It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy, but TCU's three-point win at Texas Tech on Saturday moved the Horned Frogs to 4-0 and kept them hanging by a thread onto their hopes of making the College Football Playoff.
Trailing 52-48 with three minutes left to play, Trevone Boykin marched the offense on a clock-draining drive to the Texas Tech 4-yard line. But 2nd-and-goal from the 4 became 3rd-and-goal from the 4, and then 3rd-and-goal from the 4 became 4th-and-goal from the 4.
The Horned Frogs needed a touchdown and had just one play to get it. Their season had been distilled to a do-or-die moment.
Boykin took the snap and zipped an in-route to the end zone for receiver Josh Doctson, who for the first time all game failed to catch it. He leaped and tipped the ball into the air, and for a moment it hung there sinking, and it seemed Texas Tech had pulled the upset.
But then running back Aaron Green came out of nowhere and became a legend:
The finish was utter madness, but that's just the type of lunacy that defines so many great college football teams.
One needn't look further back than the 2013 Auburn Tigers—a team that beat Georgia on a fourth-down Hail Mary and Alabama on a 109-yard field-goal return and then made the national title game—for an example of crazy finishes propelling a team toward its ultimate goal.
"If you 're going to have a special season," head coach Gary Patterson said after the game, per Carlos Mendez of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "somebody has to make a special play."
Last year TCU came up a couple of plays short against Baylor in a game that felt a lot like Saturday's. It lost 61-58 after leading by 21 points in the fourth quarter, and that loss—its only of the season—is what kept it from making the playoff.
This year it cleared its first hurdle and survived in a tough road environment. Texas Tech put its all into Saturday, and there's no shame in needing 60 minutes to beat a team that just beat Arkansas.
Boykin threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns and continues to look like a Heisman favorite. Doctson caught 18 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns and continues to look the Biletnikoff favorite. The much-maligned defense forced a critical three-and-out late.
Even with some of the good, it's impossible for TCU fans to look past the bad.
TCU knows it can't ignore the bad forever.
It entered Lubbock facing serious questions, and it leaves with those questions intensified.
After struggling to stop SMU in Week 3, a defense missing close to 10 projected contributors looked even leakier against Texas Tech's uptempo offense, allowing constant big holes on the perimeter and free runners behind the secondary.
Injuries at all three levels, combined with the losses of defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas and five All-Big 12 defenders from 2014, have elevated defensive concerns from DEFCON 3 to DEFCON 1.
Oklahoma and Baylor's offenses must have watched this and licked their chops.
But for now, that's not really what matters. What matters is that the Horned Frogs survived and advanced. They'll see another day with a zero in the loss column and a clear path to the national semifinal.
These are games the truly great teams win.
Even when they're not at their best.