A premature celebration that negated a touchdown. An invalid fair catch signal that negated a touchdown. Blown calls despite an extra referee. A fox on the field. Yeah, this game was weird.
In the end, Texas Tech had a 20-10 home victory over TCU in both teams’ Big 12 opener.
The oddsmakers figured there would be twice as many points scored in this one. It is the Big 12 after all. But here’s what TCU did offensively to start the game: punt, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, kneel down before half, turnover on downs. Texas Tech, after scoring 10 in the first quarter, had an eight-possession stretch in which it posted negative 2 total yards.
Texas Tech’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, put up ridiculous numbers in his first two games, against SMU and Stephen F. Austin. On Thursday night, he looked more like what he is: a true freshman walk-on. He threw three interceptions and left in the fourth quarter after appearing to take a hit to the groin.
On the other side, TCU sophomore quarterback Trevone Boykin still looks more like a runner than a passer. He threw two picks. In his defense, his receivers dropped several catchable passes and he was getting battered all game.
There was an eighth referee in this game, one more than usual, whose sole job was to spot the ball after plays. The Big 12 is hoping this will allow teams to play at their preferred tempo. The quicker spotting didn’t help either team get in an offensive rhythm, partly because the other seven referees were throwing their flags all night. Texas Tech had 10 penalties for 89 yards; TCU had 13 for 115. For comparison, UCLA was worst in the country last year, averaging nine penalties per game for 91 yards.
Halfway through the third quarter, a fox appeared behind the TCU bench. It appeared the Texas Tech mascot tried to corral the fox at one point. At the time, this was easily the most exciting part of the game. But things only got more interesting from there.
TCU’s Brandon Carter took a punt 69 yards for a score in the fourth quarter but it was waved off because of an invalid fair catch signal. Carter looked like a kid in class unsure of whether he wanted to raise his hand but ultimately deciding not to. I don’t think Carter intended to call for a fair catch. But I also think that for something not to be a fair catch it has to be absolutely clear. I think the refs made the right decision. TCU scored on their drive anyway to tie the game at 10, but the extra time it took was costly.
On the ensuing possession, Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington took a screen pass (that was tipped by a TCU defensive lineman, but that’s not the story here) 49 yards down the sideline for what was ruled a touchdown. After replay review, it was obvious that Washington had added his name to the growing list of players foolish enough to intentionally drop the ball before crossing the goal.
Unlike in most other instances I’d seen, where the ball had gone out of the end zone or been picked up by a player, in this case the ball rested in the end zone until a referee picked it up. Since Washington had released it at the half-yard line, it was initially spotted there, though it wound up on the 15 because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Texas Tech sideline. Whether that was the correct call, as opposed to a touchback and possession to TCU at the 35 (20, plus 15 for the penalty) is unclear to me.
Even if it was, it seems wrong. Teams should be punished for such a gaffe, even if the refs screw up the initial call and deny either team the chance to recover the fumble.
Anyway, Tech’s back-up quarterback was in at that point and threw a nice touch pass for the game-winning touchdown. The Red Raiders iced the game with a field goal after another apparent fumble was ruled, well, not a fumble.
It was a fitting end to a weird, wacky game. Kliff Kingsbury gets off to a 3-0 start as head coach, while TCU, preseason No. 20, falls to 1-2. The Big 12, which figured to be wide open before the season began, is now even more of a crap shoot.