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TCU’s 1st Alamo Bowl comeback was one of the greatest games ever

TCU’s 31-point comeback to beat Oregon in overtime then got a sequel in 2017.

Valero Alamo Bowl - TCU v Oregon Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

No. 15 TCU beat No. 13 Stanford in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday, coming back from as many as 18 down. It was a New Year’s Six-worthy game in San Antonio, though for most college football fans, it just brought to mind an even better Alamo Bowl and an even bigger TCU comeback from two years prior.

Let’s remember the first time the Horned Frogs pulled this off.

The 2015 season’s Alamo Bowl was bonkers.

TCU beat Oregon, 47-41. Here’s a win probability graph:

The first half was 31-0, Oregon.

The Ducks scored 21 in the first quarter and 10 more in the second. Their four touchdowns came on drives of 81, 79, 84, and 62 yards. None took more than 2:32 of clock time, though three involved seven or eight snaps. To call Oregon’s offense in the first half a knife going through butter wouldn’t be strong enough. The Ducks averaged 7.2 yard per play and scored touchdowns before TCU’s defense could catch its breath.

The first of those, a 37-yard throw from Vernon Adams to Darren Carrington:

ESPN

Other than “31-0,” the best way to sum up TCU’s first half is that the Horned Frogs blocked a punt and had it turn into Oregon getting a first down on the same play.

ESPN

The second half was 31-0, TCU.

The symmetry was incredible. TCU got 17 points in the third quarter, which made the game marginally interesting. The Frogs beat the doors down with 14 more in the fourth to tie the game and send it to overtime. They had a chance to win the game before overtime, but Oregon stopped TCU on the 5-yard line and forced a chip shot with 19 seconds left. The comeback could’ve been even more shocking than it turned out.

One overtime wasn’t enough.

TCU got the ball first and scored a touchdown. Oregon then faced a fourth-and-4 with the game on the line, but the Ducks converted on a 17-yard throw from Jeff Lockie to Royce Freeman, down to TCU’s 2. The Ducks scored two plays after.

ESPN

Two OTs also weren’t enough.

Both teams forced (and made) field goals in the second overtime.

In the third OT, TCU finished the job. But it was tense.

The Frogs got the ball first again, and because it was the third overtime, they were forced to go for two in the event of a touchdown. TCU did score a touchdown but didn’t convert the two, which gave Oregon a chance to win with 25 yards and a two.

Oregon faced a third-and-2 at TCU’s 17, fumbled, and recovered. But the play caused a loss of 6 yards, and a Lockie throw to Carrington fell incomplete on fourth down.

ESPN

How’d it happen? There’s a short answer and a long answer.

A short one: Gary Patterson finally chose the right shirt.

A longer one: Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams didn’t play in the second half. The Ducks’ starting center, Matt Hegarty, also left early with an injury. The Ducks had trouble doing basic things like executing QB-center exchanges after that.

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Oregon was a different team without Adams on the field:

The Heisman does not go to the country's most valuable player. If it did, Alabama's Derrick Henry, with that absurd defense in his back pocket, wouldn't have taken the award. But if we did have such an award to give, Vernon Adams would have one hell of a case.

Oregon lost four games, and Adams was only on the field at the end of one (at Michigan State, when he was trying to lead a comeback with a broken hand). The senior EWU transfer had a 179 passer rating, and he was 13-for-19 for 197 yards against TCU. But then he took a hard hit and left the game with a head injury. Hegarty, the center, left too.

Faulty snaps wrecked multiple drives. A tiring defense got no rest, which increased odds of failure. Everything snowballed.

TCU was itself playing a backup quarterback all night. Starter Trevone Boykin was suspended after getting into a bar fight and arrested days before the game. Bram Kohlhausen finished with 351 yards and two touchdowns.

Here’s some further reading on that game.

This oral history from SB Nation’s TCU site, Frogs O’ War, is great. Here’s Kohlhausen recounting the moment the game ended:

Sam Carter and I had already grabbed the Gatorade [before the last play]. And I was like, “Dude, they could score.” And he said, “They’re not scoring.” I guess every defensive player knew that they weren’t going to score again, and right when the horn sounded, we went and dumped Gatorade on Coach P, and I went and found my buddies and my family and started jumping around.

ESPN

The game came in No. 2 on Bill Connelly’s ranking of the 100 best games of the 2015 season.

Yes, suspensions and injuries played roles. If TCU’s Trevone Boykin doesn’t get himself suspended before the Alamo Bowl, the Horned Frogs don’t get outscored 31-0 in the first half. (Then again, they dug plenty of holes with him in 2015…) And if Oregon’s Vernon Adams doesn’t get hurt in the second quarter, the Ducks don’t get outscored 31-0 in the second half. This was still remarkable, even if you turned it off for a while because it was a blowout.

It was a blast for everyone who didn’t have an interest in Oregon winning.

So, yeah, I think it’s cool that TCU is back in the Alamo Bowl.


College football's first bowl game was almost its last