Now that TCU head coach Gary Patterson has ranked Horned Frogs under his belt, he can now ever meeting with the Portland State Vikings in non-conference action at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Coach Patterson, who is just one of nine active head coaches to have at least 100 victories with his current school, has managed to keep the Frogs in the national spotlight even after the team suffered a 50-48 season-opening loss to Baylor on the road. Since then, TCU has topped Air Force (35-19) to begin Mountain West Conference play, and also knocked off ULM last weekend in a 38-17 decision.
As for the Vikings, a Football Championship Subdivision member, they are off to a 2-0 start and are 1-0 in their Big Sky Conference thanks to a narrow 31-29 triumph over Northern Arizona last Saturday. Two weeks prior, PSU began the 2011 campaign with a lopsided 52-0 romp over Southern Oregon.
Since joining the MWC, the Horned Frogs are undefeated in four games against opponents from the FCS, winning such affairs by an awkward average of 45.8 ppg. No stranger to the MWC entirely, the Vikings took down New Mexico in Albuquerque (17-6) back in 2006.
Portland State scored 24 points in the first half against the Lumberjacks last weekend, but then the Viking offense fell nearly silent aside from an eight- yard touchdown run by Cory McCaffrey in the third quarter. McCaffrey finished the meeting with a staggering 222 yards and all four TDs for his team on 30 rushing attempts. Quarterback Connor Kavanaugh accounted for another 134 yards on 16 carries to offset a lackluster passing effort during which he made good on just 6-of-15 passes for 66 yards and a pair of interceptions.
Defensively, the Vikings limited NAU to just 79 yards on the ground, but they had their problems slowing down the NAU passing attack which registered 323 yards and a score. Two different 'Jacks receivers had more than 100 yards receiving, making it tougher for the PSU defense to pick its poison. Nevertheless, Ryan Rau did stand tall for the Vikings with his team-best 12 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
"We did a great job stuffing the run and forcing them (the Lumberjacks) to get one dimensional," said PSU head coach Nigel Burton.
While it is still early in the season, the Vikings are putting together a very sound defense that is one of the best, not only in the Big Sky Conference, but among all 121 programs at the FCS level. In slowing down the run, PSU has allowed just 70.5 ypg, eighth-best in the country, and the team's overall defense has permitted just 254.5 ypg. In terms of keeping opponents off the scoreboard, the program has allowed just 14.5 ppg (eighth in the nation), but much of that can be attributed to holding a team like Southern Oregon, an NAIA program, scoreless.
While the defense has yet to be truly tested, it is quite clear that the Portland State offense revolves around the exploits of McCaffrey who is averaging 145.5 ypg on the ground and already has seven touchdowns to his name. It also doesn't hurt that a solid offensive line has not only opened up holes for McCaffrey but also kept Kavanaugh from being sacked yet this season.
For a team that's been known as one of the toughest on defense in the nation the last few years, TCU sure hasn't looked that way in the first few games of this season. Against the ULM Warhawks, the Frogs allowed 314 yards of offense which may not sound like a lot, but that's coming from a Sun Belt Conference program that was 85th in the nation in 2010 with 347.0 ypg overall. If the TCU defense had something to be proud of it was the fact that they came up with five sacks and slowed down the passing attack of the Warhawks slightly.
On offense it was Matthew Tucker who took the lead for the Frogs with his two rushing scores, the team coming up with 207 yards and three TDs on the ground overall. Casey Pachall connected on 15-of-23 passes for 204 yards and a TD, while Josh Boyce set a career-high with seven receptions for 134 yards.
Also contributing to the scoring for the Frogs was a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Greg McCoy to begin the second half.
"It gave us some breathing room," coach Patterson said of McCoy's return. "That was the second return of his career. That was a bright spot, because besides the kickoff return, we didn't play very well at all on special teams."
Thanks to that kick return the Horned Frogs are now first in the Mountain West and seventh nationally with an average of 31.7 yards per return. Last season when TCU was a perfect 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl, the team averaged 25.9 yards per return to rank seventh in the country after all was said and done.
Realistically, TCU can't hope that kick returns will result in quick scores and instead the team has to learn to operate along with Pachall as he continues to learn the offense. Aside from an interception against Baylor in the final moments of that loss, the new signal-caller has been doing all the right things for the Horned Frogs by completing 69 percent of his attempts for 220.3 ypg and seven TDs.
The Horned Frogs are up over 200 ypg on the ground again this season, but aside from Tucker who has five TDs the squad really doesn't have another impact runner who brings the final results. Waymon James does lead the team with 208 yards on 30 attempts, but he has just one TD to his credit so that's something that has to change.