It ends here: Horned Frogs snap Utes' historic winning streak in OT
FORT WORTH, Texas - Not since the first game of their school-record winning streak had the Utah Utes entered the fourth quarter with a team as close to them as the TCU Horned Frogs were at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Thursday night.
Clearly, they didn't like it.
Pressed for the first time in what seemed like forever, the Utes and their high-powered offense suddenly ground to a halt in the crucial stages against an inspired Horned Frogs defense, and they would up watching their 18-game win streak screech to a finish, too, when TCU's Michael DePriest caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in overtime to give the Frogs a 23-20 victory.
"It's tough," Ute safety Eric Weddle said. "It's hard. We fought hard. Our guys didn't quit. They gave everything they had, we just didn't make the plays. . . . When someone needed to make a play, no one did."
No one for Utah, anyway.
The Horned Frog roster seemed like it was full of guys who rose to the occasion, starting with DePriest.
The junior receiver had not caught a pass in two previous games this season, yet he came free easily in the right flat when a teammate seemed to pick off a Utah defender with a crossing route, and he had no problem hauling in just the eighth completed TCU pass of the night.
"I just tried to make a play," he said.
That set off a frenzied celebration among the Frogs and the 25,220 fans who came to watch their home opener, while the Utes dropped their heads and tried not to feel devastated despite losing not only their historic winning streak, but also their Mountain West Conference opener.
"Nothing lasts forever," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The win streak was not going to go to infinity, that's obvious. We're a good football team. . . . And we're going to be a contender. What we have to do is take a look at the film, correct our mistakes, and get back to our winning ways."
The Utes had a good
chance to drive for a winning score in regulation, but they stalled near midfield twice in the final six minutes - including a killer three-and-out after taking possession at the 50-yard line with 3:58 remaining. Whittingham also complained that the Utes weren't able to put the Frogs away after taking a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter.
"Those were the two biggest disappointments," he said. "We couldn't convert or capitalize on those two situations."
The Utes started off well enough, hurting the Frogs with downfield passing and taking that 17-7 lead on touchdown runs by quarterback Brian Johnson and running back Quinton Ganther and a 39-yard field goal by kicker Dan Beardall.
But then, quicksand.
The Horned Frogs started playing more zone pass coverage, Johnson said, making it harder for him to find open receivers.
And the Frogs already were loaded up to stop Ganther and the running game - the Utes managed just 109 yards on the ground, on 50 carries - turning the smooth Utah scoring machine into a lumbering, lurching jalopy barely capable of gaining a few yards per possession by the end.
The Utes gained 240 yards while taking their 17-7 lead, but only 77 afterward.
"They were one of the top defenses in the country," Johnson said, "and they showed it tonight."
Running back Aaron Brown hurt the Utes, too, rushing for 163 yards in his first college game in place of injured senior Lonta Hobbs. The Utes obviously had not seen the freshman on film, and it showed as he set up two touchdown runs for teammate Robert Merrill with his devastating runs.
"He was their whole offense," Weddle said.
The Horned Frogs tied the game on a 30-yard field goal near the end of the third quarter, and the teams mostly punted back and forth the rest of the way.
When they finally reached overtime, the Utes lost the coin flip, were forced to use their offense first, and had to settle for a 34-yard field goal and hope they could stop the Frogs.
Merrill ran three times to the Utah 4, before Gunn rolled to his right and found the shockingly wide-open DePriest for a victory that instantly makes the Horned Frogs the team to beat in the Mountain West.
"We found a way to make a play," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
"I knew we had a chance. It seemed like the longer the game was going to go, the Texas humidity was going to help us. We got a couple of good plays and we got the ball down first and goal. Michael DePriest made a great play."
And for the first time in a very long time, the Utes did not.