JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Forcing turnovers is playing a large role in what’s turning out to be a special season for TCU.
The Horned Frogs lead the nation with 26 takeaways, getting five of them and shutting down West Virginia’s offense late in 31-30 win on Saturday.
One-third of TCU’s fumble recoveries and interceptions this season have come in the last two games.
TCU got four in a lopsided win over Texas Tech last week. All of the Horned Frogs’ takeaways came in West Virginia territory on Saturday. Two of them led to TCU touchdowns.
“One thing that has come with this defense is that we’ve gotten a lot of takeaways,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “If you do that, you’re going to have opportunities to win ball games and these guys have been doing that.”
After Jaden Oberkrom’s 37-yard field goal as time expired against the Mountaineers kept its Big 12 title chances going, TCU (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) now turns to a showdown at home with first-place Kansas State (7-1, 5-0) next Saturday. TCU is tied for second place with Baylor.
Patterson and his players insist TCU’s focus is on the Wildcats, not how the College Football Playoff rankings are shaping up that will determine the four teams in the national semifinals.
“I’m a happy camper,” Patterson said. “They have to come to our house. I’m just going to worry about the things that I have control over.”
TCU jumped four spots to No. 6 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll on Sunday. Kansas State improved two spots to No. 9.
“TCU is a great team,” said Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. “It’s one of those games a lot of people are going to be looking forward to.”
In the College Football Playoff, the Horned Frogs (No. 7) and Kansas State (No. 9) will learn Tuesday night whether a loss by Mississippi (No. 4) to Auburn (No. 3) will move them higher in the rankings this week.
“We don’t worry about the rankings right now and where we’re at,” said TCU safety Chris Hackett, who had an interception and forced a fumble against West Virginia. “Every week something’s going to change. And we just want to keep going up the ladder and try to win a game each week.”
Kansas State’s players watched the start of the TCU-West Virginia game before the Wildcats’ 48-14 home win over Oklahoma State on Saturday.
“There’s a lot of mistakes we made and a lot of plays we left on the field, but then we have to get in the film room and start getting ready for TCU,” said Kansas State wide receiver Curry Sexton. “It’s going to be a great matchup, and it’s a heck of a place to play.
“We need to have a good week of practice because we know this is the biggest game of the year.”
Against TCU, West Virginia couldn’t hold onto a 13-point lead in the third quarter and sputtered to just 121 yards of offense in the second half.
The Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2) fell four spots to No. 24 in the AP poll and must regroup to prepare for a game Saturday at Texas. West Virginia finishes the season with two of its final three games on the road.
“We’ve got a lot of things to improve on,” said West Virginia cornerback Terrell Chestnut. “It’s our job to keep them out of the end zone. It’s just one game. That’s how we define this team, the way we bounce back.”