LUKE MEREDITH, AP Sports Writer
AMES, Iowa (AP) — TCU is reeling after last week’s overtime loss at West Virginia, the third straight for a team whose Big 12 title hopes have been dashed.
Iowa State knows how the Horned Frogs feel.
The Cyclones (1-7, 0-5 Big 12) have lost their last five games — including three in a row by a combined score of 170-41 — and have already knocked themselves out of bowl eligibility.
TCU (3-6, 1-5) needs to win its last three games, starting with Saturday’s game at Iowa State, simply to reach the postseason.
This isn’t the way either program envisioned their season going. But a win this weekend could go a long way toward finishing the year on a relative high note.
“We’re obviously not in a place where we’d like to be at this time of year. This hasn’t been a place where we’ve been in a while,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “It’s kind of a similar situation to Iowa State. Both of us have been banged up. A lot of different people have been out. At this time of year, you get a chance to play for pride.”
This could be the rare Big 12 game where points will be at a premium.
TCU is 94th in the nation with just 23.4 points a game, with Iowa State right behind the Horned Frogs at 23.1 points. But TCU should find yards and points easier to come by with a healthy Casey Pachall throwing against a struggling Cyclones defense.
Pachall had 394 yards passing in last week’s 30-27 loss to West Virginia. A hundred of those yards went to Trevone Boykin — who played quarterback when Pachall was unavailable earlier this season.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads hasn’t announced whether Sam Richardson or Grant Rohach will start at quarterback. But it sounds like Rhoads is expecting TCU to be aggressive against whoever ends up playing.
“Like us a little they’re a corner, injured animal,” Rhoads said. “They’re going to sense blood in the water and go after it.”
Here are five things to look for as the Horned Frogs and Cyclones meet in Ames:
LEAPT FROGS: B.J. Catalon, TCU’s leading rusher, is injured and likely won’t play — and No. 2 tailback Waymon James has been suspended. The pair has combined for 647 yards and nine touchdowns, so the Horned Frogs won’t replace them easily. Sophomore Aaron Green could see more playing time, though he’s averaging just 3.5 yards a carry, and seldom-used Jordan Moore will probably also see his carries rise.
SHONTRELLE TIME: Iowa State also has issues at running back, with senior Shontrelle Johnson listed as this week’s starter as Aaron Wimberly continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Wimberly has missed the last two weeks after being injured in a 71- loss to Baylor. But Johnson is averaging just 3.3 yards a carry, indicative of a team that has struggled to run the ball much of the season.
QB WOES: Still, Iowa State’s struggles on offense can be tied largely to ineffective quarterback play. The Cyclones have failed to crack 200 yards passing in four straight games, with four touchdowns and six picks in that span. Rohach is listed as the starter, but Rhoads is willing to try anything to get a boost from the game’s most important position. “Quite honestly, depending how this week flows, Sam could run out there as the starting quarterback,” Rhoads said.
HISTORY LESSON: In 2001, Patterson’s first season as the head coach at TCU, the Horned Frogs rallied to beat Louisville and Southern Mississippi to earn a bowl bid. Though it would be natural to compare that team’s plight to this one, Patterson cautioned that his first TCU squad was healthier than this one. “One of the things is that we got stronger at the end of that year. The difference here is that we’re more banged up, but you have to get ready to go,” Patterson said.
CONFIDENCE BOOST: As Rhoads has watched the Cyclones tumble to what’ll likely be their worst record in his five seasons in Ames, he’s been forced to change the way he motivates his players. “When you’re winning, your job is to temper things down. They’re getting enough patting on the back on campus that you’ve got to make sure they’re humble. When you’re losing, they’re getting enough of the other that you’ve got to pick them up,” Rhoads said.