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TCU Uses Big Plays To Prevail Over West Virginia

In the premier game of the week in college football, Kenny Hill led TCU to victory and atop the Big 12 standings.

Getty Images - Tom Pennington

The Big 12 was in the spotlight for this game as ESPN’s College GameDay was in attendance for the only matchup of top 25 teams this week, and the game absolutely lived up to the hype. The contest began exactly how everybody predicted: a defensive struggle in which TCU punter Adam Nunez was the first half MVP.

The offenses came to life in the second half as the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs traded body blows in a back and forth battle that was not decided until the final possession. Ultimately, TCU made more plays down the stretch and capitalized on two crucial West Virginia turnovers to seize control of the Big 12 for the time being.

This game featured two of the best offenses in the country, but the defenses were the story early. A lot was made of the Mountaineers’ struggles in rush defense, but they held TCU well in check throughout the first half. This put TCU in obvious passing situations on third down so that West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson could dial up his patented blitzes. The pressure got to TCU quarterback Kenny Hill as he was routinely throwing off his back foot to avoid the hit resulting in inaccurate passes.

While the TCU offense struggled, punter Adam Nunez was able to pin the Mountaineers inside the 10-yard line four times in the first half. The Mountaineers were able to move the ball, but the long drives proved to be unsustainable. Running back Justin Crawford got off to a great start against the highly regarded TCU run defense, rushing for 53 yards on the Mountaineer opening possession. A holding call killed the drive, and West Virginia was forced to settle for the field goal to take the early lead in this game. Crawford was contained for the most part the rest of the game as he finished with 111 yards.

With the defenses dominating, special teams became the difference in the first half. The only TCU punt that did not go inside the 10-yard line resulted in a fumble and the first tough call to go against the Mountaineers. West Virginia unquestionably blocked Innis Gaines of TCU into punt returner Marcus Simms, and the football made contact with the mob of players. TCU fell on the loose football and was awarded possession because it was ruled on the field that the ball hit Simms first. It was difficult to tell who actually touched the ball first because the players’ arms were entangled, and the call on the field stood. It was not a bad call by the referees but certainly a 50/50 call that went against the Mountaineers. This would not be the only big call to go against the Mountaineers.

The Horned Frogs took advantage of their best field position of the game, taking over at the West Virginia 33-yard line. It took seven plays and almost three minutes, but Sewo Olonilua was able to punch it in from the 2-yard line out of the wildcat formation to give TCU the 7-3 lead. West Virginia responded well with a drive that took them inside the red zone.

However, the drive stalled after Will Grier overthrew top red zone target David Sills V in what probably would have been a first down. The Mountaineers ended up with nothing to show for the drive as kicker Mike Molina pushed the 29-yard attempt wide right. TCU went into the half hanging onto the 7-3 lead despite the West Virginia defense holding the Horned Frogs to just 131 total yards of offense and 1-for-7 on third down.

The offenses came alive in the third quarter as these teams combined for 31 points. Much has been said regarding Kenny Hill and his inconsistent play throughout his career. The success he has had so far this season can be attributed to the fact that he is more of a game manager rather than putting the entire offense on his shoulders. However, Kenny Hill came through in the clutch in the second half of this game, and he won this game for TCU.

The scoring got going with a TCU 37-yard field goal, and Will Grier was intercepted on West Virginia’s ensuing possession. Grier was trying to get the ball to Marcus Simms, but Simms got caught up in some traffic. TCU safety Nick Orr was sitting back in coverage and picked off the ill-advised overthrown ball. Orr returned the pick to about midfield. TCU wasted no time making West Virginia pay for their second turnover as Kenny Hill connected with true freshmen Jalen Reagor on a beautifully thrown ball for a 45-yard touchdown on the very next play. Reagor also deserves a lot of credit as he was able to tip-toe the sideline and stay inside the pylon.

West Virginia came storming back scoring quick strike touchdowns on their next two possessions. David Sills V had been quiet all day, but he broke out in this half with a 64-yard touchdown catch-and-run after a busted coverage in the TCU secondary. West Virginia got the ball back after a TCU punt and scored their second touchdown in three plays to even the score at 17.

The TCU defense tried another cornerback blitz with Ranthony Texada, which had been successful earlier in the game, but the West Virginia right tackle picked up the blitz. Will Grier hit Ka’Raun White on a double move, and White beat safety Nick Orr to take it to the house for a 76-yard touchdown.

At this point, the TCU offense will start struggling for the most part, and they turned to the trick play to steal back the momentum. Kenny Hill handed the ball off to KaVontae Turpin for an apparent jet sweep, but Turpin turned around and threw the ball back to Kenny Hill. Hill was able to make a man miss and use a wall of blockers to run for the touchdown to reclaim the lead 24-17 going into the fourth quarter.

The Mountaineer defense did their job again forcing a three-and-out, which set the Mountaineers up with their best field position of the game at the TCU 49-yard line. It took 10 plays and a fourth down conversion, but the Mountaineers were able to find the end zone with a 4-yard pass to David Sills V to tie the game once again at 24-24.

