The Embrace the Hate tour continues for the No. 7 Texas Longhorns with the penultimate road trip, up I-35 to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon Carter Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Central on ABC.
On paper, the Longhorns are 13-point favorites over the Horned Frogs, according to DraftKings, featuring Quinn Ewers returning at quarterback following two games out with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and facing a TCU team without its own starting quarterback and several top wide receivers. Texas is also 8-1, about to be in first place in the Big 12 standings, and several fortuitous losses from a shot at the College Football Playoffs, while TCU has stumbled to a 4-5 record with a 2-4 mark in conference play after last season’s surprise run to the national championship game.
But recent history favors the Horned Frogs, who boast an 8-3 record over the Longhorns since making it into the conference and a 4-0 record against ranked Texas teams, not to mention the 3-0 record of head coach Sonny Dykes vs. the Horns, a mark that includes two wins by Dykes when he led the program in Berkeley.
Of course, none of that should matter on Saturday in front of a hostile crowd, but with the two programs facing for the 12th and final time in the Big 12, it’s difficult not to reflect on how one-sided the series has been.
TCU won the toss and deferred to the second half, so Texas started with the football, getting stuffed on the first run to redshirt sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks before Brooks found a seam for eight yards on second down. The first pass by Ewers, though, was off the mark behind the line of scrimmage and the Longhorns went three and out with a poor effort from senior punter Ryan Sanborn that failed to fully flip field position.
On second down, the Horned Frogs got behind the chains with an illegal blindside block on sophomore safety Michael Taaffe and then into 3rd and 19 when a deep shot fell incomplete thanks to strong coverage by sophomore cornerback Terrance Brooks. TCU got five yards back when Texas junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell was flagged for offsides. Under pressure from freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. on a heavy blitz by Texas, Hoover’s third-down pass fell incomplete.
To open the second Texas drive, Ewers connected with junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy for 14 yards on a deep comeback route, but three runs by Brooks couldn’t produce another first down, setting up 4th and 1 in the Wildcat for sophomore running back Savion Red stopped by penetration across the line of scrimmage by the TCU front.
After the turnover on downs, the Horned Frogs hit a run for 11 yards and picked up another first down on two passes. The Texas defense wasn’t able to slow down TCU until a run stop set up 3rd and 4 leading to a one-yard loss on a third straight run to force a 41-yard yard field goal that connected for a 3-0 lead.
On the first-down play from the 25-yard line, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian dialed up a throwback screen pass to Brooks built on a wheel route concept he runs and the Longhorns were able to get a convoy of blockers in front of Brooks for a 73-yard catch and run that ended when Brooks was tripped up just short of the goal line. Instead of facing continued struggles in the red zone, however, Brooks went two yards up the middle for the touchdown and a 7-3 margin.
JONATHON BROOKS BUSTS A BIG RECEPTION AND A TOUCHDOWN— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 12, 2023
HORNS UP 7-3 pic.twitter.com/0nA8Qx3wxz
On a strange drive mounted by TCU, Texas senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat was called for a facemask penalty when he only brushed the facemask before grabbing the ballcarrier’s jersey, Sweat picked up a sack, and the Longhorns got a rare holding call on an incomplete pass on 3rd and 17 before declining it and watching Horned Frogs kicker Griffin Kell nail a 56-yarder.
With freshman running back CJ Baxter in the game, two runs by Baxter set up 3rd and 3, a shot play by Sarkisian that saw Worthy running free, but Ewers leaving it short for an interception. Senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington, a former high school safety, missed a tackle early in the return before hustling back to violently force a fumble by Millard Bradford, giving the ball back to the Longhorns thanks to Worthy’s own hustle play to come up with the recovery.
Jordan Whittington rightly so receives credit for his effort.— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 12, 2023
BUT WATCH XAVIER WORTHY, WHO FELL ON THE BALL. pic.twitter.com/GlMyYgg6a6
Ewers took advantage of his second chance, throwing a dime to Worthy on a go route for 45 yards on 2nd and 4 before another drive threatened to stall in the red zone with a one-yard run by Brooks and no gain from Ewers on a scramble that ended the first quarter.
Texas had a chance to score a touchdown to start the second quarter, but Ewers hitched on a double move by junior wide receiver AD Mitchell and then sailed the pass over his head, so the Longhorns settled for a line-drive field goal from junior Bert Auburn.
The defense responded by forcing a three and out highlighted by a trademark third-down stop from senior nickel back Jahdae Barron on a crossing route, painfully making the tackle with his shoulder.
A shanked punt by TCU went for only 24 yards and Texas appeared to have a 57-yard touchdown to Worthy on the next play when he caught on out route undercut by the defender, but he stepped out of bounds for a 19-yard gain. On a subsequent 3rd and 13, the Horned Frogs were called for holding on Worthy, handing the Longhorns a fresh set of downs. Needing a red-zone touchdown once again, Worthy had an important six-yard gain on 2nd and 7. A run by Brooks couldn’t move the chains and senior right tackle Christian Jones flinched on fourth down to force Sarkisian to make the choice he hates — kicking field goals in the red zone, this time a 32-yarder by Auburn.
