Baylor 61. TCU 58. It happened. It still matters. The Big 12's unofficial conference championship game, played on Oct. 11, might not end up settling the College Football Playoff debate as a title tiebreaker or head-to-head hammer to the No. 3 Frogs' hopes. In the totality of these two teams' résumés, evidently the committee values this one as just one game.
Still, what a phenomenal game it was. The first-ever Big 12 game at McLane Stadium was a four-hour shootout between two evenly matched teams with all the traits of an instant classic. Here are 10 lessons learned after a thorough re-watch of the Big 12's best game of 2014.
1. Admiring the instant comeback. Months later, Baylor’s successful 21-point rally in less than seven game minutes remains an astonishing feat. Bryce Petty had fans exiting with 11 minutes left after his pick-six to TCU's Marcus Mallet put the Bears in a three-score hole. “I was pissed,” Petty said this week, “but there was never a thought of, ‘I just lost us this game.’ I wanted the ball back.” He immediately engineered an unfathomable offensive run: 14 plays, 228 yards, 21 points in three minutes, 21 seconds. Per ESPN Stats & Information, TCU’s likelihood of winning after the Mallet pick-six was 98 percent. We witnessed the not-so-impossible 2 percent.
2. Count those turning points. Close games usually get decided by four or five plays. This one might've had a dozen game-changers. Ever since TCU jumped ahead 14-0, handing Baylor its first deficit of the season, the twists and turns were constant. A 90-yard scoring drive to put TCU up 21-10? Nobody remembers that. KD Cannon’s 64-yard touchdown, capped by a stiff-arm, makes it 21-21? No big deal. B.J. Catalon took the ensuing kickoff to the house. Petty’s first INT, David Porter's near touchdown and countless other plays might’ve swung a more ordinary game.
3. TCU led for 80 percent of the game. A total of 48:01, in fact, of the game’s 60 minutes. The Frogs led for 160 plays against a foe that, again, had never trailed. Against Baylor, TCU never trailed until the final play of the game. Say what you want about game control measurements and their meaningfulness. In a matchup of two top-10 teams, controlling a game that long is significant.
4. ‘It was like playing us.’ That’s what Baylor DC Phil Bennett said this week, when reflecting on the challenge TCU presented. The new-look Frogs took such a similar approach to this game, particularly with deep shots and gutsy big plays. The best pass of the night was receiver Cameron Echols-Luper chucking the ball to end the third quarter that soared 55 yards and right into B.J. Catalon’s hands. The Bears matched those big plays by the day’s end, with these teams combining for 41 plays of 10-plus yards. The influence of aggression was everywhere.
5. The Big 12’s great QB battle. Petty put up career-high passing numbers, but he also pressed and was pressured throughout. What remains a mystery is just how injured Trevone Boykin was during the game. The injury to his non-throwing wrist was revealed days after the Baylor game. For a 119-point game, neither QB was as unstoppable as you'd expect.
6. Three the easiest way. With 8 seconds left in the first half, a deep snap soaring over punter Ethan Perry’s head nearly cost TCU its lead. Shawn Oakman, all 6-foot-9 of him, chased and fell on the ball with 2 seconds left. TCU got lucky, in a way, because Oakman could’ve tapped the ball to one of three oncoming teammates. Nobody stood in their way of a TD. But the big man set Chris Callahan up for an easy 29-yard field goal to make it 31-27. Those three points paid off in the end, didn’t they?
7. Shock, awe up the middle. The secret key to the comeback? Baylor running back Shock Linwood and his five linemen. Linwood, once a Horned Frogs commit, pounded the middle of the TCU defense for 113 rushing yards on 13 fourth-quarter runs, repeatedly busting through well-cleared lanes to set Art Briles and Petty up for ideal passing downs. As that game wore on, TCU couldn’t get him down.
8. Frogs get tired. These teams combined for 198 offensive snaps, including 103 pass attempts. TCU cornerback Kevin White said Tuesday he knows that workload played a role in the Frogs’ failures late. “We were both going fast. A lot of deep balls, a lot of guys tired by the end of that game,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve never felt like that after a game as far as being exhausted and tired.”
9. ‘No mas.’ TCU’s back and forth over going for it on fourth down is still a little baffling. With 1:20 left in a 58-58 game, the Frogs quickly lined up and punted on fourth-and-8 while the Bears were still substituting players. That drew a 5-yard penalty for fourth-and-3. Patterson sent out his offense, then called a timeout. Then he sent out his punting team. Then he called another timeout. Back came the offense. “He went no mas, all or nothing,” Bennett said. The DC blitzed six when TCU finally ran its fourth-down play. Had Boykin waited a second, he had B.J. Catalon open on an out along the sideline. But the call was a lob and fade to Josh Doctson. The result? A low-percentage throw, an incompletion and a chance for Baylor's offense to start at its 45 with 77 seconds left and a win in sight.
10. Patterson right about PI, not ending. Patterson recently offered USA Today the following take: “It still really came down to two pass interference penalties; one that didn’t get called and one that did.” His complaint is fair. Officials didn’t call PI on Ryan Reid for his physical fourth-down coverage of Doctson. They had no business calling one on Corry O’Meally's third-down coverage of BU’s Levi Norwood five plays later. That flag set Callahan up for the game-winner. In a rollercoaster four-hour battle, blaming the result on one flag or no-call makes little sense. Baylor won 61-58 because, after nearly 200 plays of pure craziness, the Bears made the last one count.