The Horned Frogs looked sluggish at times against a winless Army team Saturday night, but they put together a solid second half to beat the Black Knights 38-17 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.Despite the 21-point margin of victory, the Frogs had to sweat out the win. The Black Knights brought the game within one score in the fourth quarter before bowing to TCU.
“I don’t think we particularly played well in any of the three categories — offense, defense or special teams – but it’s a (win).” head coach Gary Patterson said after the game.
Junior quarterback Jeff Ballard led a balanced TCU attack, accounting for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air, in No. 25 TCU’s fifth-straight win.
Junior tailback Robert Merrill rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and senior cornerback Quincy Butler had two interceptions in the game for the Frogs.
The Frog’s didn’t look squeamish at the start of the night, as the ground game looked impressive out of the gates. Merrill racked up 37 yards and a touchdown on a methodical, 13-play, 67-yard drive to open the game for TCU.
Patterson said Merrill gave the Frogs what the coach has come to expect from his running back: a solid, consistent performance.
“Robert Merrill is Robert Merrill,” Patterson said. “He comes to play every week.”
Army made the score 7-7 when running back Scott Wesley broke through the TCU line to find nothing but open field ahead of him on his way to a 42-yard touchdown run.
Junior wide receiver Cory Rodgers answered on the Frogs’ next series with an 11-yard touchdown catch to put the Frogs back on top, 14-7. In addition to the touchdown pass, quarterback Jeff Ballard had two first-down runs and a completion of 20 yards to sophomore wide receiver Donald Massey
Army dominated the second quarter, driving twice into the red zone, but only managed to cut three points off the Frog lead.
Following Ballard’s only interception early in the quarter, the Black Knights settled for a field goal after sophomore wide receiver Corey Andersen dropped what would have been a five-yard touchdown reception on third and goal.
Army kicker Justin Koenig converted that 23-yarder, but missed a 37-yard attempt as time expired in the first half, leaving the game at 14-10.
Butler said keeping the surging Black Knights out of the end zone gave the Frogs a lift.
“That was a big motivator,” Butler said. “We showed that we go out there under any kind of circumstances and just come out there and stop them at the goal line.”
The TCU offense got back on track to start the second half, driving deep into Army territory before the drive stalled and sophomore kicker Chris Manfredini came on to kick a 27-yard field goal, his only attempt of the night.
Ballard completed four passes of more than 10 yards on the next TCU drive, including a 19-yard touchdown strike to freshman tailback Aaron Brown. On the play, Brown met an Army defender at the five-yard line, bounced off the tackler, dove and stretched over the goal line to make the score 24-10 Frogs into the fourth quarter.
Ballard, who threw for 219 yards and ran for 45, said the offense did a good job putting together some sustained drives and that he rebounded from a poor performance last week against Wyoming
“I felt like I managed the game,” Ballard said. “I took what they gave me, and I didn’t try to make the big play. That was the key to my success, and I guess the team’s as well – because I didn’t try to force things.”
Army fought hard to mount a late comeback after the Brown score. With just over nine minutes remaining in the game, quarterback Zac Dahman connected with wide receiver Jeremy Trimble near the right sideline for a gain of 37 on fourth and four. Running back Carlton Jones scored two plays later on a 3-yard run to narrow the Army deficit to seven.
That was as close as Army would get, however.
Ballard flattened a potential tackler with stiff-arm and moseyed into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown run to cap a short drive following a failed attempt by Army to catch the Frogs by surprise with an onsides kick.
Butler then recorded his second interception on the first play of the ensuing Black Knight drive, and Ballard put the game out of reach with another touchdown run, a seven-yarder that made the score 38-17.
Jones led Army with 76 yards rushing and Dahman had 252 yards passing, but threw three second-half interceptions.
The 6-1 Frogs will return to Mountain West Conference action next weeken when they head to Colorado to face Air Force. The game will be the first of four league games to finish out the season for TCU.