By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Back up at the fourth position in the latest top-25 poll, the TCU Horned Frogs now turn their attention to the BYU Cougars as the two Mountain West Conference programs clash in Fort Worth this weekend.
Any other year this meeting would have considerable significance when it comes to the MWC standings and the pursuit of the league crown, but this time around the Cougars have fallen far off the pace set by the other three league members that are currently ranked in the top-25. In fact, not only is BYU just 1-1 in MWC play at the moment, the squad is a mere 2-4 on the season overall and is in serious jeopardy of not making it to the postseason.
The Cougars, who defeated Washington in the season opener (23-17), have been brutal ever since and only narrowly captured the 24-21 win over San Diego State at home in Prove last weekend. That victory snapped a four-game slide for the Cougars during which they failed to score more than 16 points in any one outing.
"I was proud of out team today, BYU head coach Broncos Mendenhall said after the close call with SDSU. "They are resilient. They played as a team and showed more grit and determination. The team battled from beginning to end and I am proud of this game."
As for the Horned Frogs, everything is moving along just as planned for head coach Gary Patterson and his players. Since getting by Oregon State in the opener (30-21) the Frogs have rarely been challenged and have, in fact, shut out the last two opponents on the schedule. The squad followed up a 27-0 victory against Colorado State on the road in the conference opener on October 2 with a 45-0 whipping of Wyoming at Carter Stadium last weekend. Both the Cowboys and the Rams were held below 200 yards of total offense by a program that is permitting just 230.2 ypg overall in 2010, tops in the nation entering play this week.
The Horned Frogs easily handled BYU a season ago, 38-7, yet the Cougars still hold a slim 5-4 edge in the all-time series. The Cougars last won in Fort Worth back in 2006 by a score of 31-17.
Bryan Kariya scored a pair of rushing touchdowns for the Cougars as they managed to slip by San Diego State last weekend by a slim three points at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Kariya carried the ball 22 times and finished with 85 yards, while J.J. Di Luigi accounted for a game-high 134 yards and scored once on his 22 rushing attempts.
Quarterback Jake Heaps converted 15-of-22 passes for a mere 126 yards and was intercepted once in the decision as the Cougars ran a total of 85 plays and limited the visitors to just 48 snaps on offense.
TCU had no trouble taking care of the Cowboys at home last weekend, especially since the visitors were being led by a backup quarterback. Chances are the outcome would have been somewhat similar, but there's no guarantee the Horned Frogs would have been able to log back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1955.
"I didn't know that," coach Patterson said of the double-dose of defense by the Frogs. "That�s cool. For me, I just go back to the W. I was excited for our kids. We had to make some adjustments with some calls and how we lined up and our kids did a good job. It was an interesting day. Some good things happened because players had to think and they had to react on both sides of the football."
Andy Dalton threw just 17 passes versus Wyoming, but in completing all but three, he generated 270 yards and three touchdowns. Ed Wesley paced the rushing attack with a game-high 115 yards and scored once on 17 attempts as the squad posted 305 yards and hit the end zone three times on the ground.
"I don't really know what it is, but it seems like the whole offense has executed well against them," Dalton said of his squad's success against the Cowboys. "We knew we had to come out and play with intensity and just do our assignments and we were about to do that."
Defensively, the Horned Frogs held Wyoming to a mere 75 yards rushing and just 116 yards through the air, the kind of numbers that have become commonplace for TCU this year as they again sport one of the toughest defenses in all of college football. The pass defense has been stunning so far in 2010, holding opponents to only 134.2 ypg which is not only first in the conference but second in the entire country behind only Nebraska (128.0 ypg). Holding foes to a mere 10.3 ppg right now means TCU is second behind only Iowa (10.2 ppg) among programs at the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Despite star Jerry Hughes having left for the pros, the TCU defense is still paced by a number of top-notch performers, including Wayne Daniels who leads the group with 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss, not to mention coming up with a pair of fumble recoveries. Second on the team in total stops with 35, Colin Jones has managed to come up with 7.5 TFLs without the benefit of a single sack.
This might be the perfect opportunity for someone like Jones to break through in the sack department, seeing as how BYU's offensive line has been somewhat porous thus far and keeping Heaps standing up right has not been too easy. At this stage, the Cougars are sixth in the conference and 82nd in the nation in sacks allowed with 2.3 per game.
By comparison Dalton, who leads all active quarterbacks in career wins, has been under fire very little this season as the line up front has surrendered a total of only three sacks, tied for seventh-fewest in the NCAA. With an offense that is eighth in the country in scoring with 41.7 ppg, it is almost unfair how well-balanced the Frogs are yet again in 2010.
A team that starts fast and then eases up as the game goes on, TCU has scored a combined 73 points in the first quarter alone this season, while opponents have logged 62 total points for all four frames to this point. Needless to say, if the Cougars don't open strong against the Frogs this weekend, once- powerful BYU could be in for a world of hurt in the Lone Star State.