(Sports Network) - On the road for the first time this season, the Horned Frogs traveled the short distance to Dallas to challenge SMU in the Battle for the Iron Skillet back on September 24th and came away with the 41-24 victory and still TCU went from the fourth-ranked team in the nation down to number five because it didn't blow away the Mustangs.
"We took their best shot and came out with a win," said TCU head coach Gary Patterson after the decision. "That was two emotional rivalries (Baylor and SMU), and we played them back-to-back. I'm very happy with the way my team played in all three phases of the game today."
Nevertheless, even though coach Patterson expressed how pleased he was with the effort, finding out the squad lost votes in the AP poll could not have been a great feeling on Sunday.
As for the Rams, they went into last weekend with one of the longest losing streaks in the nation at 12 straight and figured to be adding to the skid when taking on the Idaho Vandals, yet coach Steve Fairchild somehow got his squad to play to its potential and CSU stole a 36-34 win. The 36-point outburst by Colorado State was nearly twice as many points the program had tallied in the first three weeks combined (19) as it fell to Colorado, Nevada and Miami-Ohio.
"I was never really thinking of the losing streak," coach Fairchild said of the program's lengthy slide dating back to last season. "This team was 0-3. This team was not playing well at times, and we had the makings of a good football team by the way we were practicing. I think this is going to be a good football team. We've got a long way to go, but we're getting better each time we hit the practice field."
Colorado State has won only once in seven tries in the all-time series with TCU, and was crushed by the Frogs last year, 44-6.
TCU took some time to warm up against the Mustangs in a hostile environment, but by the time the second half rolled around Andy Dalton was ready to guide his squad to the win column yet again. Dalton finished the meeting 14-of-26 for 174 yards and a score, but he was also sacked once and picked off two times as he made some poor judgement calls going down the field. Waymon James carried the ball just eight times for 41 yards, but he hit the end zone twice to give the Frogs new life.
With four catches Jeremy Kerley delivered 33 yards through the air for the Frogs, but it was his kick returns that put him in the spotlight, racing 172 yards on five kickoffs, including one that he brought back 83 yards as he ran all the way to being named the MWC Special Teams Player of the Week.
From a defensive standpoint, TCU was exposed a number of times when the Mustangs opted to run draw plays and delayed runs, allowing Zach Line to come from out of nowhere to generate a game-high 139 yards and one score on 17 attempts. Tejay Johnson made up for some of those break downs on defense as he intercepted a ball midway through the fourth quarter and returned it 19 yards for the final score of the contest for the Horned Frogs.
As for the Rams, they had several outstanding performances that guided them to their first win of the season and the first in more than 11 months. Quarterback Pete Thomas, who was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week, converted 29-of-36 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns, while shaking off five sacks and tossing an interception. Running back Raymond Carter could have easily copped the award himself after becoming the first player in MWC history and the first for the Rams since 1970 to both run for 100 yards and post at least 100 yards receiving in the same game. Carter picked up 105 yards and the first rushing TD of the season on 15 attempts for CSU and also turned four catches into 120 yards.
Beyond Thomas and Carter, the other star of the game for the Rams had to be kicker Ben DeLine who bounced back from missing a PAT late in the meeting to boot the game-winning 35-yard field goal at the buzzer.
"It was not for me," said DeLine of the winning kick, "it was for the team. I could not let myself miss that field goal for Coach Fairchild and for the offense and defense that fought tooth and nail that gave me the opportunity to do that."
DeLine is now 7-of-9 on field goal attempts this season for a team that desperately needs his contribution, seeing as how the Rams are seventh in the conference and tied for 117th in the nation in scoring with a mere 13.75 ppg. The so-called running attack is anything but, accounting for only 59 ypg to place last in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There were bound to be some growing pains for Thomas at the quarterback position, but without a reliable running back or two to help the cause and assume some of the pressure, the young signal-caller seems to be out on an island all by himself.
Several other factors have been working against the Rams as well in the early going, not the least of which is their turnover margin (minus-1.75 per game) which has them last in the MWC and 119th nationally, as well as a pass efficiency defense that has a rating of 181.95 and is last in all of college football entering this huge meeting with TCU.
A lack of so-called style points by the Horned Frogs last week may have cost them some votes in the rankings. While coach Patterson may not outwardly acknowledge a concern, he knows that another less-than-stellar outing versus the Rams could further damage the program's reputation for this year. It might not be pretty, but rolling up the score in the first half and then coasting the rest of the way might be the best way to combat the naysayers.
Dalton, who is the all-time winningest quarterback in Mountain West Conference history after posting his 33rd versus SMU, is also fourth in league history in terms of total offense with 9,587 yards and will be closing in on several other top marks as the season wears on, so he clearly has the resume' on which to build a solid effort this weekend. The Frogs could also get after Colorado State on the ground because that's what has carried TCU in the early going this year and has been a bane to CSU's existence.
Mistake-free football is what the Horned Frogs need to preach this weekend, not to mention a few bonus touchdowns to boost their offensive stats along the way.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: TCU 56, Colorado State 17