The head coach’s well-used mantra, the one that always makes our eyes roll — “Just win by one” — was put to a nationally televised test Thursday night.
TCU’s Gary Patterson has been known to dust off the old coaching maxim at the slightest peek of a Samford or a Grambling State.
But when the prognosticators foisted the preseason’s No. 2 national ranking on the Horned Frogs and Patterson invoked the one-point principle in front of the news media Tuesday, some brows were raised.
The Minnesota Gophers finished a respectable 8-5 a year ago, 5-3 in the Big Ten. One of the defeats came in Fort Worth by 30-7.
Put TCU down Thursday, therefore, for at least 40, we figured. And, even with Patterson having to perform a six-man makeover of his defense this season, we assumed Minnesota would be fortunate to reach the end zone.
“For us, leaving Minneapolis with a one-point victory is all we’re trying to accomplish,” Patterson said. “If we can make it 25, great.”
His message from behind the coaching curtain was clear. Pay no attention to that No. 2 national ranking. Only one poll means anything, and it doesn’t even count until its the final one.
“We can’t go out there thinking that we have to play like the No. 2 team in the country,” Patterson said.
Style points, he claimed, weren’t in the game plan. After all, eventual national champion Ohio State lost its season opener at home last year to Virginia Tech.
But Patterson need not have worried Thursday night. Any semblance of show-off style points seemed to vanish for the Frogs at the start of the second quarter when running back Aaron Green fumbled away the ball at the Minnesota 10-yard line.
TCU had been driving to stake a 17-0 lead and appeared very much in command.
But by halftime, reliable Jaden Oberkrom had missed a 29-yard field goal and the Frogs had only their fingertips on a 10-3 lead.
True, they have had first halves like this one in the new-offense, Trevone Boykin era. TCU trailed West Virginia 13-7 after two periods last season, and lagged behind Kansas 13-10 two weeks later.
In both games, Boykin and the TCU offense resuscitated and scored 24 second half points.
But about that No. 2 ranking . . .
The Frogs couldn’t fit into that costume Thursday night.
Too fat? That’s for Patterson and his staff to find out.
Quarterback Boykin made plays, some of them befitting a Heisman Trophy candidate. But he was inconsistent, overthrowing some receivers, throwing behind others. The highly regarded Minnesota secondary seemed to befuddle Boykin with extra defenders and a mixed bag of coverages.
TCU took the second half kickoff and smartly marched 76 yards in nine plays, with Boykin’s 19-yard keeper pushing the Frogs’ lead to 17-3.
But nothing came easy for the Frogs on this night. It was the peskiest performance by Gophers since Caddyshack.
For once, Patterson’s one-point mantra carried its own weight.
TCU may well drop in the polls. Style points, you know.
If it happens, Patterson, no doubt, will have an old coaching maxim or two about that, too.
On this night, the Frogs did not impress like a No. 2 team in the nation probably should.
And after last season’s CFP debacle, TCU should know:
Style points only matter . .. when someone else says they do.