There were plenty of opportunities, much like last week, for TCU to score more points and effectively render its opponent moot before halftime Saturday.
But, as was the case a week ago, untimely turnovers in the red zone prevented the Horned Frogs' offense from piling on and left their defense to prevent an upset from ever brewing.
TCU forced four turnovers, including two interceptions by Kenny Cain, as the 17th-ranked Horned Frogs (3-0) defeated Virginia 27-7 in front of 46,330 on a warm early afternoon at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
TCU's offense started like a repeat of the season opener two weeks ago as Brandon Carter made a one-handed catch downfield and ran 68 yards for a score to give TCU a 7-0 lead on its first possession.
"It's instinct," Carter said. "If the ball is over my head I'm going to try to throw two hands up there, but I was paying attention to the ball the whole way and caught it with one hand. I was just thinking to myself: catch the ball and just run."
Early in the second quarter, Kenny Cain recovered a fumble forced by safety Elisha Olabode to give the Frogs the ball at the Virginia 42. Casey Pachall's 6-yard scoring pass to Josh Boyce made it 14-0 and the rout was seemingly on.
Especially after Cain picked off Virginia's Michael Rocco and returned it 16 yards to the TCU 39 with 6:29 left in the half. Carter's second one-handed catch of the game went for 43 yards and gave TCU the ball at the 3. But a 5-yard loss on a running play set up a third-and-goal from the 8 and Pachall, with tons of time, tried to force a pass and was intercepted at the 3.
"It was miscommunication with the routes and a poor throw," Pachall said. "Turnovers are something that is not acceptable, and we need to take care of that."
It was Pachall's first interception this season and it kept the Cavaliers within two scores at the half.
TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom connected on field goals from 46 and 47 yards on the Frogs' first two possessions in the second half to increase the lead to 20-0. But penalties and miscues kept Virginia (2-2) in the game. The Frogs were penalized 12 times for 103 yards.
The Frogs' running game struggled a bit without injured leading rusher Waymon James, who is out for the rest of the season.
Matthew Tucker led TCU with 52 yards on 15 carries, and backup quarterback Trevone Boykin had 51 yards on three carries, most of his yards coming early in the fourth quarter.
TCU appeared ready to put the game away after Boykin's 42-yard run, on which his fumble was recovered by David Porter at the Virginia 22. After a 5-yard penalty, Pachall connected with Skye Dawson, who took it 27 yards to the 2 before linebacker Daquan Romero hit him from behind, knocking the ball loose and out of the back of the end zone.
It was the second touchback on a fumble out of the end zone for TCU in as many weeks.
"Offensively, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You've got to finish. Now I have a great teaching moment. Last week, defensively, I wasn't real happy with the way we played, and this week I wasn't really happy with the way the offense played. I didn't think they had any inspiration. I thought they went through the motions."
The defense, meanwhile, held Virginia to 3 of 16 on third-down conversions and just 137 yards of offense in the first half. The Cavaliers' touchdown, which capped their longest drive of the day (14 plays for 89 yards), came with 4:22 left in the game and cut TCU's lead to 20-7. It was the first touchdown allowed by TCU in 2012.
"Those guys didn't want to give up a touchdown, but we did and we'll learn from it," Patterson said. "We should've picked two balls [on the drive] -- Elisha should have had one and so should [Jason] Verrett. That's what happens. It's like missing a foul ball. The next guy hits a home run. You can't do that."
But more importantly for TCU, the turnovers in the red zone by the offense are most alarming with the Big 12 schedule in full effect in two weeks.
The Frogs renew their cross-town rivalry with SMU at 6 p.m. Saturday in University Park before Iowa State comes to Fort Worth on Oct. 6.
Patterson said he warned Dawson about trying to do too much on a return earlier in the game.
"Get it wrapped up, get down, get the first down and go about your business," Patterson told him. "Get the ball high and tight. If not, we're going to turn the ball over a lot more and we're not going to win very many ball games if we do so."
Pachall wasn't sacked in the game but took several hard shots and cramped up in the third quarter. He was sore, but happy with the win.
"There's always room for improvement," said Pachall, who became the first TCU quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in consecutive games since Casey Printers in 2001. "Whether we blow them out 80 to nothing or win by two points, there's always room for improvement with everything. We haven't been perfect."