The 18th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs try to wrap up their third straight Mountain West Conference title this weekend as they host the slumping UNLV Rebels in league play at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
TCU, which is headed for the Big 12 Conference next season, has won all six regular-season finales since joining this league back in 2005 and is currently enjoying a six-game win streak overall thanks to a 34-10 triumph over Colorado State back on November 19. With that victory over the Rams, TCU has now captured 23 consecutive wins in conference play, the last loss for the Frogs coming against Utah (13-10) back in 2008.
As for the Rebels, they are tied with Colorado State and New Mexico at the bottom of the MWC standings with just one win in six opportunities. Last weekend started off well enough for UNLV with a 14-0 lead over San Diego State at home, but it eventually turned into a 31-14 loss for the hosts at Sam Boyd Stadium and marked the team's fourth straight setback and the seventh in eight outings.
"Our guys were ready to play, they came out fired up, played very well in the first half and we just didn't finish the game," UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck said after the loss. "They (San Diego State) kicked our tail in the second half and it was a dang shame because our guys did some good things."
In terms of the all-time series between the squads, the Horned Frogs have won all but one of the previous nine encounters. Last season TCU delivered a lopsided 48-6 triumph in the desert. In the four games played in Fort Worth, the hosts have won by an average of 30 points per game.
Running back Tim Cornett had rushing touchdowns of 54 and 25 yards within a span of less than five minutes in the first half, putting the Rebels up by a score of 14-0, but from there the offense disappeared as SDSU secured the road win. Cornett finished the meeting with 136 yards on 15 carries, while Quarterback Caleb Herring converted 14-of-26 passes for another 119 yards, but was sacked four times. Sean Reilly made a brief appearance and completed as many passes to his own teammates (one) as he did to the Aztecs.
Defensively, the Rebels limited SDSU quarterback to just 13 completions and 152 yards, but still Ryan Lindley accounted for a pair of aerial TDs while Ronnie Hillman ran all over UNLV before finishing with 192 yards and two TDs on 32 attempts.
Across the board the stats have been dismal for the Rebels, their run defense giving up 194.9 ypg to rank fourth in the conference and 100th in the nation. The secondary is allowing another 253.6 ypg and the group has an efficiency rating of 156.28 which is second-to-last in the MWC and 114th in the country. It also doesn't help that the offensive line is giving up 2.9 sacks per game and that has them ranked seventh in the MWC and tied for 104th overall.
The rushing offense has been respectable for the Rebels with 168.6 ypg, but the team's strongest efforts have all come against three of the weakest run defenses in college football (Air Force, New Mexico and Colorado State) so take what you will from that.
The Horned Frogs have probably had more time to prepare for this game than they've really needed and head coach Gary Patterson knows he has to guard against the team becoming complacent.
"Let's go be the best team that we can be. Let's keep rolling along, and we'll see how it all happens. Whatever bowl game we play in, let's go win it. I do believe winning bowl games is very important. I think it's a carryover for the following season. Losing is a disease and not just in football. If you're not careful, it spreads."
A defensive-minded coach first and foremost, Patterson probably never imagined he'd have the kind of quick-strike offense this season that he does with new quarterback Casey Pachall. The signal-caller has erupted with 67.8 percent accuracy for 230.0 ypg and has 24 touchdowns to show for his efforts. More importantly, Pachall has tossed just six interceptions and that has allowed the TCU defense to rest up a bit more between series.
Averaging 16.4 yards per catch, Josh Boyce is responsible for a team-best nine TD catches, but there are also four other players on the roster with multiple TD receptions in 2011 and that forced defenses to be on their toes.
Speaking of defenses, the one for the Horned Frogs has taken a few steps back this season, but considering the team has had to play almost the entire campaign without Tanner Brock it is certainly understandable. Tank Carder has taken over as the leader on the field with his 62 tackles, but also keep in mind that a guy like Stansly Maponga (42 tackles) leads the team with 9.5 TFLs, seven sacks and is also among the nation's leaders with five forced fumbles.
"It's the last week. This is a big ballgame for us with the chance to win an outright conference title against a vastly improving UNLV team," says coach Patterson of this meeting. "They are very physical. That's one thing I can tell you about them on both sides of the football."