It was only fitting that a game filled with eight combined turnovers turned on the last one of the night. And for other reasons, it was fitting that cornerback Jason Verrett, who had an interception taken away last week against SMU, played a huge role in the TCU’s 27-14 victory over San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium.
Verrett’s interception, the third thrown by Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley in the game, came with 10:08 remaining. Verrett returned it 19 yards to midfield and the Horned Frogs used a methodical rushing attack, running the ball nine times, including Matthew Tucker’s four-yard scoring run with 5:23 left on the clock.
Tucker, Waymon James and Ed Wesley took turns wearing down the Aztec defense. Wesley, in his second game back after an injury, finished with 146 yards rushing on 24 carries. Tucker had 69 yards on 16 carries. With the ball at the 5, Luke Shivers and Wesley each struggled to get in the end zone. TCU then switched to a pass formation, fooling San Diego State.
“We were having trouble in our big set with our big tight ends getting it in the end zone,” Patterson said. “[The offensive coordinators] made a great call by spreading them back out. Every time this season that we’ve done that we have thrown the football. We ran the zone and Tucker went into the end zone. It was a big play for us, getting a touchdown, going up two scores.”
TCU led early after Casey Pachall hit Antoine Hicks and Josh Boyce for touchdowns of 39 and 31 yards, respectively, in the first half. A couple Ross Evans’ field goals, including one with 7:41 to go in the third quarter put the Frogs up 20-0.
But TCU twice failed to score in the red zone as Pachall was intercepted twice, once in the end zone. The Aztecs (3-2, 0-1 in Mountain West) started gaining momentum when they recovered Skye Dawson’s fumble on a punt return at the TCU 15-yard line. San Diego State scored three plays later. Lindley then led a 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive to pull the Aztecs to within 20-14 early in the fourth quarter and suddenly the Frogs found themselves in a tussle.
“It could have been where we got ourselves in a lot of trouble,” Patterson said. “We’ve got to control the red zone. You can’t turn the ball over in the red zone.”
But for much of the first three quarters, TCU controlled the game, holding the Aztecs to 296 total yards and intercepting Ryan Lindley three times.
But thanks to a couple ill-timed turnovers of its own, it took the last interception by Verrett to set up the game-clinching score.
Verrett, who had an interception taken away last week against SMU, couldn’t have been a more appropriate choice to come up with the huge turnover. He was benched after Baylor burned him for three scores. He even quit the team for a day, disgusted with his performance and questioned whether he could cut it with TCU after transferring from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College this spring.
But he has played well since returning to the starting lineup against Louisiana-Monroe. He didn’t start Saturday because of an injury but came in on the second play of the game and finished tied for second on the team with six tackles.
“We didn’t even know if he’d play,” Patterson said. “He didn’t practice Thursday or Friday [because of a foot injury]. Thought about not bringing him, but he was ready to go today. Good things happen to those who wait, I guess.” Kris Gardner, who started in place of the injured Kenny Cain, intercepted Lindley’s pass in the third quarter and returned it 22 yards to the San Diego State 10. But TCU had to settle for a field goal after three run plays were stuffed.
“We’ve been a work in progress,” Patterson said. “We weren’t perfect, but to be able to come on the road and play well ... we’ve got to figure out why our two best ballgames have come on the road. It might be that our young guys focus in a lot more with less distractions. As a whole team I felt like we were a lot more focused on what we needed to get done.”
After TCU took a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, San Diego State tried to answer with a long drive of its own. The Aztecs drove down to the goal line quickly. Lindley hit Colin Lockett for a 33-yard gain to the three-yard line against safety Tekerrein Cuba. But Cuba found redemption on the next play. He forced a fumble from Ronnie Hillman at the one-yard line and Elisha Olabode recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
TCU drove the ball to the San Diego State 22-yard line but Pachall was intercepted on first and 10. The Frogs (4-2, 2-0 in Mountain West) got it back three plays later when Johnny Fobbs had one of three TCU interceptions. It was Fobbs' first career interception and his 22-yard return gave the Frogs the ball at midfield. TCU scored five plays later to take a 17-0 lead as Pachall hit Boyce on a 31-yard post pattern. Pachall was knocked down after releasing the pass and never saw the completion. He received a gash on his left arm on the play but he stayed in the game.
"I’m just glad he stood in the pocket and threw it,” Boyce said. "We put it on ourselves to come out stronger and not put it our defense in a hole."
TCU has a bye next week and doesn't play again until New Mexico (0-5, 0-1) comes to Amon G. Carter Stadium Oct. 22.
“It’s great not sitting around thinking about a loss," Boyce said. "We can get some guys in the weight room, get some guys healthy.”