The TCU Horned Frogs entered the 2016 Alamo Bowl without star quarterback Trevone Boykin.
They fell behind 31-0 to the Oregon Ducks, a team which reached last season’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
Game over, right?
The Frogs didn’t think so.
TCU matched the largest comeback in bowl game history, sending Oregon into overtime and then prevailing in a third extra stanza. The 47-41 victory enables TCU to finish the season 11-2, while a devastated bunch of Ducks must carry a disappointing 9-4 record back to the Pacific Northwest.
The primary catalysts for the comeback were events which had nothing to do with TCU. Oregon center Matt Hegarty and quarterback Vernon Adams both got injured in the first half, after Oregon had attained a 21-0 lead. TCU’s offense, however, remained dormant in the second quarter, and when Oregon took a 31-0 lead to the locker room, there was no reason to think the Frogs would jump into action in the second half.
Yet, that’s exactly what they did, all while Oregon’s offense came to a total halt with backup Jeff Lockie at quarterback.
The comeback started innocently enough. TCU made terrific plays such as this one, but the deficit still seemed insurmountable:
— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) January 3, 2016
A huge comeback generally requires not just impotence from the opposing team, but key mistakes. Oregon promptly gave one to TCU by committing a turnover on its own 16-yard line. TCU produced many long scoring drives on its climb from a 31-point ditch, but the Horned Frogs did get that one quick touchdown to make life easier for their offense. The score became 31-17.
TCU looked like a defeated team in the second quarter, but as soon as the Frogs got rolling, everyone on their roster believed, especially the man at the center of the action. Backup quarterback Bram Kohlhausen, thrust into duty when star quarterback Trevone Boykin was suspended for hitting a police office in a bar fight earlier in the week, began this game as the carrier of a great burden. Once he made a few positive plays after halftime, he became a fearless leader for his team:
— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) January 3, 2016
Oregon drives kept dissolving into the mists of three-and-out failure. The Ducks totaled just 18 yards of offense in the second half. TCU kept getting the ball back. With Kohlhausen embracing the moment instead of shrinking from it as he had in the first half, the Horned Frogs continued their rally.
After a late touchdown created a 31-26 deficit inside the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter, TCU converted a crucial 2-point conversion to pull within three points. This conversion came in handy later on, when the Frogs faced fourth and one at the Oregon 5 with 23 seconds left. Down by three instead of five, they were able to kick a tying field goal instead of having to go for it.
Overtime had arrived at 31-all.
In the first overtime, TCU scored first, and Oregon had to convert a fourth and four to stay alive. Lockie completed a short pass to Royce Freeman to move the sticks and set up a tying touchdown.
In the second overtime, both defenses forced three-and-outs. TCU had the second possession of the inning, so when Jaden Oberkrom prepared for a 46-yard field goal, he knew that if he missed, Oregon would have won. Oberkrom split the uprights.
TCU scored easily in the third overtime:
— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) January 3, 2016
However, in the third overtime of a college football game, both teams are forced to go for a 2-point conversion, a rule which tries to prevent six- or seven-overtime games, which used to occur from time to time over a decade ago. Kohlhausen had a man open in the end zone on this 2-point try, but he badly underthrew the pass.
There’s a backstory here: On Nov. 21, Kohlhausen attempted a do-or-die 2-point pass against Oklahoma, but his pass was knocked down, causing TCU to lose, 30-29. The remarkable detail of this story is that TCU made a big comeback in that game as well, also after the opposing team’s quarterback (in that case, Baker Mayfield) got injured and the backup (Trevor Knight) did absolutely nothing after entering the game. When Kohlhausen missed that 2-point pass, TCU fans certainly had their share of Oklahoma flashbacks. TCU could have won the Big 12 and maybe made the College Football Playoff if that pass had been completed a month and a half ago.
Fortunately for the Frogs, Oregon — on third and two in its triple-overtime possession — butchered a snap and lost seven yards. On fourth and nine, Lockie’s pass was knocked down. TCU had done the unthinkable, 47-41, with a backup quarterback leading the way.
The comeback, as said above, matched the largest comeback in bowl history. The 31-point Houdini tied the miracle fashioned by Texas Tech against Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona:
Texas Tech and head coach Mike Leach trailed Minnesota, 38-7, in the third quarter. The Red Raiders somehow tied the game at 38-all and then — after Minnesota kicked a field goal to start overtime — won the game with a walk-off touchdown, 44-41.
Minnesota head coach Glen Mason was fired the next day. The Golden Gopher program is still struggling (and failing) to attain the level of consistency it gained under Mason.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich won’t be fired, but he will surely catch some heat from his fan base for this loss. The growing concern with Helfrich at Oregon is that the program’s internal development of quarterbacks is not making the grade. Adams was a transfer brought in to help the team this season. Oregon recently signed another transfer from an FCS school, Dakota Prukop, to quarterback the team in 2016.
Lockie gained plenty of reps this season when Adams was hurt. That he was so unprepared for this game is something Helfrich has to address. Pundits and fans are wondering why Oregon doesn’t have a deep bench at quarterback.
With all of this having been said, however, Helfrich certainly coached Adams well. With his main quarterback in place, Helfrich’s offense flourished on Saturday and during the season. It’s not as though Helfrich can’t coach high-end talent. Schools such as Auburn and Texas A&M were unable to get production out of much-hyped quarterbacks this past season. Oregon’s not in that boat. Yet, programs such as Baylor and TCU manage to survive when first-string quarterbacks go down. Oregon should be in that same category under Helfrich, but the Ducks aren’t.
Enough about Oregon, though. TCU — just like fellow Big 12 school Texas Tech nine years earlier — has overcome a 31-point deficit to win a bowl game in overtime.
Remember the Alamo? It will be impossible to forget this special night in San Antonio, especially for those who call themselves Frogs.