TCU sweats out late win in fitful debut as No. 2

So is this what life is going to be like as the No. 2 team in the country?

If the TCU Horned Frogs are asking just that after a 23-17 victory at Minnesota on Thursday night in the season opener, it would make sense.

They did not look like prime time thoroughbreds on ESPN. They did not lap the field. There were no style points.

Instead, they’re coming back to Fort Worth with black eyes, torn shirts, ripped pants and scraped elbows from a schoolyard fight at TCF Bank Stadium against the unranked Gophers.

But they still have their No. 2 ranking in their back pocket — maybe — thanks to a pair of nine-play scoring drives engineered by quarterback Trevone Boykin in the third quarter. He drove the Horned Frogs 76 yards on the opening drive of the second half for a 17-3 lead and answered a Minnesota touchdown with a field goal to make it 20-10.

A field goal in the fourth quarter made it 23-10 before a touchdown in the final 92 seconds tightened the game and forced the Horned Frogs to have to defend three final desperation snaps.

“No game is going to be easy,” Boykin said. “We’re the No. 2 team in the nation, and everybody is gunning for us. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. I think it’s up to us to swing our best punch back. I feel like we did that today. It wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the day, we’re 1-0, and that’s all that matters.”

Boykin threw for 246 yards and a touchdown and ran for a touchdown. He was intercepted in the third quarter. He had a team-high 92 yards rushing, but also missed open receivers for touchdowns three times. It was an uneven debut to his Heisman-candidate season.

“Trevone’s got to hit,” coach Gary Patterson said. “We had three open guys for touchdowns, and he overthrew. You can’t play like that and win the big ballgames.”

Josh Doctson caught a touchdown pass, led the team in catches and made an onside kick recovery. Aaron Green rushed for 88 on 19 carries. It was a career-high in attempts, but he fumbled and finished with only a 4.6-yard average. He averaged 7.1 yards last season.

The Horned Frogs finished with 203 yards on the ground.

“I told you it was going to be a tough ballgame,” Patterson said. “We need to run the ball. We screwed up some opportunities in the red zone. But I think you got to give Minnesota a lot of credit.”

The two touchdowns and three field goals by Jaden Oberkrom were all the Horned Frogs — tied for fifth-best in the nation last year in total offense — managed in support of a defense missing two starters because of injury. Defensive end James McFarland and defensive tackle Davion Pierson (who did not make the trip) did not play; Patterson did not disclose the nature of their injuries, but suggested they will both have a chance to be back for the next game.

Considering the Horned Frogs were already missing six starters from last season, they had eight defensive newcomers on the field. And they lost starting linebacker Sammy Douglas after the first series, Patterson said.

“So our two linebackers were a true freshman and a redshirt freshman the whole ballgame,” Patterson said. “And to play the kind of offense we had to play? I didn’t care — one point is all I wanted coming out of this one. This was a hard ballgame.”

The Horned Frogs allowed two first downs on the opening drive. But they allowed only a field goal in the first half and had two takeaways.

Terrell Lathon’s strip sack set up Doctson’s touchdown for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and Derrick Kindred’s forced fumble kept the lead there in the second quarter.

The Frogs missed a chance a drive earlier to add to their 10-0 lead because of Green’s fumble at the Minnesota 11. Two possessions later, Minnesota cut the lead to 10-3 on a field goal.

In the third quarter, Boykin’s interception in Minnesota territory stopped a chance to add to a 17-3 lead.

“It’s hard, but when you have guys on defense like we have, we have faith in those guys to get us back on the field, just like they have faith for us to score points,” Boykin said. “As far as me playing the position, I have to have a short memory. When we turn the ball over, my next thing is the next play or what we do next. I try to not let those things get to me and keep playing the game.”

That may be what life is like as the No. 2 team in the country. Living with a short memory.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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