A controversial official review once again reared its ugly head on the Frogs’ next possession. TCU had just converted a fourth-and-inches with a sweep to Jalen Reagor and Sewo Olonilua lined up in the wildcat formation. The next play TCU went for the home-run ball to Jalen Reagor, but the throw was too high and was picked off by Elijah Battle at the pylon. Or was it?

The play was ruled an interception on the field, but it was reversed to an incompletion upon further review. The replay official determined the ball was bobbled, and Battle’s right foot was out-of-bounds when he regained control. There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not he had regained control before his right foot hit, and the freeze frames seem to prove he had indeed regained control in my opinion. Either way, if there is this much debate, then shouldn’t the play stand as called since the evidence was not clear and indisputable?

It was definitely another break for TCU, and they made the most of it as really good teams will in these situations. Kenny Hill completed his touchdown hat trick on third-and-goal and the game on the line. He scored from three yards out on a straight quarterback keeper in which he had to dive through a couple of Mountaineer defenders. The score gave Hill a passing, receiving and rushing touchdown on the day. Just as importantly, the drive took seven minutes off the clock.

Will Grier and the Mountaineer offense took over with a chance to force overtime with 2:53 left in the game. West Virginia managed to convert a fourth-and-five for a first down. The next play David Sills caught what would have been another first down on the TCU side of the field.

However, in a call that will live in infamy among the West Virginia faithful, Sills was inexplicably called for offensive pass interference even though his jersey was clearly grabbed by the TCU defender. The 15-yard penalty doomed the drive, and West Virginia ended up turning it over on downs. TCU was able to run the clock out to clinch the victory 31-24.


1st Downs 28 16
3rd Down Eff 7-18 6-15
4th Down Eff 3-4 1-1
Total Yards 508 406
Passing 366 236
Comp-Att 25-45 16-29
Yards Per Pass 8.1 8.1
Interceptions 1 0
Rushing 142 170
Rush Att 39 36
Yards.Per Rush 3.6 4.7
Fumbles Lost 1 0
Penalties 2-25 5-51
Possession 31:21 28:39
WVU- W. Grier 25/45 366 8.1 3 1 67.6
TCU- K. Hill 15/28 188 6.7 1 0 49.4
WVU – J. Crawford 19 11 5.8 0 38
TCU – K. Hicks 11 71 6.5 0 27
WVU – K. White 6 138 23.0 1 76
TCU – J. Diarse 4 70 17.5 0 23


Is it too soon to start calling TCU a team of destiny? For two straight games against key opponents the ball is bouncing their way, and the calls are going their way. Against OSU two weeks ago, TCU fumbled five times and recovered all of them. They also benefited from a weird holding call on a punt and fumble review on the goal line also went their way. This game two reviews and the terrible offensive PI all went their way. Law of averages would say that these things will even out, but maybe this year they are just blessed with good fortune. TCU is a really good team, but the overturned interception and offensive PI definitely played a large role in them getting this win. But hey, every team who has won any championships got lucky somewhere.

Turnovers played a huge role in this game. TCU and West Virginia entered the game tied for the Big 12 lead in points off turnovers. TCU scored 14 points off two WVU turnovers, and TCU did not have any turnovers.

The return of David Long for West Virginia is going to be big for this Mountaineer defense. In his first game back from injury, he racked up three tackles, two pass deflections and two quarterback hurries. After all the criticism of their rush defense, they were able to hold TCU below their season average, and the defense in general certainly played well enough to get the win.

Will Grier had been lighting up lesser teams the last few weeks, and played well again against a solid defense. TCU was able to put a lot of pressure on him, and he made some great plays to escape and get something positive. That part of his game seems to be a bit under rated. He is probably the third best quarterback in the conference behind Mayfield and Rudolph.

Even though the stat line won’t show it, Kenny Hill had a great second half and made the big plays that won the game for the Horned Frogs. However, he needs to get better at handling the blitz. Whether he escapes the pocket and tries to throw on the run or throws off his back foot in the pocket, he is not effective as a passer when pressured. On a positive note he didn’t turn the ball over, but he needs to step into throws and take the hit.

TCU continues to distribute the wealth on offense. Darius Anderson has racked up yards with the absence of Kyle Hicks, but no TCU receivers are in the top 20 in the Big 12 in receptions, yards or touchdowns. Kenny Hill is also fifth or worse in the conference in yards, touchdowns and passer rating. That said, the Horned Frogs are top 10 in points per game, which is aided by leading the league in points off turnovers. TCU does seem to be the most complete team in the league right now.

Here is the freeze frame on the reversed interception. And yes this is after the initial bobble.

West Virginia has a couple tough losses on the season, but they definitely have the potential to still end up in the championship game after what we’ve seen from OU and OSU the last couple weeks. It is going to be a roller coaster year in the Big 12. Buckle up.

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