From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: One of four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a record of 7-0 entering play this week, the Horned Frogs of TCU find themselves ranked fourth in the AP poll and fifth in the first installment of the BCS rankings as they host the Air Force Falcons in Mountain West Conference play at Amon G. Carter Stadium this weekend.
The Horned Frogs, who have won 20 straight regular-season games dating back to the 2008 season, have for the most part had their way with the competition so far in 2010 with a scoring margin in the neighborhood of 31 ppg. Last Saturday the team hosted BYU and nearly posted a third straight shutout, all against foes from the MWC, as the squad posted a 31-3 victory in Fort Worth. One of the top overall defenses in college football the last several years, TCU is first in the nation this week with just 9.3 ppg allowed to the opposition.
As for the Falcons, this time last week they were enjoying their place among the nationally ranked, but their three-game win streak and their stay in the polls ended rather quickly as they suffered a 27-25 setback at San Diego State. The defeat also dropped the academy to 3-1 in conference and that means it is trailing both TCU and Utah in the league standings as those two programs show off their perfect 3-0 marks.
The academy almost pulled off the upset last season versus TCU, but the Falcons had to settle for a 20-17 loss at home, which means they now trail in the all-time series by a count of 6-2-1.
"We left a lot of points out on the field," Air Force QB Tim Jefferson said after the loss to the Aztecs. "We failed to make a field goal in the first quarter. Then we got down to the red zone twice and the offense couldn't put the ball in the end zone. We also had a touchdown called back. Those are the points that we can't leave out there against a good team like San Diego State."
The Falcons registered 29 first downs in the meeting and 487 yards of total offense, but like Jefferson claimed, the offense simply did not capitalize on opportunities. The running game accounted for 312 yards and Jefferson took the passing game to a new level with 30 attempts, converting 13 for 175 yards and a score.
Not only did the offense for the Falcons have its issues, the defense had its hands full with SDSU running back Ronnie Hillman who stretched the field for a game-high 191 yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts, something head coach Troy Calhoun knew could happen.
"He was everything that we anticipated and even more. He's fast. He's physical. He's a great talent. Their team is that way, too. Their receivers are that way. Their defense is that way. Talent wise, they are loaded. They are a loaded squad."
As for the Horned Frogs last Saturday, they put the ball in the hands of quarterback Andy Dalton and asked him to lead the way to their next win and he did just that with 273 yards and four touchdowns. Josh Boyce ended up as his favorite target with eight catches for 127 yards and two of those scoring tosses. Dalton, who was named the MWC's Co-Offensive Player of the Week, matched a career high with his four scoring passes.
"It was a big win for us, BYU is a good team," Dalton said after the victory. "Their record doesn't show how good they are. We knew we had to come out and fight. Early on in the first half we hadn't scored, but we finally got rolling."
Defensively the Frogs limited BYU to a mere 10 first downs and only 147 yards of offense, but considering the Cougars are operating with a new and young quarterback and the team is a shadow of itself from just last year, perhaps the effort was not as impressive. Nevertheless, it was still a strong effort that TCU and head coach Gary Patterson could be somewhat pleased with.
"They're paying attention and obviously, there is some accountability. There is some pride about what we've done. Last year we had four or five of our pro guys come back the week before BYU and talked to our kids."
When it comes to matching up with Air Force, the Horned Frogs know that they are going to be tested over and over again on the ground and by the looks of the line up front for TCU they should be ready. After seven games, the Frogs are not only second in the nation in overall defense with 218.3 ypg allowed, they have clamped down versus the run with only 90.3 ypg permitted, ninth-best in the country. However, the Frogs have to be prepared for a concerted effort from a Falcons squad that produced 229 yards on 45 attempts in last year's matchup that was extremely close.
Another factor in this game is having Jefferson under center. Last year he was unavailable for the meeting with TCU which left Connor Dietz and Johnathan Warzeka to combine for just seven completions for 58 yards and a touchdown. Just last week Jefferson showed that he could air the ball out when needed, so this will be a different team than the one TCU matched up against in 2009.
But even with Jefferson and the aerial attack actually factoring into this game for the Falcons, the fact remains that Air Force is a run-first program. The Falcons are again first in the nation in ground gains with 346.9 ypg and that helps to create an offense that is first in the MWC and 13th in the nation with better than 470 ypg, but one has to wonder if that's going to be enough to offset the beast that is the TCU defense, a unit that has been at the top of its game since coach Patterson took over.
The bottom line here is whether or not Jefferson can duplicate his efforts from the San Diego State game and force the TCU secondary to respect what the Falcons can do through the air. If he fails to establish that pressure then the game will again belong to the Horned Frogs.