Before Saturday’s game, TCU coach Gary Patterson called for the Horned Frogs to reclaim their swagger on the field.
“There’s no reason to panic,” he said.
But after an ugly and sluggish first half against SMU at Amon G. Carter Stadium, mostly because of an inept offense, a sense of panic hung over TCU.
Early in the third quarter, with TCU trailing, a brief but hard rain storm sent many of the 45,111 in attendance fleeing for shelter and gave panicked Frogs fans the perfect backdrop for the end-times worry in the air.
But the rain, which lasted barely five minutes, seemed to galvanize TCU, which scored 27 unanswered points to beat the Mustangs handily 48-17.
The Frogs scored 31 points in the fourth quarter, the most of any FBS team this season, to pull away from SMU (1-3). TCU scored in every conceivable way — on long pass plays, a kickoff return, and a 66-yard interception return by Sam Carter to cap the Frogs’ hold on the Iron Skillet.
The TCU defense didn’t wait until the second half to show up. The Frogs held SMU’s yardage-gobbling offense to a season-low 292 yards, which included 121 fourth-quarter yards with the game out of reach.
The Mustangs, who entered the game averaging 461.7 yards, turned the ball over five times, including quarterback Garrett Gilbert’s four interceptions. TCU intercepted him five times a year ago.
TCU (2-2, 0-1 in the Big 12) finished with seven sacks, the most since 2009 at Virginia. Gilbert was held to 23 of 44 passing for 276 yards — all season lows. He entered the game with a nation-leading average of 37.6 completions per game and had thrown one interception.
But TCU trailed 10-7 at the half after Gilbert connected for a 1-yard scoring pass to Jeremy Johnson to give SMU a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. TCU tied it early in the second quarter on Waymon James’ 2-yard run.
The Mustangs looked poised to put it in the end zone with a minute to go before halftime after Ethan Perry’s punt was blocked and SMU recovered on the TCU 1. TCU’s defense stepped up again, however, pushing SMU back to the 21-yard line after Gilbert fumbled. SMU was held to a field goal.
“It wasn’t pretty early,” Patterson said. “I got after the offense pretty good at halftime. They have to start understanding at some point in time they have to look at themselves. They did a better job the second half.”
TCU’s offense came alive thanks, in part, to a greedy defense that kept giving the Frogs excellent field position and three heralded but underused offensive weapons who came up big.
Sam Carter’s first of two interceptions set TCU up at the SMU 32 midway through the third quarter. Six plays later, true freshman Ty Slanina’s 20-yard touchdown catch on Boykin’s best-thrown ball of the day gave TCU its first lead, 17-10.
“It was a big momentum booster,” Boykin said. “Coming out after halftime, I don’t think we scored on the first drive, but our defense kept giving us opportunities by getting us back on the field.”
Ja’Juan Story, a highly touted transfer from Florida who has seen limited action this season, introduced himself to fans with a 56-yard scoring catch from Boykin early in the fourth quarter to put TCU up 24-10.
Cameron Echols-Luper, a freshman who replaced Brandon Carter on punt returns, set the Frogs up on their next possession with a 51-yard return to the SMU 20. B.J. Catalon rushed in from 6 yards for a commanding 31-10 lead with 10:25 remaining.
“I saw Cameron and Ty both grow up and do some things today; blocking, catching the ball and running the right routes,” Patterson said. “In the first half, we were supposed to be running a slant and we’re running a curl. The quarterback has no chance when you do that. The young group has to step up and they have to start understanding what we have to do, and in the second half they did it. Then you move the football, and we don’t have any penalties and good things happen to us.”
Patterson said he was fine with the offensive play-calling in the first half when TCU was held to six first downs and 120 yards. He defended Boykin’s first-half performance and directed most of his ire at the receiving corps, which has underperformed for much of the season.
“Everybody can blame it on the offensive coordinator and blame it on the quarterback,” Patterson said. “But the bottom line is those guys have to go get open, and they have to catch it, and they have to run the right route. And we did a better job of that in the second half.”
Defensive end Matt Anderson’s interception set up Jaden Oberkrom’s 26-yard field goal to make it 34-10 with under 5:00 left.
After SMU tacked on a touchdown to pull to within 34-17 with three minutes left in the game, LaDarius Brown returned the Mustangs’ onside kick 45 yards for a score. Sam Carter returned his second interception 66 yards for a score with 1:33. It was Carter’s seventh career interception.
TCU improved to 46-40-7 against SMU dating to 1915. The Frogs have won 12 of the past 14 games and six of the last seven.
TCU resumes Big 12 play at Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday. The 14th-ranked Sooners won at Notre Dame 35-21 Saturday.