This much was evident Saturday in Ames, Iowa.
TCU has a championship-level defense.
Whether the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs get to play for that championship — Big 12 or otherwise — is not so clear after their 14-7 loss at No. 25 Iowa State.
The Frogs committed turnovers twice in the red zone with a chance to tie, and with one final chance, Kenny Hill was intercepted again.
“When you get down inside the 20-yard line, you got to make plays,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Simple as that. You got to get scores on the board.”
Hampered by five holding penalties and three turnovers, the offense did not play at a championship level for Patterson.
His veteran center was flagged three times. His most veteran receiver was guilty once. A senior tight end, too.
It meant the offense was held out of the end zone the entire game.
Only KaVontae Turpin’s 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half had the Frogs in shouting distance of a chance to win.
And the Frogs had their chances.
Twice Kenny Hill had the Frogs inside the 20 with a chance to tie.
Twice he committed a turnover. He was intercepted in the third quarter and fumbled in the fourth quarter.
And yet the Frogs’ championship-level defense kept providing chances.
Iowa State managed only 40 yards after halftime and not a point against the Big 12’s best defense, which entered the game ranked 11th in the country.
KaVontae Turpin’s 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown got TCU within 14-7 to start the second half. It was Turpin’s second return touchdown in two weeks. Last week he went 90 yards with a punt for a score against Kansas.
Hill had one last scoring chance, with the ball near midfield, but it evaporated in another interception. For the first time this season, the senior quarterback threw multiple picks.
“Our kids have to make a little more plays, and obviously he’s got to play better,” Patterson said. “But as I told them after the game, it also goes back to the coaching staff. We have to put them in a situation where they can be successful.”
In the big picture, the Frogs of course believe they can still be successful.
“It hurts a lot, but we still have four games left in the season,” running back Kyle Hicks said. “We definitely know our season is not over with yet.”
Now tied with Iowa State and Oklahoma State, and possibly Oklahoma, for first place in the Big 12, the Frogs can obviously still reach the Big 12 championship game.
But a spot in the top four of the first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday? Nope.
“Does it hurt our chances, anybody that has one loss, for the playoffs? Probably,” Patterson said. “But we played well enough defensively to still put ourselves in a situation that we’re a good football team.”
Perhaps still a championship football team.
“There’s a lot of positives out of it. But the bottom line to it is, when it’s all said and done, we have to score one more point. And we didn’t do that.”
ISU—Eaton 17 pass from Kempt (Owens kick), 7:45
ISU—Butler 4 pass from Kempt (Owens kick), 3:29
TCU—Turpin 94 kickoff return (Song kick), 14:48
Time of Possession
RUSHING—TCU, D.Anderson 12-95, Hicks 12-80, Reagor 1-1, Olonilua 2-1, Hill 7-(minus 5). Iowa St., Montgomery 25-74, Lanning 2-2, Croney 1-1, (Team) 2-(minus 10), Kempt 3-(minus 14).
PASSING—TCU, Hill 12-25-2-135. Iowa St., Kempt 21-35-1-202.
RECEIVING—TCU, J.Austin 3-39, D.White 2-30, Diarse 2-25, Hicks 2-16, Reagor 1-10, Nixon 1-8, Thomas 1-7. Iowa St., Lazard 6-106, D.Jones 4-30, Montgomery 4-3, Butler 3-28, Murdock 2-15, Eaton 1-17, Ryen 1-3.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Iowa St., Owens 26.