A turnover forced by the special teams got TCU rolling the right way in Saturday’s 31-24 victory over West Virginia.
The punt that made contact with a West Virginia player and was recovered by Vernon Scott was one of two takeaways in the game for the Horned Frogs and their 11th in five games this season.
Safety Nick Orr’s interception, which set up a third-quarter touchdown pass from Kenny Hill to Jalen Reagor, was the other.
The Frogs are fast approaching their takeaway total from a year ago.
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Last season, they had eight interceptions and recovered eight fumbles. They have seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries this year, one game from the halfway point of the schedule.
Last season, TCU finished minus-four in turnover ratio. This season, the team is plus-four.
“We’ve got a lot of people that have played a lot of football,” said Orr, one of five senior starters on the defense. “People are starting to understand the defense, and the game is starting to slow down for a lot of us.”
It’s just one of the factors that has helped the Frogs race out to 5-0 and assume favorite status in the Big 12.
Some other observations from Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium:
1. TCU remains No. 1 in the country in third-down conversion percentage, but by much less. The Frogs are under 60 percent for the first time this year, sitting at 58.3 percent. That’s still outstanding, and almost four percentage points better than second-place Oklahoma State. But as more games are played, the Frogs’ conversion rate will likely fall closer to normal. Still, it was West Virginia and it’s funky defense that forced the 6-for-15 by TCU on Saturday. The Frogs have provided ample evidence that they are solid on third down against conventional defenses, which they will see more often the rest of the way.
2. It’s stunning how different of a story the box score tells than the final score. West Virginia had more first downs, held the ball longer, passed for more yardage, threw for more touchdowns, was penalized less, got the benefit of four first downs by penalty and outgained the Frogs by 102 yards. Wow. Why didn’t it work out for the Mountaineers? TCU had the advantage in the all-critical areas of takeaways (two to none), sacks (two to none) and rushing (170 yards to 142). That’s an old-fashioned formula for success that works in any era in any league.
3. What kind of sack numbers would TCU and defensive end Ben Banogu have put up if Will Grier wasn’t made out of some kind of tree-like material? The 6-foot-2, 214-pound West Virginia quarterback was simply hard to get down. He got out of trouble numerous times, despite five quarterback hits credited to the Frogs. Banogu finally got Grier in the second quarter, looping under from the left side and sacking him flush to keep the Mountaineers from getting points on their last possession of the first half. Banogu finished with three QB hits, and fellow ends Mat Boesen and Michael Epley had one apiece. The other sack came from blitzing corner Ranthony Texada.
4. The wildcat formation with Sewo Olonilua has been so successful for TCU — four touchdowns in six chances in the red zone — it made sense to break it out in the fourth quarter for a fourth-and-1 at the West Virginia 41 with the game tied 24-24. It also made sense that TCU would have some kind of misdirection set up off of it for a special occasion. This was that occasion. Olonilua pitched to Jalen Reagor, who took the reverse for a 7-yard gain and the first down. West Virginia had a defender in the backfield, but he remained in pursuit of Olonilua and missed a chance to stop, or at least slow, Reagor with the ball. The first down kept the drive alive, and TCU got the go-ahead points on Kenny Hill’s 3-yard run.
5. TCU got the benefit of the doubt on three replay reviews, the muffed punt in the first quarter that confirmed Vernon Scott’s recovery for the Frogs, a hit out of bounds that was initially called late and then overruled, and an interception that was confirmed to have occurred out of bounds with the game tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter. The significance of those judgments in the review booth was not lost on TCU coach Gary Patterson. Each proved critical, and each swung or kept momentum with TCU. “You got to have something good happen to you in a game like this,” Patterson said.