Just like Amon G. Carter Stadium, the 2011 TCU defense is not completely ready for its close-up.
But the Horned Frogs' second-half performance Saturday, propelled by Greg McCoy's 94-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter, turned a close game into a 38-17 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in front of a crowd of 32,719.
No. 23 TCU trailed 17-14 after the first quarter as the Warhawks ripped the Frogs for 189 yards, including touchdown passes of 22 and 37 yards. ULM had just 191 yards total at Florida State two weeks ago.
"We need to start taking charge instead of reacting," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, who earned his 100th career win at TCU. "That's what we're used to, and it took us almost a half to do that."
Never miss a local story.
The Frogs (2-1) responded to the early aerial assault by shutting out ULM (1-2) the last three quarters. In that span, TCU held the Warhawks to just 123 yards, and the defensive line collected four of its five sacks.
But TCU led by only four at the half and gave ULM a gift-wrapped scoring opportunity just before halftime. TCU quarterback Casey Pachall fumbled and the Warhawks recovered the ball at the TCU 32-yard line. But Justin Manton's 43-yard field goal try sailed wide right as time expired.
"I can't put the ball on the ground, regardless if it's my fault or somebody else," said Pachall, who finished with 204 yards on 15 of 23 passing. "We can't have that."
McCoy's 94-yard touchdown to start the second half officially woke up the Frogs. McCoy cut toward the right sideline after key blocks from Waymon James and Greg Burks opened up a lane.
"Waymon's block is really the one that set me free," said McCoy, who scored on an 81-yard return at Wyoming in 2009. "Once I saw the green grass I took it and ran."
The play reinvigorated TCU, especially the defense, which forced a fumble three plays later to set up another score. Stansly Maponga forced a fumble for a third consecutive game, and D.J. Yendrey recovered to give the Frogs the ball at the ULM 28. Matthew Tucker scored his second touchdown with a 1-yard run to give TCU a 35-17 lead.
James led the Frogs with 89 yards on 11 carries as the Frogs played their second consecutive game without injured Ed Wesley. Aundre Dean, enjoying his most significant playing time since transferring to TCU from UCLA two years ago, rushed for 67 yards on 11 carries. Tucker finished with 66 yards on 15 carries.
ULM took the lead on a field goal after a game-opening, 74-yard drive, but TCU answered quickly with Pachall hitting Josh Boyce for a 68-yard touchdown pass. Boyce finished with a career-high 134 yards on seven receptions.
"He's a tremendous athlete," Pachall said. "I feel like any time I can get the ball in his area he's going to make a play. That showed today."
TCU's offense continued to move the football in the second half and finished with 411 yards -- 207 yards rushing and 204 passing. But an 18-play, 93-yard drive that took 8:39 off the clock stalled early in the fourth quarter, and Ross Evans missed a 19-yard field goal attempt. Evans connected from 28 yards with 22 seconds remaining.
"We played with more confidence ... because of the kickoff return our guys said, hey, we can go do this," Patterson said. "Hopefully, we'll learn and get back to fanatical TCU football. Because when they turned up the knob, good things happened to them. But we have to keep turning up the knob. Start from the opening bell."