With 14:54 left in a surprisingly tight Mountain West battle, TCU eraser Tank Carder came free through a gap and knocked Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith silly.
That slobber knocker also KO’d the Pokes.
With the franchise sidelined, the Cowboys offense that had moved consistently Saturday against the Horned Frogs was rendered hapless. And TCU bid adieu to Wyoming — perhaps for good — by leaving Laramie with a 31-20 victory.
“Everyone knows what Brett Smith is to this team, and we felt like that was a major loss,” said senior receiver Mazi Ogbonna, the recipient of a second-quarter touchdown dart from Smith.
“When he went down, I felt bad for a split-second for our team.”
He had good reason.
Smith’s injury underlined how much the Cowboys rely on this true freshman. His backup Colby Kirkegaard — a late signee in the summer — completed 5-of-10 his passes for 37 yards.
But he was not Brett Smith. And it was clear.
Even former Cowboys quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, whose transfer to Vanderbilt created the opening for Smith to assume the starting job, understood UW’s chances were nonexistent with his replacement seeing stars.
“Get [Smith] healthy and back in and win this damn game!! Uhhh I hate TCU,” Carta-Samuels tweeted.
Many gold-and-brown-clad fans at War Memorial Stadium felt the same way.
The word on Smith, who finished with 210 passing yards and two touchdown throws, was that he had the wind knocked out of him. He is expected to start next Saturday against Air Force in a key league battle that could determine Wyoming’s bowl fate.
That’s awfully impressive for a person whose internal organs resemble bruised peaches.
“He’ll be ready to play next week,” said Christensen, who added that Smith could have re-entered the game but was kept out as a precaution.
Ogbonna said Smith was protesting to re-enter the game. Despite all that, the scene on the field moments after the hit was ... well, scary.
As Carder and his TCU teammates celebrated the key third-down stop, Smith laid motionless on the field. Upon seeing his quarterback on the turf, Ogbonna turned and ran back on the field to check on him.
“To see someone who’s contributed so much to your team down like that is never a good sight,” Ogbonna said.
Carder’s crack on Smith clearly left an imprint on the Pokes.
Wyoming trailed 24-20 at the time. Two plays after Smith walked off the field, TCU’s Waymon James scooted 74 yards to give the Horned Frogs a chip shot for the game’s final tally.
“Anytime you see your quarterback laying on the ground, you just think, ‘Oh, no. What are we going to do?’” freshman cornerback Blair Burns said.
Wyoming still had chances late in fourth quarter.
The Horned Frogs, who are moving conferences to the Big 12 and will not be a regular on the UW schedule, if at all, had the ball ripped from them twice in the fourth quarter — the Pokes caused five turnovers total.
But the Cowboys’ offense had zero oomph.
It leaves you to wonder, “What if Smith was never hurt?” Maybe that three-year losing streak to the Horned Frogs would not have extended to four.
Next Saturday, the Cowboys take on another team that has dominated them recently — Wyoming has not beaten the Falcons since 2005.
“It’s a huge game,” Wyoming senior Josh Biezuns said. “Nobody on this team has beaten Air Force.”
And that won’t change if Smith is not playing. We learned that Saturday.