When the season began, and even after the first three weeks, Saturday’s battle between Oklahoma and TCU — a rematch of last year’s Big 12 championship game — looked like it would be the first of maybe two big matchups this year between the programs that have become the conference’s heavyweights and constant players on the national scene.
But that has all changed during the past three games as ninth-ranked Oklahoma and three-loss and scuffling TCU find themselves looking up at Texas in the conference standings.
Now Saturday’s game at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth could be an elimination game in respect to securing a berth in the Big 12 title game, especially for TCU.
The Horned Frogs (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) finish a three-game homestand in which they beat Iowa State and lost to Texas Tech, both by scores of 17-14. Another loss this week would push TCU below .500 for the season with five games to play and drop them three games behind the surging Longhorns in the conference standings.
TCU is fighting through the growing pains of inexperienced but talented sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson, who racked up 332 yards, 290 of those passing, and both touchdowns in the loss to Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs also have been turnover prone, averaging 2.5 per game in six games.
Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson has seen this type of start before, in 2013, a year that TCU finished 4-8.
“It doesn’t look good when you’re 3-3 and you’re looking down the middle to Oklahoma and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for you,” Patterson said after the loss to Texas Tech. “We’re going to learn just like we did in 2013. Hopefully, we’ll win more than we lose.”
The Horned Frogs are last in the Big 12 at minus-9 in turnover margin. The giveaways are a big reason why TCU has blown halftime leads in all three of its losses. Nine of the 13 turnovers the past four games have come with the Frogs leading, tied or trailing by one point, or in the opponents’ territory.
“You can’t turn the ball over,” Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If a running back is going to complain about carries, you need to hold on to it. When you’re in the red zone, the ball bounces off a guy and they intercept it … you gotta make plays. It’s simple.”
Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1) looks to rebound from its 48-45 loss to Texas on Oct. 6 in Dallas that knocked the Sooners from the ranks of the unbeaten and led to the firing of defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
Former Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill takes over that post after Texas scored its most points ever against Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was asked Monday how long it will take for the defense to stabilize after a week of drastic change.
“I’m counting on about two weeks,” Riley told the Daily Oklahoman, with a smile. “Everybody’s got that sense of urgency. Does a new voice help? Probably some. Is part of it just having not played to the level we want to play defensively? The challenge of putting in the work to get to that point? I think there’s some inner challenges happening, too, and there better be.”
There has never been a question about the Sooners’ offensive explosiveness. As led by uber-talented dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray, Oklahoma has a bevy of threats to take the ball all the way to the end zone on every snap.
The Sooners’ signal-caller was his usual calm and cool self at Monday’s press conference.
“This bye week was definitely one of our most competitive practices of the year since camp,” Murray said. “I think we got a lot of good one-on-one work in, good-on-good work in, and everybody’s refreshed. Going into TCU, I think it’ll be a good week of practice for us, and we’ll be ready to go.”
Oklahoma leads TCU 13-5 in the series and has a 2-6 edge in games played in Fort Worth.