On a night with where the TCU and Fort Worth communities tossed around the words “hope” and “survival” for a special cause, the Frogs may have used the same terms to describe their chances at being bowl eligible before Saturday.
And “survive” they did, and did it handily.
In what was arguably the most impressive and decisive win of the season, TCU turned back the clock and overmatched the New Mexico Lobos on both sides of the ball, routing the Lobos, 37-0, at Amon Carter Stadium on Saturday.
The win moves TCU to 5-4 on the year and 2-3 in conference play, and one more victory makes the team bowl eligible for the sixth time in head coach Gary Patterson’s seven seasons as head coach.
The game, which served as TCU’s annual game to promote breast cancer awareness, saw the Frogs rack up 421 total yards on offense compared to 119 yards for New Mexico.
TCU’s defense stifled New Mexico’s rushing attack to the point of nonexistence, limiting the Lobos to 28 yards on 26 carries. The defense would also frustrate one of the conference’s best receiving duos in seniors Travis Brown and Marcus Smith, holding them to a combined 83 receiving yards.
Patterson said being able to halt any kind of production on the ground and gaining a big lead allowed the defense – which now includes senior defensive end Tommy Blake after his return to the starting lineup Saturday – to focus more on drop-back coverage in defending against New Mexico’s passing game.
He said this kind of performance gained extra confidence heading into the final three games.
“I think the group got back a bit of swagger tonight,” Patterson said of the team’s collective performance.
Coming off an abysmal performance against Utah, redshirt quarterback Andy Dalton rebounded nicely, going 11 for 18 through the air for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Carrying the load on the ground for TCU was sophomore Joseph Turner, who went for 117 yards on 28 carries, filling in for junior Aaron Brown. Patterson said Brown was on “a limited basis” knowing the team faces a short week of rest when it travels to play BYU on Thursday.
Even without Brown, the offense went for 238 yards on the ground in the win, extending its winning streak to 19 games when the unit goes for at least 167 yards on the ground.
Following a 17-point second quarter, TCU would continue to wear out the Lobos in the third quarter, controlling the ball for almost 11 of the 15 minutes in the quarter. One minute after senior kicker Chris Manfredini booted an 18-yard field goal to put the Frogs up by 23 points, Patterson’s club would effectively end the game thanks in part to another big play made by junior safety Stephen Hodge.
Hodge, who recovered a blocked punt 31 yards for a touchdown against Utah, forced a fumble on a catch made by Brown, which allowed sophomore cornerback Rafael Priest to recover the fumble for a 13-yard touchdown.
The Tatum native, who started Saturday at strong safety and allowed senior Brian Bonner and senior David Roach to switch safety positions, said he had been taking advice from his brother, Anthony, in how to make the most of an opportunity.
“I always complain to him that I’m not getting enough playing time and he was like, ‘Whenever you get in, make the best of your opportunities,'” said Hodge, who also had his second sack in as many games, “and that’s what I’ve been doing: Making the best of my opportunities.”
Coming off a 16-day break from game competition, the Frogs would gained control of the game early on and had a firm grip heading into the locker room, taking a 20-0 lead at halftime behind touchdowns from Dalton and sophomore Marcus Jackson.
Dalton connected with senior wide receiver Derek Moore on a 29-yard strike to put the Frogs up 10-0 early in the quarter. Not to be outdone was sophomore quarterback Marcus Jackson, who found senior wide receiver Marcus Brock from seven yards out a little more than three minutes after Dalton’s touchdown to give TCU a three-score lead.
To put TCU’s first-half performance into perspective, the 273 yards of offense put up in the first two quarters Saturday nearly matched the 285-yard total from the previous game against Utah.
Turner said the team’s collective mindset heading into Saturday’s game returned to some kind of normalcy following the break.
“It helped us get our mind where we needed to be,” Turner said. “This season hasn’t been so good, and everybody got to sit down and relax and get everything back to where they are supposed to be.”
Patterson said the atmosphere before, during and after the win is the kind of support the Frogs need if they are to win the last three games and beyond.
“One of the things we have got to get to a point of understanding is, hey, we’re a little bit down, we’re all down,” Patterson said. “You just don’t cast us away. We all have to battle. We all have to put our backs against the wall. Not just the team. The school, the fans, I mean everybody.
“You’ve got to put your back against the wall and come out fighting, and tonight, everybody did. I applaud everybody.