TCU’s weekend in the national spotlight, courtesy of a visit by the ESPN College GameDay crew, included impressive displays of purple lighting on downtown buildings and purple T-shirts sported by legions of sign-carrying fans during Saturday’s pre-game show from the Campus Commons lawn.
The pre-game buzz marked the loudest, longest buildup for a Horned Frogs’ home football game since the school joined the Big 12 for the 2012 season. But the defining act that extended the presence of purple on the color wheel of possibilities in the College Football Playoff race came from coach Gary Patterson’s team in emphatic, crunch-time fashion at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
No. 8 TCU knocked off No. 23 West Virginia, 31-24, to move to 5-0 and secure the Frogs’ second victory over a Top 25 opponent this season. TCU broke a 24-24 tie on quarterback Kenny Hill’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:53 to play to cap a 13-play scoring drive, then made the defensive stop needed to become the Big 12’s last remaining undefeated team this season.
Expect the Frogs (5-0, 2-0 in Big 12) to become the league’s highest-ranked team in Sunday’s updated polls because of No. 3 Oklahoma’s stunning 38-31 loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Regardless of where the Frogs land with voters this week, they are clearing the big-game hurdles needed to curry favor with members of the College Football Playoff selection committee if TCU maintains its current pace when playoff berths are finalized in December.
All in all, that made for a pretty heady weekend for coaches, players and fans after TCU ran its record to 18-0 when playing in Fort Worth as a top-10 team in the Patterson era.
“I’m excited about this one. Everything that went on today was awesome,” said Patterson, reflecting on his team’s ability to back up the pre-game hype with a crunch-time win. “You couldn’t ask for anything better for TCU and Fort Worth. We’re 5-0. It’s tough to be 5-0.”
Even better, in Patterson’s mind, is that TCU took its final lead with a 65-yard touchdown march that included three third-down conversions and one fourth-down conversion immediately after West Virginia scored to tie the game at 24-24. The defense made it stand up with Ranthony Texada’s pass breakup on a fourth-and-18 play to stop the Mountaineers’ final drive.
“Even when they tied it, I didn’t see anybody panic,” said Patterson, whose team includes 21 scholarship seniors after having only eight on last year’s roster. “We’ve got older guys you can talk to and fix things. That was something we weren’t able to do a year ago.”
It worked Saturday, allowing the pre-game words of ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit to ring with truth. Before the game, Herbstreit predicted TCU would make good on its “opportunity to show America that they are legit” after beginning the season as an unranked team.
TCU won despite being outgained in total yards, 508-406. It won in large part because the Frogs won the battle on special teams and converted both of West Virginia’s turnovers into touchdowns. In many ways, Hill said the game-winning drive came down to a gritty mindset that resulted in conversions on fourth-and-1, third-and-7 and third-and-2 before his 3-yard scoring run on another third-down play.
“It’s nice, now that we’re at the top of the conference,” said Hill, who scored a touchdown as a rusher, passer and receiver in the same game for the first time in his TCU career. “On that last drive, we just knew we had to go punch one in. Their offense is too explosive to just be kicking field goals. The whole way down the field, it was, ‘Punch it in. Punch it in.’ Those third-down conversions were huge for us.”
So is the statement that TCU made by following up its Sept. 23 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State, 44-31, with another triumph over a Top 25 team. The fourth-quarter heroics against West Virginia capped a day that began with ESPN analyst Lee Corso donning the head from the Super Frog mascot costume to punctuate his prediction of a TCU victory. Fans arrived early for the GameDay telecast, showed enthusiasm and held aloft hundreds of clever signs with proclamations that included “You can have your mountains. We’ll take our Kenny Hill” and “If we lose, it’s fake news.”
TCU did not lose Saturday. Asked if the 5-0 start might elevate the Frogs’ national profile, Texada said: “Maybe so. But we’ve just got to stay focused and get ready for the next big game. If we don’t win, it’s all going to go away.”
Running back Kyle Hicks, who rushed for a team-high 71 yards and had the clearing block on Hill’s game-winning touchdown run, called Saturday’s achievement “a great team win” and further validation that the Horned Frogs have made significant strides in all areas since posting a 6-7 record last season. In particular, Hicks said Hill has elevated his game and showed it Saturday by rushing for the game-winning TD, throwing a 45-yard touchdown strike to Jalen Reagor and grabbing a 48-yard touchdown strike from receiver KaVontae Turpin on a trick play.
“Kenny, he balled out today. I was really happy for him,” Hicks said. “He’s always talking in practice about how he wanted to get a receiving touchdown. I’m glad he did. He was making some moves coming down that sideline. He was great.”
But how will Saturday’s triumph be received nationally? Hicks said he’s not convinced TCU is viewed by poll voters in the same light as blue-blood programs with multiple playoff appearances such as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
“I’m not sure they do and I really don’t care,” Hicks said. “We’re 5-0 and our next goal is to get to 6-0.”
That opportunity comes next week against Kansas State. But on the first GameDay Saturday on the TCU campus since 2009, a 5-0 record is as good as it could get for the resurgent Horned Frogs.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers another Texas team next week at home when the meet the Red Raiders on Saturday.
TCU: The Horned Frogs take a trip to Patterson’s alma mater, when the Frogs play at Kansas State next Saturday.
Side Note: Signs spotted at TCU Game Day: “The alphabet has more Ws than Baylor”
“The whole WVU roster is on Farmers Only”