Kansas State's methodical, old-school train to the BCS National Championship Game made its way through Fort Worth and TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium on Saturday evening.
Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Collin Klein and his second-ranked Wildcats, unglamorous as they are, were held in check as never before this season by a Horned Frogs defense playing perhaps its best game of the season.
But the Wildcats (10-0, 7-0 Big 12) are more than Klein's dual-threat abilities, and they possess a defense that was every bit as stingy as the Frogs' D.
Kansas State slowly put together scores and held on for 23-10 victory to remain unbeaten and on track for a chance at its first shot at a national title. No. 1 Alabama's loss earlier in the day opened the door for the Wildcats to assume the top spot for the first time when the BCS standings are announced at 7:30 tonight.
TCU (6-4, 3-4 in the Big 12) will sit and wonder what could have been during a bye week before meeting Texas (8-2, 5-2) at 6:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night in Austin.
The Frogs held Kansas State to season lows in points and total yards (260), more than 100 yards below its previous low this season of 362 yards against Oklahoma. TCU also held a 15-12 advantage in first downs, but the Frogs couldn't score until early in the fourth quarter.
By then, KSU had built as 23-0 lead on touchdown runs of 7 and 34 yards by Klein. With KSU leading 13-0 early in the third quarter, Tramaine Thompson returned a punt 28 yards to set up an eight-play, 58-yard scoring drive, capped by Klein's darting 34-yard scoring run. The score gave the Wildcats a 20-0 lead with 8:21 left in the third quarter.
TCU's offense, which was without quarterback Trevone Boykin for a time in the second quarter because of injury, struggled against the Wildcats. Through three quarters TCU was held to 136 yards.
"They had a presence," TCU coach Gary Patterson said of Kansas State. "We've had teams here when we were older where we've had a presence. We need to understand against a team like that you have to have presence, you have to have swagger, you have to turn the knob up from the very beginning. You can't hope that they're going to make a mistake."
Klein, however, made a rare mistake on KSU's first possession, as freshman defensive end and former Arlington Martin High School star Devonte Fields dropped back in coverage and made a diving interception, the first of his career. It was only Klein's third interception of the season and first in six games.
But Klein and the Wildcats responded on their next offensive play. Klein hit Chris Harper down the middle for a 62-yard gain, setting up Klein's 7-yard scoring run and a 7-0 lead.
"He played reasonably well," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "He made the plays he needed to make, but we were probably a little conservative for him. We could have given him more chances than we did. TCU is a very fine defensive team and, consequently, we weren't able to do some of the things we wanted to do."
TCU's defense stood strong after Deanté Gray fumbled a punt and KSU took over on the TCU 5. The Frogs held the Wildcats to a field goal and 13-0 lead just before the half. But TCU's offense never gained momentum until it was too late. With under 7:00 to play, a field goal cut the lead to 23-3 and Brandon Carter scored on a 19-yard pass from Boykin with under a minute to go.
"I'm not sure that was our best," said Patterson, who played football and graduated from Kansas State. "I'm not disappointed in our kids at all. We thought we could win this ballgame. That's where we are right now -- just a little bit short against teams like that."
After the game, and with KSU's perfect record still intact, Patterson told Snyder to "go win it."
"If they were going to win, now I want them to win out," Patterson said."The man deserves it, the team deserves it, but the man [Snyder] deserves it.
"He's done a lot for not only Kansas State but the state of Kansas. I'm proud to be a Wildcat, but I'm a Horned Frog, to be honest with you. Kansas State is like a distant relative. I like them, but this is my family right here."