Football falls flat in 33-31 home loss to TCU

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw four touchdown passes Saturday in the Texas football team's 33-31 home loss to TCU (photo courtesy of

AUSTIN, Texas — If you are a fan of rugged, ragged football that has more in common with the sandlot-style of football your family is playing when it gets together in the back yard than the quality played by the best college programs, then TCU’s 33-31 win Saturday afternoon over No. 9 Texas at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium was your kind of fun.

But if you are someone who likes football with precision and execution, then you have to be concerned about what you saw from the Longhorns for the second consecutive week against an opponent who was predicted to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 Conference.

With the loss, the Longhorns fell to 2-1 overall, and 1-1 against Big 12 opponents.

One team, TCU, had things go its way Saturday. The Horned Frogs, who lost to Iowa State last week in their season-opener, got exactly the kind of performance coach Gary Patterson had to have to win. It was ugly, it was mistake- and penalty-filled and it was a slugfest as TCU made Texas press and feel uncomfortable. 

Even with 14 penalties for 109 yards, a lost fumble, and with a quarterback at the helm that missed part of the preseason with a heart condition, the Horned Frogs (1-1, 1-1 in Big 12 play) waltzed out of Austin with a win for the fourth time in five trips since TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012.

TCU has defeated the Longhorns in six of the past seven years and has prevailed over Texas in seven of the last nine games.

The Horned Frogs’ quarterback, Max Duggan passed for 231 yards and rushed for 94 more, including a decisive 26-yard touchdown run with 4:01. Duggan, who also had a 5-yard scoring run in the second quarter, was 20-of-30 through the air and survived despite getting pummeled by the Texas defense. The Horned Frogs piled up 457 yards of total offense, compared to 388 for the Longhorns.

The Longhorns had a chance to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat at the end, driving to the TCU 1-yard line before Keaontay Ingram fumbled on an inside running play with 2:32 to play.

“We had a really good week of practice. That's why I'm pretty surprised, to be honest with you,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. "I felt like ... heading into yesterday, we were we were in a really, really good place, and ... obviously, that didn’t show today, and so we've got to find a way to make sure again, that whatever it is that [was] that cause of breakdowns today, that that doesn't come back to bite us again.”

Texas got 236 yards passing and four touchdowns from Sam Ehlinger, but the Longhorns’ Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback completed just 17 of 36 passes and completed only five of 16 passes in a lackluster first half.

“We just stopped ourselves. We need to go back and prepare and play to our standard,” Ehlinger said. “Self-inflicted mistakes killed us. We are hurting and disappointed. I’m surprised that we are making the mistakes we are. Everyone has got to take ownership of mistakes — not point fingers. Just get it right.

“Losing hurts the most. Especially when things are self-inflicted.”

TCU jumped to the front with 4:01 to play in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Darwin Barlow at the end of an 11-play, 67-yard march. The Longhorns tied the game on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ehlinger to Jake Smith, with a key play on the 75-yard drive coming on a 52-yard catch and run by Jared Wiley.

The two teams combined for 13 penalties — seven were called against Texas — in the first quarter.

Duggan scooted into the end zone on a 5-yard quarterback keeper at the 14:21 mark of the second quarter to grant TCU a 14-7 lead. Texas responded with Ehlinger’s 45-yard scoring pass to Brennan Eagles on a deep crossing route that evened the score.

Griffin Kell kicked two field goals in a 33-second span at the end of the second quarter, from 27 and 32 yards, respectively, to give the Horned Frogs a 20-14 advantage at the half. Kell then added a 49-yard field goal on TCU’s opening possession of the third quarter to push the TCU lead to 23-14. 

Texas pulled to within 23-21 on a 7-yard fourth-down TD pass to Roschon Johnson at the 9:55 mark of the third quarter. But the Horned Frogs bounced back with Kell’s fourth field goal of the game, a 28-yarder, with 13:36 to play.

The Longhorns retook the lead on a 7-yard pass from Ehlinger to Malcolm Epps and added a two-point conversion run by Ingram with 9:56 remaining.

Things get no easier for Texas next week, as the Longhorns square off against Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl. The atmosphere will be a lot different than normal, with the State Fair of Texas cancelled because of the pandemic and attendance limited to 25 percent of normal capacity.

“I'm very confident that that we can get our problems fixed,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “This team is very together. They were hurt in the locker room. But I heard a bunch of guys picking each other up, understanding that we've got a long season, and the only way to fix it is with hard work.”

In the topsy-turvy world of Big 12 football in the time of the coronavirus, it is hard to say that the Longhorns' goals for a season like no other are not still on the table.

“We shouldn’t even be thinking big-picture right now, with all the small mistakes we made,” Ehlinger said. “We have to take things one snap at a time, one series at a time. We have to go get this one next week.”

Steve Habel

Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .

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