More dominant play by Sweat helped produce a sack by junior defensive tackle Byron Murphy on second down for TCU to set up a three and out by the Horned Frogs and another possession for the Longhorns with a chance to create some separation before halftime. Texas looked headed for a three and out needing 12 yards on third down, but Ewers threw a dart to junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, who flashed his exceptionally strong hands on a 19-yard gain. Remarkably, the officiating crew continued to do their jobs in calling another obvious hold on Worthy on a 3rd and 8 to extend the drive. After an 11-yard gain by Worthy on a short throw and a 18-yard catch by Sanders in traffic again, TCU was flagged for a personal foul hitting Worthy late, setting up a six-yard touchdown pass from Ewers to Mitchell on a sensational route by the Georgia transfer.
Trying to get back into the game with a drive late in the second quarter, Hoover forced a pass into coverage intercepted by Brooks, allowing the Longhorns an opportunity to score before halftime. And Texas took advantage as Ewers managed the game well, throwing the ball away in a critical situation to preserve time, standing strong in the pocket to find Worthy for an 11-yard gain, and then giving way to Brooks, who used an incredible cut and his speed to the perimeter to narrowly find the inside of the pylon for a 22-yard touchdown and a 26-6 lead with 12 seconds remaining in the first half.
Mostly running the football, TCU sustained a long drive out of halftime until the Texas defense finally got a run stuff and combined it with an incompletion on a swing pass to put the Horned Frogs into a 3rd and 9. Across midfield and with a chance to go for it on fourth down, the Longhorns used line games in the front and strong coverage on the back end to produce a strip sack by senior defensive tackle Trill Carter that TCU was able to recover to preserve the chance to punt.
Texas picked up one first down on its subsequent drive, but Ewers couldn’t connect with Mitchell on a deep shot and, more egregiously, couldn’t convert a 3rd and 1 after a nine-yard effort by Brooks when a run-pass option to freshman wide receiver Johntay Cook was blown up because Worthy missed his block.
A 12-play, 62-yard drive by TCU ran four running plays inside the Texas red zone, but the Longhorns defense came up with four stops inside their own 4-yard line to create a turnover on downs. On offense, Texas was able to get off the goal line with a 20-yard completion to Mitchell and extend the drive with an 11-yard throw to Worthy before Ewers missed a read and floated a ball intended for Worthy on third down instead of hitting Whittington underneath.
The Horned Frogs got behind the chains quickly with a false-start penalty to start their drive, but the Longhorns defense was gashed by a short pass to wide receiver Savion Williams that turned into a 42-yard gain with a hurdle of freshman safety Derek Williams at the end, the penultimate play of the third quarter.
A crossing route on the second play of the fourth quarter extended the drive, leading to a 17-yard touchdown run by TCU running back Emani Bailey to narrow the margin to 26-13.
On a critical drive in response, Sarkisian called on Baxter, who nearly broke a huge gain on the first play, settling for nine yards, then picked up seven on the next play before the Horned Frogs triggered hard to stop Baxter for three yards. Back in the game, Brooks was tackled forward for seven yards and cut down for four yards to keep the clock moving on a 2nd and 6. Twisted down a seven-yard gain, Brooks crawled off the field before receiving attention from the medical staff and heading into the tent.
Three runs by Baxter after Brooks went out culminated with no gain on 3rd and 3, sending Auburn onto the field to once again tie his career long from 49 yards, an effort sent just over the upright to make it 29-13 and ending a drive with 10 runs for 44 yards.
The third play of the drive for TCU was a 46-yard wheel route to former Texas tight end Jared Wiley on a wheel route that beat a hobbled Barron with no help over the top. Longhorns senior linebacker Jaylan Ford broke up a potential touchdown pass on the third play from the Texas 5-yard line before a tipped catch by JP Richardson on fourth down kept hopes alive for TCU, hopes that took a hit when the two-point conversion fell incomplete against extremely physical coverage by Brooks.
Sarkisian remained conservative by calling two more runs for Baxter before a one-yard completion to the freshman running back ended the drive for Texas. Another poor punt by Sanborn traveled only 38 yards as the Longhorns special teams fell apart in allowing an 18-yard return that ended with an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Red even though sophomore nickel back Austin Jordan appeared responsible for a late hit out of bounds.
Regardless, TCU had the momentum, hitting Savion Williams for 22 yards and then for a 14-yard touchdown as a familiar meltdown happened by the Texas defense to make it 29-26.
Faced with needing to run out the clock, the Longhorns ended up in a 3rd and 12 with the game hanging in the balance and Ewers was able to connect with Mitchell on a twisting, falling catch for 32 yards that effectively ended the game and preserved the 29-26 win.