ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs clinched their second consecutive undefeated regular season and Mountain West Conference title Saturday with a 66-17 win over New Mexico.
The Frogs (12-0, 8-0 MWC) also clinched an at-large BCS berth in the process, likely securing a spot in the Rose Bowl if No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Auburn wins out and after No. 4 Boise State lost 34-31 to No. 19 Nevada Friday night.
TCU’s perfect season never looked in serious doubt from the start of the game, as the Frogs got off to a 21-0 start.
Senior quarterback Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns in the game’s first nine minutes, gashing the New Mexico secondary with passes of 14, 38 and 45 yards to Antoine Hicks, Waymon James and Jimmy Young, respectively.
The Frogs’ momentum slowed, however, after Dalton was injured early in the second quarter. New Mexico’s Jacori Greer sacked Dalton and forced a fumble, which Joe Stoner returned to the TCU 1 yard line.
The Lobos (1-11, 1-7 MWC) pulled back a little on quarterback Stump Godfrey’s 1-yard touchdown run two plays later to cut TCU’s lead to 31-17.
After TCU backup quarterbacks Yogi Gallegos and Casey Pachall couldn’t get much going for the rest of the half, the momentum seemed to be swinging New Mexico’s way.
Sophomore running back Ed Wesley said, however, that head coach Gary Patterson calmed the team down at halftime.
“[Patterson] pretty much told us that next year, Andy’s not going to be here anyways, so it’s time for some of these other guys to step up,” Wesley said.
After a three-and-out on its first third quarter drive, the TCU offense, led by Pachall, scored three touchdowns in just under four minutes thanks to a short field provided by the TCU defense and special teams.
Sophomore linebacker Tanner Brock said it felt good to help the offense out that way.
“Every defensive player likes to help the offense out a little bit,” he said. “More points on the board for our offense is a little bit of weight off our shoulders, so it’s worth it.”
TCU cushioned its lead to 52-17 with the scores and cruised the rest of the way.
After its last touchdown drive of the third quarter, TCU didn’t attempt a pass the rest of the game, rushing instead for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter while trying to run out the clock.
“I knew in the middle of the third quarter after we got up [52-17] that we weren’t going to do anymore [scoring],” Patterson said. “And we ran the ball, and if you’re running it in, I can’t do anything else more about it. …[New Mexico] knew that I was, with four or five minutes left to go in the third quarter all the way through the fourth quarter, [that TCU wasn’t trying to run up the score].”
The pressure on the Frogs from Boise State was lifted after the Broncos loss. Speculation was that the Broncos would jump the Frogs in the BCS standings with a win against Nevada.
Patterson said, however, that the Broncos’ loss actually increased the pressure on TCU because it gave the Frogs a clearer shot at a potential national championship or BCS berth.
“To be honest with you, I felt bad for Boise State,” Patterson said. “I know how hard they work to get where they’re at. We’ve been down the same road.”
Dalton, who surpassed 10,000 career passing yards during the game, echoed Patterson’s view and compared the Broncos’ loss to the one TCU had at Utah in 2008 that ended the Frogs’ BCS hopes that season.
“It’s a tough break for Boise,” he said. “It’s kind of a lot of how it was for us two years ago when we went to Utah [and lost 13-10], and unfortunately we didn’t make two field goals [like Boise missed last night]. So I feel for them.”
Patterson said the Frogs would still have to wait to see how Oregon and Auburn fare in their games next week before speculating what TCU’s bowl fate would be.
“I’m still not counting out [Oregon or Auburn to lose],” Patterson said. “One’s playing a rivalry game [Oregon against Oregon State] and one’s playing in the SEC championship game [Auburn against South Carolina], so there’s still a lot of football left.”
If Oregon and Auburn win out, TCU would likely receive a Rose Bowl invitation to fill the spot that the Pac-10 champion 8212; which would be Oregon 8212; usually fills. If one of the two loses, however, TCU would likely be next in line for a spot in the BCS National Championship.