There was pure, unfiltered euphoria among half the fans in San Antonio's Alamo Dome and only stunned silence among the other half. Both sides, however, surely couldn't believe what they saw.
TCU was dead, you see. The time of death was pronounced at halftime, courtesy of CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon, of Saturday's Alamo Bowl against Oregon—a 31-0 lead for the Ducks at the time. You saw it happen. I saw it happen. There was no pulse to be felt. Why would anyone believe otherwise? This was all going according to script.
Leading receiver Josh Doctson didn't play because of a season-ending wrist injury. Star quarterback Trevone Boykin was suspended after a bar altercation just two days before the game. Multiple other players were out with injuries as well. Fifth-year senior Bram Kohlhausen was given the start, and TCU's coaching staff had to essentially start from scratch.
The Frogs were done, and despite pleas from ESPN color commentator Mack Brown, no one really would have blamed you if you changed the channel.
But then, something amazing happened. TCU head coach Gary Patterson changed his shirt—from black to purple. The reason? "Black wasn't working," Patterson said, per ESPN:
"Black wasn't working." Gary Patterson changed his shirt with his team down 31 at halftime. TCU now on a 17-0 run. https://t.co/58SfFYKssl1/3/2016, 2:45:46 AM
TCU would go on a 31-0 run in the second half to take the game to overtime.
Just to make sure you can digest it, that's three touchdowns, one two-point conversion and three field goals in 30 minutes. All while holding Oregon's offense to a big, fat zero.
Ultimately, the Frogs prevailed 47-41 in three overtimes, capping off the most unbelievable bowl result of the 2015-16 season. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it matched the biggest bowl comeback ever and defied every odd in the book:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
TCU was down 31-0, now its 31-20 (ESPN) Biggest comeback in a bowl- 2006 Insight Bowl, Texas Tech came back from 31 down to beat Minnesota1/3/2016, 2:56:07 AM
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Since Texas Tech's 31-point comeback in the 2006 Insight Bowl, teams are 0-1,463 when trailing by 31 points in any point in the game1/3/2016, 3:38:58 AM
OK, so Patterson undergoing a wardrobe change didn't actually help the Horned Frogs erase their seemingly insurmountable deficit. There are myriad reasons for that. Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. sustained a head injury late in the first half and did not return. Ducks starting center Matt Hegarty injured his knee, forcing backup Doug Brenner to take over.
The combination of Brenner and quarterback Jeff Lockie never clicked. Lockie didn't have the athleticism or arm to force TCU to respect his legs or downfield passing attack. Brenner struggled with low snaps throughout the night. On one occasion, a would-be touchdown for Oregon was called back because Lockie's knee touched the ground while scooping up a snap.
There were special teams gaffes, too, including a fumbled kickoff return and a poor return that left Oregon with bad field position. The Ducks' complete second-half meltdown played an undeniable role in TCU's comeback.
But that's 50 percent of a rally. The old coaching adage makes up the other 50: At some point, a team has to make plays. It has to capitalize on the opportunities presented.
They did, without a doubt. Kohlhausen was brilliant. The stat sheet is sparkly (28-of-45 passing, 351 yards, 45 rushing yards, four total touchdowns), but this was a performance that was anything but beautiful to watch. And that's meant in the most complimentary way possible. Kohlhausen was gloriously gritty and would not be denied. He took several big hits and at one point needed to leave the game because of a hip injury. He returned two plays later and finished the rest of the contest.
Running back Aaron Green rushed for 101 yards. Shaun Nixon had a team-best nine catches for 71 yards. The entire Frogs defense locked down and got pressure on Lockie. The big plays so abundant for Oregon in the first half became practically nonexistent.
This was a performance to remember...by names we probably won't.
USA Today’s Dan Wolken agrees:
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
From down 31-0 to win in triple OT with a backup QB who didn't know he was playing three days ago? Yeah that's an all-timer.1/3/2016, 3:59:19 AM
This has been TCU's theme all year. The dream season, kick-started initially by a dominating Peach Bowl win over Ole Miss last January, never materialized. It never even had a chance to.
From the start, the Frogs, the media's overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12, were dealt terrible hands with injuries and general attrition. The month from hell that was November in the Big 12 dealt TCU a pair of losses and no playoff shot. The Boykin news was an unfortunate cap on it all. TCU could never get the breaks.
Yet, here is Patterson's team at 11-2. Any program in the country will take that, but TCU will cherish it even more, knowing it could have been far, far worse.
Patterson’s coaching job impressed Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer:
Adam Kramer @KegsnEggs
Gary Patterson won 11 games with a a paper clip, some duct tape and a left shoe.1/3/2016, 4:02:09 AM
What Patterson did is impressive in a terrifying sense. Imagine if TCU had been healthy all year. Imagine if Boykin hadn't been suspended. Imagine all the things that could have been but weren't.
If Patterson taught us anything, it's this program will be in a position to compete for conference and national championships as long as he's around, and it begins again in 2016.
Boykin will be gone, of course. Doctson will be, too. Their losses cannot be overstated. However, they don't mark the end of a program, only a stint. The two men responsible for TCU's resurgence on offense—co-offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham—will be back.
If they can coach up Kohlhausen, a career backup, to a performance like that on two days' preparation, imagine what they can do with talented redshirt freshman Foster Sawyer or Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill.
The starting defense will be back as well, almost in its entirety. Keep in mind TCU is also recruiting at a level never seen before in the star-system era. With a month left until Feb. 3's national signing day, the Frogs have the No. 2 class in the Big 12 and a top-25 class nationally, according to 247Sports.
At the center of it all is Patterson. The 16-year head coach is feisty, brutally honest, rubs many (especially in Waco, Texas) the wrong way and has never once apologized for it. But, damn, if 2015 didn't show Patterson can coach.
Yes, the shirt worked, but it shouldn't get all the credit. What happened in the Alamo Dome on Saturday night—what still boggles the minds of everyone who watched—has been years in the making.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
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