TCU coach Gary Patterson changed clothes during halftime of the Alamo Bowl on Saturday night, and that was by design. Patterson had seen enough of his team through two quarters. He’d watched his Horned Frogs fall behind Oregon 31-0 in the Alamodome, and he’d done so wearing a black shirt. So Patterson took it upon himself to boost TCU’s mojo: He traded that black shirt and visor for purple ones, hoping the change in wardrobe might alter the Frogs’ fortunes in the second half.
Two quarters, three overtimes and 57 total points later, Patterson stared gleefully into the ESPN camera after an improbable, irrational and somehow irrefutable 47-41 comeback win over Oregon. “The purple shirt worked,” Patterson said.
The Horned Frogs managed to survive the Ducks in the Alamo Bowl, capping an 11-2 season with an epic rally that instantly overshadowed what had evolved into a lopsided postseason. Each New Year’s Six matchup had been decided by at least two touchdowns. Alabama and Clemson won this year’s Cotton and Orange Bowl semifinals by 38 and 20 points, respectively. Bowl season had failed to capture the drama of college football’s year-long playoff race.
But after 37 bowl games had been played, it was the Alamo Bowl that gave America what it’d been waiting for. The contest featured a coach’s mid-game wardrobe change, an untimely injury to one of the nation’s best quarterbacks and an unlikely star on the opposite sideline, one who would emerge as a game-changer. What took place in the Alamodome on Saturday wasn’t just one of the best games of the postseason, it was one of the best games of the entire 2015 season. It’s now unlikely any of us will ever forget this Alamo.
TCU’s eventual victory seemed impossible after an opening half dominated by Oregon. The Ducks started the damage early, notching a 37-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to Darren Carrington at the end of an eight-play, 81-yard drive on their second series. Carrington’s score kicked off a string of four touchdowns on four straight possessions. Oregon was cooking with fire, and the Frogs were powerless to stop it.
Meanwhile, TCU slogged its way through the first half on offense. Its first seven drives ended like this: Punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt and interception. At the break the Horned Frogs had just 142 yards of offense to Oregon’s 376.
But the second half was a different story, a shift in momentum sparked by an injury to Adams late in the second quarter. A collision with TCU linebacker Derrick Kindred had sent Adams to the locker room for examination. When the third quarter kicked off, Adams returned to the sideline in street clothes. That left backup quarterback Jeff Lockie to oversee Oregon’s offense holding a cushy 31-0 lead.
That’s when attendees in San Antonio watched momentum change hands quickly. A Ducks offense that’d been humming (7.2 yards per play) in the first half struggled to find ground behind Lockie. Meanwhile, TCU’s own attack found new life in Adams’s absence. Redshirt senior quarterback Bram Kohlhausen led the Horned Frogs on three straight scoring drives in the third quarter. By the final period, Oregon’s lead had been trimmed to 31-17.
With 3:32 left in regulation, TCU running back Aaron Green capped a 91-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. The ensuing two-point conversion, a nifty double-pass from Kohlhausen to tailback Shaun Nixon then to Buck Jones in the end zone, pushed the Frogs within three points. After a big defensive stop, TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom knocked in a 22-yard field goal to tie it up. A Lockie sack on Oregon’s final play sent the game to overtime, a mere two quarters after the Ducks had led by a 31-point margin.
The squads traded scores in consecutive overtime periods. But at the start of the third OT, Kohlhausen ran in an eight-yard touchdown, giving TCU its first lead of the game, 47-41. On Oregon’s ensuing possession, Lockie’s attempt to Carrington on fourth-and-eight fell short.
The Ducks’ inexplicable implosion was complete. TCU’s 31-point rally marked the largest bowl comeback in history.
Kohlhausen, a redshirt senior, will never play college football again, but he might never buy a drink in Fort Worth again, either. His name should remain a part of TCU history after an epic day in the Alamodome: He finished with 396 yards of offense and four total touchdowns. Kohlhausen wasn’t even in the Horned Frogs’ game plan until starter Trevone Boykin’s arrest for assault last Thursday. Boykin’s suspension opened the door for Kohlhausen to make one final mark on his college career–and that he did.
Adams, meanwhile, saw his own tenure at Oregon come to an unsettling end. The graduate transfer had entered bowl season as the FBS leader in passing efficiency, and he completed 13 of 19 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown in helping Oregon build its early lead. But the Ducks simply weren’t the same team without him on the field. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Kohlhausen was the one who thrived.
In eight days the country’s focus will shift to the national title game on Jan. 11. Alabama and Clemson will face off for college football’s top prize, and if the current postseason trend continues, fans can expect a matchup without much drama. But perhaps Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney should take a page out of Gary Patterson’s playbook and throw on a new shirt at halftime. Hey, it worked wonders for TCU in the Alamo Bowl.