LARAMIE, Wyo. -- TCU piled up yards at a near-record clip Saturday against Wyoming. But thanks to five Horned Frogs turnovers, including three inside the 6-yard line, the lopsided contest remained anyone's game to start the fourth quarter.
By then, a cold but dry day had turned as the forecast predicted. Wind began to blow a thick sheet of sleet across War Memorial Stadium.
TCU's Waymon James, however, put the game on ice with a devastating 74-yard run on the Frogs' first play of the fourth quarter, setting up a touchdown and helping the Frogs eventually escape with a 31-20 win.
TCU (7-2, 4-0 in the Mountain West) has won four consecutive games and meets fifth-ranked Boise State (7-0, 2-0) in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday.
TCU coach Gary Patterson, who for the second consecutive week was relieved to come away with a victory, said turnovers won't cut it against the Broncos.
"We were just lucky," he said. "We held them to three points in the second half and the offense found a way to score just enough. You have to protect the football. We didn't do a good job of that today. We won't be able to win next week if we don't protect the football."
The turnovers (four fumbles and an interception) not only ruined prime scoring opportunities for the Frogs, but allowed the Cowboys to hang around and take a 20-17 lead early in the second half. Three turnovers occurred before the playing conditions changed.
Despite the miscues, TCU gained 617 yards of total offense, the fourth-most during Patterson's tenure. The Frogs marched 75 yards on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on Matthew Tucker's 5-yard run. But Wyoming (5-3, 2-1) tied it later in the quarter when Ed Wesley's fumble gave the Cowboys the ball at the TCU 31. Brett Smith hit Mansfield Legacy graduate Josh Doctson for a 7-yard scoring pass. Daniel Sullivan's 30-yard field goal gave Wyoming a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
TCU reclaimed the lead 17-10 on a 2-yard run by Wesley and a 35-yard field goal by Ross Evans.
Wyoming answered with an 80-yard scoring drive as Smith hit Mazi Ogbanna in the end zone on an 18-yard pass with less than three minutes left in the half.
Skye Dawson's 47-yard kickoff return helped put TCU back in scoring position after Casey Pachall and Antoine Hicks connected for an 18-yard gain to the Wyoming 4-yard line. After getting to the 1, a false-start penalty pushed TCU back 5 yards and Pachall was picked off at the goal line.
"You can't turn the ball over in the red zone," Patterson said. "You at least need to get a field goal. The one I was really upset with was the interception right before the half. Throw the ball away. There was no reason for that ball to be thrown."
Wyoming took a 20-17 lead on Sullivan's career-long 48-yard field goal after a 53-yard drive to open the second half. TCU's defense, however, shut the Cowboys out and held them to just 94 yards the rest of the game.
TCU took the lead for good, 24-20, on Wesley's second TD, capping an 80-yard drive at the end of the third quarter. The Frogs wound up with a season-high 390 yards behind Wesley's and James' 100-yard days.
Two plays before James put the game out of reach with his long run, Tank Carder had already likely neutralized the Cowboys' offense by knocking Smith from the game early in the fourth.
"A lot of people said that changed the momentum of the game," Carder said. "That's awesome that I was a part of that so we could get a win."
TCU forced seven punts, including five in the second half.
"I think that was the key to the game," Carder said. "Every time the offense turned it over we'd get a three-and-out and give them the ball back."