LAWRENCE, Kan. -- — Max Duggan almost single-handedly carried TCU to wins in its first four games. Against Kansas, another threat emerged for the Horned Frogs, and that should concern defensive coordinators across the Big 12.
Duggan passed for three touchdowns in the second half, including the game-winning 24-yarder to Quinten Johnston with 1:36 left to cap a wild second half, and No. 17 TCU beat 19th-ranked Kansas 38-31 on Saturday.
The Horned Frogs (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) are out to their best start since 2017 after winning the matchup of surprise unbeatens.
Duggan found Johnston 14 times for 206 yards, the most by a TCU receiver since 2016. Johnston entered Saturday with 12 catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns over four games.
“We had a plan from the end of the last game until now and that was to play fast,” Johnston said. “As receivers, we’ve got to get the ball and get as many yards up the field. I wouldn’t say that was the best of our ability, but we did enough to win.
“It’s all a mindset. If you love football, you’re going to go get it every single day.”
Duggan knew his big receiver had the tools. It was just a matter of figuring out how to use them.
“With the ball in his hands you can see how talented he is,” the quarterback said. “Seeing him burst out again was fun to watch. I just have to keep doing a good job of getting him the ball.”
TCU is not where anyone expected them to be nearly halfway through the season. The Horned Frogs were picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason polls. But inside the locker room, no one is surprised.
“When we got through fall camp, we knew we had some talented players,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “We felt if we could figure things out we’re going to have a pretty good football team that can string some wins together.
“But we’ve got a lot of stuff we have to clean up on defense, and we’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up on offense. We left a lot of plays out there.”
Duggan finished 23 of 33 for 308 yards.
“It was huge to (win) a game like that on the road against a ranked opponent,” Duggan said. “We struggled in parts. Getting a win like that builds our confidence.”
Duggan outdueled Kansas backup quarterback Jason Bean in a wild second half. Jalon Daniels, who led the Jayhawks to five straight wins for their best start since 2009, suffered an apparent injury to his right (throwing) shoulder late in the first half.
Bean, who started the first 10 games last season, was 16 of 24 for 262 yards and he became the first Kansas quarterback to throw for four touchdowns in a half since Todd Reesing in 2008.
“I don’t think it did much,” Dykes said of the switch to Bean. “They did what they did. Jason came in and played really well. I felt like we had guys contained and we got outrun. Any time your backup quarterback can come in and plays at the level he played at, you’ve got a good football team.”
Kansas coach Lance Leipold liked his team's resiliency.
“I’m proud of the way we battled, being down, losing Jalon,” he said. “I think we left opportunities out there. I’d like to commend (Bean), the way he’s handled it to be ready. If he is asked to be the starter next week, I’m very confident he’ll have a very good week of preparation and take advantage of his opportunity to be a starter.”
Leipold said he would know more about Daniels' status after further testing on his shoulder Monday. The coach didn't rule out Daniels for the next game.
The Jayhawks (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) got their first points on Jacob Borcila’s 40-yard field goal one play after Daniels injured his shoulder.
Bean threw touchdown passes of 12 yards to Tanaka Scott and 8 yards Luke Grimm to put the Jayhawks up 17-10 in the third quarter. Duggan found Derius Davis on a 51-yard touchdown pass to tie it, and after Jamoi Hodge picked off Bean, TCU regained the lead on a 3-yard run by Duggan.
Bean’s 38-yard TD pass to Quintin Skinner tied it, but Duggan’s 25-yarder to Taye Barber put the Horned Frogs up again. Bean then hit Skinner with a 29-yard TD pass to tie it 31-all with 4:21 left in the game.
TCU: Duggan is playing some of the best football of his career. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and nearly 10 yards per pass attempt. He’s got a great grasp of offensive coordinator Garrett Riley’s offense.
Kansas: The 5-0 start was not a fluke. Even with Daniels injured near the end of the first half, the Jayhawks were able to move the ball on the ground and through the air.
TCU is in for a promotion. It could be a close call whether the Jayhawks stay in the Top 25 after entering the rankings for the first time since 2009 last week.
Kansas: Visits Oklahoma on Saturday.
TCU: Hosts No. 7 Oklahoma State on Saturday.