this fall, in the wake of a mass exodus of talent from the unit that led last year's program-defining, 13-0 Rose Bowl run. No defense, not even one coached by Gary Patterson, could send off five senior all-conference picks and not expect some kind of drop-off. But that drop-off was not supposed to be from a cliff.
What Baylor's spread attack did to TCU's defense tonight in Waco was shocking, stunning, jaw-dropping, dumbfounding — insert your own adjective to convey the disbelief. Personally, I'm going to go with eye-opening. Historic will also suffice. In the span of a few hours, the vaunted Horned Frog defense went from an irresistible force that led the nation last year in scoring, total and passing defense in 2010 to a very green, helpless-looking unit that yielded:
• 50 points in regulation for the first time since 2004, as members of Conference USA. Before tonight, the Horned Frogs hadn't allowed more than 35 points in a game since giving up 36 to Stanford in 2007. Only two other teams in the meantime — San Diego State last year and Oklahoma in 2008, the highest-scoring team in college football history — topped 28 points against TCU from 2008-10.
Thirty-one of 36 opponents in the same span failed to reach 20 points, a mark Baylor passed in the first quarter.
• 500 yards of total offense in a game for the first time since yielding 614 to BYU in September 2005, in its second game as a member of the Mountain West Conference. The last team to put up 400 yards on the Horned Frogs was the prolific Oklahoma offense led by eventual Heisman winner Sam Bradford in 2008, which also happened to be the Sooners' lowest output of the regular season.
• 300 yards passing in a game for the first time since, yes, falling to the Bradford-led Sooners in 2008. Only one quarterback in 2010, San Diego State's Ryan Lindley, even made it to 200 yards, and Robert Griffin became the first quarterback to drop five touchdown passes on the Frogs since UAB's Darrell Hackney in 2004. (The sixth touchdown pass, an easy lob by wide receiver Kendall Wright on a trick play on the first possession of the game, is unprecedented since Patterson took over in 2001.)
Most unrecognizably of all, tonight was the first time TCU walked out of a regular season game a loser in nearly three years, a streak spanning a national-best 25 games. The last time: A 13-10 loss to undefeated Utah in November 2008, courtesy of the Utes' only touchdown of the game in the final minute. No doubt Gary Patterson remembers that night all too well. But even the veterans on the current squad who were there as freshmen might have a harder time jogging their memories. And there's not a soul in the locker room tonight, veteran or otherwise, who remembers a time when TCU was just another sketchy mid-major defense.
The flip side of that, of course, is that for three quarters Baylor's offense looked like a creature from a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. Excluding an abbreviated "drive" at the end of the first half, the Bears scored touchdowns on seven of their first nine possessions, five from the arm of Robert Griffin, who finished with an obscene 241.6 efficiency rating. Kendall Wright (12 catches, 189 yards, 2 TDs) was virtually uncoverable. Oversized tailback Terrance Ganaway occasionally looked un-tacklable en route to 120 yards on the ground, another rare feat against TCU. As stunning as the Frogs' collapse was, a nationally televised triumph for Baylor — a perennial laughingstock that hadn't knocked off a ranked opponent since 2004, or an opponent ranked as high as No. 14 since 1991, before most of its players were born — should earn miracle-working coach Art Briles an automatic raise.
The flip side of that, of course, is that there's still Baylor's defense, which yielded 467 yards and 48 points of its own, 25 of them coming in a furious rally after Griffin's fifth touchdown pass extended the lead to 47-23 in the fourth quarter. The Bears still can't stop anybody. But for now, at least, they can go on pretending they're not going to have to. And they may be right.