Some football games have a defining play. This one had several.
They were all TCU highlights.
Perhaps the play that best summed up a dominant 41-20 victory for No. 6 TCU (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) over No. 9 Kansas State (7-2, 5-1) was a leaping touchdown by quarterback Trevone Boykin in which he catapulted himself into the Heisman Trophy mix by jumping and spinning past a pair of defenders. Or maybe it was a wild, meandering 65-yard touchdown run from running back Aaron Green.
Then again, maybe it was something less obvious, like receiver Kolby Listenbee falling to the ground midway through his route only to recover and beat top K-State cornerback Danzel McDaniel for a catch. Or maybe it was a holding penalty against Stanton Weber, which negated a 91-yard kickoff return by Tyler Lockett.
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No matter where you looked Saturday at Carter Stadium, everything went the Horned Frogs’ way. They bogged down K-State’s normally balanced offense — limiting it to 34 rushing yards — and ran all over K-State’s usually stellar run defense – rushing for 334 yards – in a game it led from start to finish.
“Nobody likes to lose games like this,” Lockett said after catching 11 passes for 196 yards. “It tests your manhood.”
Both mentally and physically.
Coming into the night, many pointed toward this matchup of top-10 teams as the Big 12’s Game of the Year. It didn’t live up to the billing, and K-State’s poor play was the reason why. The result leaving impacted both the conference race and the national playoff picture.
With the victory, TCU vaulted itself into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with K-State and Baylor. All three teams have one league loss. The Horned Frogs also strengthened their case for a spot in college football’s first playoff.
With a soft closing schedule of games against Kansas, Texas and Iowa State, they appear to be the Big 12’s best hope of finishing in the top four.
Before Saturday, that same argument could have been made in favor of K-State. No more.
“You are really struggling to see the positives after a game like that,” receiver Curry Sexton said after catching four passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
TCU was the far better, and tougher, team on Saturday.
“With their physicality and their speed, they are definitely one of the toughest teams we have played,” linebacker Will Davis said. “They played like it tonight. They definitely came at us in ways we haven’t been attacked before. They exposed some stuff.”
Boykin was the game’s biggest star, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown on top of 123 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but Green wasn’t far behind. The backup running back, playing in place of injured starter B.J. Catalon, ravaged K-State’s front seven for 171 yards and a touchdown.
“We showed we could be a versatile team, and that's what you have to do to win championships,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “That's what you have to do in November. In November, everybody is good. Every week you have to get ready to play. The whole key is finding a way to win every week."
The Horned Frogs held a 17-7 lead at halftime, but the Wildcats were fortunate to trail by 10. Outside of a 70-yard touchdown pass from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, they gained 63 total yards.
K-State coach Bill Snyder took the blame, citing poor strategy and coaching as reasons his team lost.
“We only had six or seven carries in the first half, so we didn’t give ourselves a chance,” Snyder said. “They ran the ball. Boykin ran the ball well. Green ran the ball well. They all did. They were a better team than us.”
When asked if there was anything, in particular, he wished he could do over, Snyder shook his ahead.
“There were about 50 of them,” Snyder said. “It’s just getting the right things on the field at the right time. That didn’t happen.”
The most obvious mismatch was up front. TCU dominated the battle for the line of scrimmage, stopping K-State in its tracks every time it tried to run. That made the Wildcats one-dimensional, and the Horned Frogs took advantage by constantly pressuring Waters in the pocket.
He completed 20 of 37 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but he took two sacks and threw an interception, his first of the Big 12 season.
His only success came throwing to Lockett, who made enough big plays to pass his father as the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards. But it wasn’t enough.
TCU punched K-State’s offense and spread out K-State’s defense until both wore down.
Boykin scored on the Horned Frogs’ opening drive of the second half to give TCU a 24-7 lead, and once again marched down the field behind Green to go back ahead three scores after K-State answered with a touchdown pass to Curry Sexton.
No matter how hard the Wildcats pushed, they couldn’t match the Horned Frogs.
The night belonged to them.
“Their offense played spectacular,” Lockett said. “Their defense played spectacular. They played like the No. 6 team today. We had the heart of the No. 7 team, but we didn’t play to the capability of what a No. 7 team is supposed to be.”