By Matthew Postins
FORT WORTH — It was one of those days where TCU did just enough to win. And the Horned Frogs badly needed it.
The Horned Frogs used a 14-point spurt in the third quarter and then leaned on their stifling defense to defeat Kansas, 27-17, on Saturday.
It wasn’t pretty. TCU (3-3 1-2 in the Big 12) committed five turnovers – four on offense and one on special teams. But pretty wasn’t a requirement against the Jayhawks (2-3, 0-1).
What TCU needed was a win, something to stop the bleeding after an 0-2 start in the Big 12. That the Horned Frogs received as they prep for a particularly stout two weeks in which they travel to Oklahoma State and then host resurgent Texas, which defeated Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry while TCU was evening its season record.
The turning point came at the start of the third quarter. The Horned Frogs and Jayhawks played to a 10-10 draw in the first half. But two big plays turned the tide for TCU.
The first came on the first play from scrimmage. TCU took over at its own 25 and quarterback Trevone Boykin found David Porter out in the right flat for a short completion. Porter turned around, headed upfield and split the grasp of a pair of Kansas defenders. Once he did that it was smooth sailing for the junior, who ran 75 yards for the tie-breaking touchdown just 13 seconds into the half.
Porter ended up leading the Horned Frogs in receiving with 4 catches for 118 yards and the score.
The other big play came on Kansas’ first drive of the third quarter. Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps threw a screen pass to running back James Sims in the left flat. Sims had what would have been a 30-yard gain had he not fumbled. TCU’s Chris Hackett, running across the field, managed to get his hand between Sims’ arm and the football, jarring it loose. Hackett recovered the loose ball at the TCU 47.
From there TCU’s offense made it a two-score game, as the Horned Frogs drove 53 yards, capped by B.J. Catalon’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:31 left in the third quarter.
By then it seemed the Horned Frogs had things under control. Boykin ended up with a nice afternoon, throwing for 173 yards and running for another 71. Catalon rushed for 91 yards on just 12 carries.
But TCU’s mistakes kept the Jayhawks in the game.
TCU’s defense managed to stymie the next KU drive at the Jayhawk 35. But TCU’s Brandon Carter muffed the punt and KU’s John Wirtel recovered the football at the TCU 27. Two plays later Heaps hit Jimmay Mundine for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Mundine, set up in the slot, ran 15 yards upfield and broke for the sideline as Heaps’ pass reached him before a pair of TCU defenders did. Mundine strode into the end zone for the score.
That cut TCU’s lead to 24-17 with 7:28 left in the third quarter. But the Jayhawks never scored again.
How good was TCU’s defense on Saturday? Well, start with the Jayhawks’ field position on their three scoring drives — the TCU 25, a defensive touchdown and the TCU 27, the last of which coming after TCU’s muffed punt.
In other words, the only way Kansas scored was if the Horned Frogs gave them exceptional field position thanks to turnovers. TCU committed five turnovers and Kansas scored all 17 points off miscues. But that wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, the Horned Frog defense smothered Heaps and the rest of the Jayhawk offense. Sims was the only player who had any sustained success against the Horned Frogs, as he rushed for 81 yards and caught 5 passes for 40 yards.
Heaps ran for his life most of the afternoon as TCU sacked him four times. He finished with a net rushing day of minus-39 yards. Heaps threw for 152 yards and a score, but his pass into the ground on first down inside his own end zone midway through the fourth quarter was emblematic of his day. Back in the shotgun, Heaps dropped back, found no one was open and threw the ball into the purple of the end zone near his safety valve receiver, halfback Darrian Miller, in frustration.
TCU’s Paul Dawson, a junior starting at middle linebacker for the first time this season in place of Jonathan Anderson, had a huge afternoon, netting 17 tackles and three tackles for loss. Terrell Lathan and Sam Carter each had a sack as the entire defense had eight tackles for loss. The secondary broke up a half-dozen passes and Jason Verrett had his first interception of the season.
In all, Kansas gained 198 net yards on Saturday.
And it was still a one-score game until Jaden Oberkrom’s 37-yard field goal gave the Horned Frogs a 10-point cushion with 2:34 remaining in the game.
Kansas actually scored the first points off a turnover in this contest, as Boykin threw an interception on the Horned Frogs’ first play from scrimmage. Kansas’ Isaiah Johnson picked it off and it led to a Jayhawk field goal, which gave them a momentary 3-0 lead.
The Horned Frogs seemed to get control of the contest, thanks to Boykin’s 10-yard touchdown run and Oberkrom’s 44-yard field goal, which gave TCU a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. But with their backs against their own end zone Boykin underthrew a receiver on the outside and Kansas cornerback JaCorey Shepherd picked it off and went the distance for a 32-yard touchdown. That tied the game at 10 and it stayed that way until the half.