TCU's 22-game home winning streak is over. The Horned Frogs' long stay in the national rankings could be next. No. 20 TCU rallied from 16 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but SMU held on for a 40-33 upset on J.J. McDermott's fourth touchdown pass of the game and one last defensive stand.
The Horned Frogs scored 23 points behind three fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Casey Pachall, a month after they ambushed Baylor with 25 points in the final period before the Bears drove to the deciding field goal in a 50-48 win. That loss in Waco ended TCU's 25-game regular-season winning streak. Sunday could mark the first time the Frogs are unranked since October 2008.
"For us, at some point, it was all going to come to an end," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You didn't want to end right here, but the bottom line is our group downstairs has to do some soul-searching."
It looked like the Mustangs (4-1) would cruise to just their second win over a ranked opponent since the program was shut down by the NCAA's so-called death penalty in the 1980s. But Pachall made it interesting before faltering in overtime. His toss on fourth-and-2 was tipped and bounced off the chest of TCU's Brandon Carter, prompting a wild SMU celebration.
"It was real tough after getting off to a slow start," said Pachall, who was 30 of 42 for 304 yards. "To come all the way back, and have it happen like that, it's never easy to swallow." The Mustangs moved the ball well behind McDermott and Darius Johnson, who repeatedly teamed up for big third-down completions, starting with a 13-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive.
The pair hooked up on a 21-yard score to put the Mustangs ahead 33-17 barely a minute after Pachall had thrown his first TD pass on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
McDermott and Johnson did it again on a 32-yarder on third-and-17 midway through the fourth before TCU finally stiffened. After forcing a punt, the Frogs drove 77 yards to a field goal, then SMU's Kenneth Acker hesitated a yard deep in the end zone and was tackled at the 10 on the subsequent kickoff.
The Frogs held and had to drive just 46 yards to the tying score, a 4-yard pass from Pachall to Luke Shivers with 1:16 remaining.
"The bottom line is we've come back twice and come up short," Patterson said. "Our kids did everything the could to get to that point, but you've got to find a way to finish." Both of SMU's post-death penalty wins over ranked teams have come against TCU.
The other was in 2005, a week after TCU entered the rankings with an upset of Oklahoma. SMU is off to its best start since going 5-1 in 1986, the year before the program was shut down. "What a win. It's been a long, long time coming," McDermott said. "We were up. They stormed back. I'm ecstatic, so proud of our guys."
SMU's Zach Line entered the game second nationally with 11 touchdowns, but the biggest play from the linebacker-turned-running back came on the kickoff coverage team to start the second half. He stripped TCU's Greg McCoy inside the 10, and Chris Parks recovered in the end zone for a 24-10 lead. The Mustangs rode the momentum swing from that play until TCU's big rally in the fourth quarter.
The Frogs, coming off an unprecedented three straight seasons with the nation's top defense, gave up more than 450 yards for the second time this year. The first was in the Baylor loss. The Horned Frogs couldn't stop SMU on third down and were having trouble getting first downs themselves for the most first half.
The problem was best illustrated early in the second quarter when TCU had second and less than a yard and couldn't keep the ball. Ed Wesley lost 4 yards, and Waymon James fell down short of the first-down marker after catching a short pass from Pachall.
Wesley turned things in TCU's favor in just one play, though. He ran through a huge hole in the middle of the line and skirted through the secondary before he was caught from behind on a 63-yard run to the SMU 3. Matthew Tucker scored two plays later to cut SMU's lead to 17-7.