The TCU defense forced seven turnovers Saturday en route to a 28-14 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys, putting the Horned Frogs in sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference and back into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since the second week of the season.All seven turnovers came courtesy of Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlet, who lost three fumbles and threw four interceptions. The Cowboys saw three critical fourth-quarter drives end in turnovers, sealing the win for a Horned Frog offense that had a consistently short field to work from.
Head coach Gary Patterson said players in the defensive secondary are gaining experience – and that experience makes a difference.
“We’re just breaking on balls and making plays,” Patterson said. “We’ve been real young (on defense). The older you get, the faster you get to the ball.”
The defensive frenzy for the Frogs started on the third play of the game, when sophomore safety Brian Bonner picked off Bramlet and returned the ball to the Wyoming 17-yard line, paving the way for junior running back Robert Merrill’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Freshman linebacker Robert Henson returned a Bramlet fumble 22 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.
Saturday’s game moved the Frogs into first in the nation in turnover margin, averaging 2.17 more takeaways a game than their opponents. TCU has caused 23 turnovers this year, a Division I-A best.
Despite the victory, Wyoming star receiver Jovon Bouknight caught 11 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns, a performance mildly resembling the one Brigham Young receiver Todd Watkins rung up against the Frogs on Sept. 24.
Sophomore linebacker David Hawthorne said star power, while always a factor, is not everything.
“Most teams have about three really good (offensive) players,” Hawthorne said. “If you can take away two out of those three, you can win the game.”
Although the Frogs’ effectiveness on defense has been increasing, the kicking game continues to be erratic. Sophomore kicker Chris Manfredini, who came into Saturday’s game perfect on the season, made two field goals in the first half but also missed two extra points.
Junior kicker Peter LoCoco, who lost the starting job early in the season, made a 52-yarder as time expired in the first half.
Patterson said that while the kicking game is a never-ending drama, the Frogs are still in decent shape.
“It’s been this way for two years now,” Patterson said. “The good thing is that we have two or three guys that can (step up) in different situations. We’ve been good enough to win so far. Some other teams, like Army, have lost some games because of kicking issues.”
Even though TCU is now ranked No. 25 in the nation, Patterson said, he is wary of a sense of accomplishment. The Frogs’ last stint in the Top 25
ended when the team followed a week-one upset win at Oklahoma with an equally upsetting week-two loss at SMU.
“We know what happened last time we got to the Top 25,” Patterson said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes.