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December 29, 2012

Horned Frogs lose momentum, fall to Michigan State

Michigan State beat TCU 17-16 Saturday night in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and in the end, a familiar theme that hovered over the Frogs' first season in the Big 12 became very apparent once again.

Things don't always end the way they begin.

The Horned Frogs entered last offseason with plenty of momentum and a wealth of starters from a team that went 11-2 and won its third straight Mountain West championship. But then a tumultuous spring saw the departure of several key players, including star linebacker Tanner Brock and starting running back Ed Wesley.

Then in September, TCU started the season 4-0, including a road win over Kansas, the team's first Big 12 victory. But starting quarterback Casey Pachall was arrested on DWI charges and suspended for the rest of the season, leaving a thickening league schedule in the hands of Trevone Boykin, a redshirt freshman receiving reps at running back the week of Pachall's departure. TCU would lose five of its next eight.

Saturday against the Spartans might have been a mini-mirror image of the Frogs' last 12 months.

TCU started on a roll, getting out to a quick 7-0 lead and extending that to 13 by halftime. Boykin didn't look perfect, but he was good enough, while the Frogs' defense held Le'Veon Bell to just 38 yards through two quarters. Momentum was a friend to the Frogs, much like momentum was a friend to the Frogs after a Poinsettia Bowl win last December and wins this year over Kansas and Virginia and SMU.

But momentum, if not always short-lived, can most definitely change in an instant. Most of the time, there is no way to tell.

On Saturday night, there was no way to tell.

Michigan State looked inept - worse than inept. The Spartans were borderline incompetent, if not by their own deficiencies, most surely by the proficiencies of the TCU defense, which seemingly knocked down every pass and plugged every running lane.

Bell, who entered Saturday night having rushed for 587 yards over the previous three games, looked run-of-the-mill.

But with momentum, there is no way to tell which way it will turn, or when it will make that turn.

Needing something on offense, Michigan State entered a freshman quarterback, drove 90 yards down the field and scored on a touchdown pass from Connor Cook to Aaron Burbridge, a play in which the TCU linebackers, perhaps the weakest spot on the Big 12's best defense, were blatantly exposed. Suddenly, with 34 seconds left in the third quarter, it started slipping, the tides of the game shifting if not in complete favor of the Spartans at least in a different direction. Suddenly, TCU's upper hand was lowering.

Then the ball dropped - literally.

After forcing yet another Michigan State punt, the TCU defense appeared to regain a hold on the dominance it displayed in the first half.

But Skye Dawson muffed the punt, then scrambled, unsuccessfully, for the ball before the Spartans pounced on it. A few plays later, Bell stepped in for a score, giving Michigan State a 14-13 lead.

Jaden Oberkrom would drill a 53-yarder to give the lead back to TCU, but this time the momentum was indeed short-lived, as Dan Conroy's 47-yarder gave the Spartans the lead they wouldn't give up.

It was a game that began with everything TCU could want.

Efficient offense. Steady run game. An occasional big pass. Staunch defense. Fundamentally sound secondary.

It appeared, early on, that Saturday night's game would be TCU's ideal launching pad into next season, which begins at Cowboys Stadium against SEC power LSU. Not only were the Frogs building momentum, they were making a statement. As lowly of an offense as most Big 10 teams have, shutting one out on national television still means something. TCU was well on its way to doing that.

But momentum can change in an instant, and there is no way to tell when it will turn.

In the end, that same old theme kept hovering one last time over the 2012 Frogs.

Things don't always end the way they begin.



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