MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia and TCU faced off on a chilly, overcast, 45-degree day, and what was widely expected to be an offensive shootout produced a back-and-forth, sloppy slugfest. That didn’t make the result any less sweet for the Horned Frogs. No. 7 TCU beat No. 20 West Virginia 31-30 to stay alive in the Big 12 title chase and College Football Playoff race.
Here are three thoughts from the Horned Frogs’ win:
1. Turnovers were the prevailing theme of the game
West Virginia came out firing, scoring a touchdown on its opening drive and adding field goals on each of its subsequent two. It let TCU climb back into the game on one of the prettiest screen passes you’ll see all year, but, at least early, the Mountaineers seemed well in command. Then came the barrage of turnovers: three fumbles and two picks, all five giving the Frogs possession inside West Virginia territory.
TCU was unable to convert the first three into points, but the latter two resulted in touchdowns. The momentum swung when Horned Frogs linebacker Paul Dawson reeled in an errant Clint Trickett pass toward the end of the third quarter. TCU running back B.J. Catalon raced 23 yards to paydirt less than two minutes later.
The Frogs coughed up a crucial turnover of their own, as West Virginia cornerback Terrell Chestnut stripped wide receiver Josh Doctson and returned it 35 yards to the end zone. But TCU won the turnover battle five to two and, ultimately, the game.
2. West Virginia’s defense is vastly improved
TCU entered Saturday averaging 50.4 points per game, No. 1 in the nation. The Horned Frogs hung an astounding 82 on Texas Tech in a rout last week, and junior quarterback Trevone Boykin emerged as a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. On Saturday, however, the Mountaineers’ defense stepped up. It limited TCU to 31 points and 389 total yards, though it wasn’t quite enough to seal the victory.
Coordinator Tony Gibson’s unit made its presence felt from the outset. The Mountaineers regularly blitzed five and six defenders, pressuring Boykin into making bad decisions. They also stepped up in key moments, including when safety KJ Dillon picked off a Boykin pass at the West Virginia 24-yard line with just more than three minutes remaining in the second quarter and when Chestnut scored a defensive touchdown in the third.
However, TCU’s offense came through late. Catalon found the end zone for the second time midway through the fourth quarter, and Boykin hit Kolby Listenbee for a 40-yard gain on the game-winning drive. Kicker Jaden Oberkrom capped the comeback with a 37-yard field goal. The Frogs’ offense wasn’t a juggernaut, but it did just enough.
3. Next week could largely determine the Big 12 champion
Next Saturday is shaping up to be the day that could determine the Big 12 title. TCU hosts Kansas State. Oklahoma hosts Baylor. Depending how everything shakes out, all still have a chance to claim at least a share of the conference crown.
Keep in mind, the Horned Frogs were ranked No. 7 in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s first rankings Tuesday, the highest of any Big 12 team. Win out, and Gary Patterson’s squad should find itself in the inaugural four-team field.