Purple Reign: 5 observations from the Big 12 Championship No 3 TCU vs. No. 10 Kansas State

Mandatory Credit: Photo by LM Otero/AP/Shutterstock (13647928t) Quarterback Max Duggan (15) throws under pressure from Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah (91) and linebacker Austin Moore (41) in the first half of the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game, in Arlington, Texas. TCU running back Kendre Miller (33) is at bottom Big 12 Championship Football, Arlington, United States – 03 Dec 2022

Purple Reign: 5 observations from the Big 12 Championship No 3 TCU vs. No. 10 Kansas State

No. 10 Kansas State ended the perfect season of No. 3 TCU and claimed its first Big 12 title since 2012 with a 31-28 overtime win. Kansas State withstood a furious comeback by the Horned Frogs, who overcame an 11-point deficit to force the game to overtime. The winning points came on a 31-yard field goal by Kansas State’s Ty Zentner after TCU was stopped on both third and fourth down from the 1-yard line. Here are our 5 observations from this instant classic.

Mad Max: Great games always have one element that will live on; today’s Big 12 Championship will be remembered for the drive by Max Duggan.

On a day where he has harassed and pressured on every passing attempt, Max Duggan dug deep to keep TCU’s championship dream alive.

Down 28-20, Duggan and the Frogs took possession 65 yards away from pay dirt. Repeatedly Duggan avoided pressure and used his legs to create big plays. On the drive, he rushed for a fourth down conversion, a 40-yard gain on second and 20, and then found the end zone from 8 yards out. Duggan then found Jared Wiley for the two-point conversion that tied the game.

Duggan’s heroics were all the more impressive in light of the beating the quarterback took from the Wildcat defense all afternoon. He was visibly exhausted, but answered the call time after time.

Not your granddaddy’s game: Analytics has changed the game of college football. That change was evident when Kansa State went for it from the TCU 6-yard line late in the first quarter.

Old-school conventional wisdom would have told the Wildcats to take the sure three points with the field goal. At that point in the game, they would have survived the opening barrage from the Horned Frogs and ended the first quarter down only 7-3.  

After getting a big stop from his defense and seeing the first sign of life from his offense, no one would have faulted Chris Klieman if he had kicked in that situation. But the game has changed, and K-State took the aggressive approach.

The decision to go for more than a field goal is only half the story. The bigger part of the equation is the play call that followed the initial decision to pass up the sure three points.

Everyone knows that the Wildcat offense revolves around running back Deuce Vaughn, so what did Klieman and his coaches do? They ran a play-action naked play, faking to Vaughn and putting Will Howard on the edge with the option to run or pass. This call put enormous pressure on the TCU defense. In that situation, fourth-and-1 from the 6-yard line, the defense is keyed up to stop the run. The play-action call attacks the defense in three areas at once. The middle with the fake to Vaughn, the perimeter with the threat of Howard keeping, and then there is the option that worked for Kansas State, the tight end in the flat for the easy completion.

At the highest levels, this kind of decision-making and play-calling is often the difference between wins and losses. These decisions are why these coaches make the money that they do; it’s literally why they make the big bucks! Having great players helps, but big-time coaching is knowing when and how to make an impactful decision.

This gutsy decision and great play call energized Kansas State and completely changed the complexion of a game that, up to this point, had been dominated by TCU. Subsequently, the Wildcat defense forced a three-and-out, and the game was on.

Purple People Eaters: The Kansas State defense deserves a ton of credit for frustrating, containing, and beating up on a TCU offense that has been explosive all season.

The Wildcats employ a 3-3-5 scheme that allows them to adjust into many different coverages and alignments, creating confusion for opponents. Today the K-State defense was physical and were sure tacklers. After weathering an early storm, the Wildcats were able to apply pressure on Max Duggan that affected his accuracy, and prevented the TCU star from getting the ball to his explosive playmakers.

The Horned Frog offense has averaged 41 points a game this season, but the Wildcats held them to only 20 today.

TCU scored on their opening drive, but after that, Kansas State held the Frogs to only three points over their next eight possessions. The opening moments of this game had all the earmarks of a TCU blowout victory, but thanks to their defensive play, the Wildcats were able to rally and build a lead and force the Frogs to attempt another double-digit comeback.

Evening the Odds: One of the key elements in the Kansas State game plan today was to run the football and control the tempo of the game, limiting the opportunities for the explosive TCU offense.

TCU, like Kansas State and many other college football teams today, employs a 3-3-5 scheme that accentuates the athleticism of linebackers and defensive backs. By playing more of these athletic players, the defense can often overwhelm offenses with speed and quickness.

Kansas State counteracted this scheme by employing many two tight end sets that create more gaps for the defense to defend and forcing the defense to bring smaller defenders closer to the line of scrimmage where bigger offensive players can more easily block them.

As the game wore on, the Wildcat running game became more effective behind this bigger lineup and with the use of a bigger, more physical runner in DJ Giddens. The 212-pound freshman provided a complement to the smaller and quicker Vaughn.

Once this power running game had been established, Kansas State also used several variations of jet sweeps, bringing a receiver or running back in motion and handing the ball off with a head start. These sweeps are particularly effective when combined with the heavy formations that the Wildcats employed.

All of these body blows paid dividends in the later stages of the game, culminating in a 44-yard rushing touchdown by Vaughn that came off of the jet motion and finally creased a softened TCU defense.

Winning by the numbers: Most championship games come down to the team that can control a few key stats. These games are often decided in turnovers, third down conversions, and red zone efficiency.

Today TCU was on the ropes in the third quarter. Kansas State had just taken a 21-10 lead and forced a three-and-out. The Wildcats seemed poised to take a stranglehold on the game, and the Frogs’ perfect season was in real doubt.  

The feel of the game changed dramatically again when Kansas State muffed the ensuing punt. With the benefit of a short field, Duggan and company scored in three plays and the Frogs were back in the game.

Turnovers became a factor once again in the opening stages of the fourth quarter when Duggan made a poor throw under pressure on third-and-7 from the Wildcat 8-yard line. This play hit two of the vital categories, counting as a turnover and as a red zone win for K-State and a loss for the Frogs. On the ensuing possession, the Wildcats stretched the lead back to 11, and the turnover stat once again proved vital on the 14-point swing.

Both teams struggled on third down. TCU converted only 2-of-11 opportunities, while the Wildcats succeeded on only 5-of-15. In the modern era, where coaches are more willing to attempt fourth down conversions, that stat is growing in importance. Today the Frogs were 3-for-4 on fourth down, while the Wildcats were 2-for-3. The one failure on fourth down for TCU was costly, coming on the goal line in overtime, allowing Kansas State to secure the win.

One Comeback Short: All season, TCU seemed to be a team of destiny. Week after week, the Frogs were able to overcome large deficits to snatch wins away from the jaws of defeat.

Today Kansas State ended the Frogs’ perfect season, but the playoff dream may still be alive. With the chaos that is reining across the nation, TCU has as good an argument as any of the other teams that are vying for one of the four spots in the top four.

No. 1 Georgia is yet to play, and they are assumed to be safely in the playoff, but after that, every spot seems to be up for grabs. With the loss by No. 4 USC in the Pac-12 championship, the path for TCU to make the playoff appears to be wide-open.

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