This was the Kenny Hill game everyone with TCU ties was dreading. Hill, the former Texas A&M sensation that had hit the reset button in Fort Worth, had played largely mistake-free football in leading the Horned Frogs to a No. 4 ranking a few days before the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its first rankings, with 15 touchdowns against just three interceptions after tossing 13 picks in 2016, his first season as the starter.
In Ames, the inaccuracy and inconsistency returned, as the Horned Frogs’ offense was kept out of the end zone and Iowa State notched its second stunning upset of a top-five Big 12 foe this season, hanging on for a 14–7 win that leaves a logjam of four Big 12 teams with one conference loss atop the league standings. Hill finished 12 of 25 for just 135 yards and accounted for three giveaways and several general misfires that turned a long day for the TCU offense into a season-defining one.
Each of Hill’s three turnovers was a uniquely cruel backbreaker:
1. On the Frogs’ second offensive possession of the second half (KaVontae Turpin opened the quarter with a 94-yard kick return TD for their only points of the game), Hill led the offense inside the 10, then threw a third-down pass between two receivers who weren’t expecting it and into the arms of defensive back Brian Peavy, who returned it 70 yards the other way.
2. Then with TCU back inside the five with a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, another disaster: Hill dropped back for a play-action pass, was wrapped up by an Iowa State rusher, raised his arm with the intention of getting rid of the ball, thought better of it too late and left his throwing arm vulnerable, losing control as he went to the ground. The Cyclones recovered and bled what little clock their offense could manage.
3. TCU’s last-gasp drive that began with 83 seconds left lasted just two plays, as Hill had his first passed tipped away and his second picked off by Marcel Spears.
Back when the Horned Frogs knocked off Oklahoma State and West Virginia in back-to-back games and established themselves as national contenders, this stretch seemed like the easy part, ahead of a visit from Texas and road trips to Oklahoma and Texas Tech in November. But in the span of a month, Iowa State turned into world-beaters under the direction of second-year head coach Matt Campbell, proving its early-October upset of Oklahoma was far from a fluke with a pair of blowout wins against Big 12 foes thought to be its middle-of-the-pack peers.
The Cyclones terrorized TCU’s defensive backs, particularly senior Ranthony Texada, with their pair of hulking perimeter receivers: 6' 5" Allen Lazard finished with a game-high 106 receiving yards and 6' 6" Hakeem Butler caught the eventual game-winning touchdown. But at every step of the way over the season’s first half, Hill and the Horned Frogs’ offense had come up with enough big plays to avoid disaster. That magic ran out with a flourish on Saturday in Ames, and if Hill finds a way to rebound and steer TCU through November unscathed, a ridiculously improbable rematch with these same Cyclones in the Big 12 title game is looking more and more realistic.