The longest winning streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision is on the line this weekend in Fort Worth, as the 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs welcome the Iowa State Cyclones to Amon G. Carter Stadium for a Big 12 Conference showdown.
TCU, the only school in the country that has a win streak of at least double digits, sitting at 12 in a row at the moment, hasn't lost since clashing with local foe SMU to kick off the month of October last season. Last weekend, the Frogs were up against the same pesky opponent, but this time TCU managed to hold on for a 24-16 triumph in order to claim ownership of the Iron Skillet trophy, given to the winner of the Dallas-Forth Worth rivalry.
The Horned Frogs are now 4-0 for the fifth time under head coach Gary Patterson, who is in the midst of his 12th season with the school. An impressive 19-2 in the last 21 road games, TCU has given up just three touchdowns through the first four games, resulting in an average of just 7.25 ppg allowed, which is currently second in the nation behind only Alabama (7.0 ppg). The team has also rattled off 25 straight wins over conference opponents, which is the longest run in the country entering the week.
As for the Cyclones, they began this season with three straight victories over the likes of Tulsa, Iowa and Western Illinois, but even with two weeks of preparation the team was still unable to hold off Texas Tech last Saturday night in a 24-13 setback at home. Considering ISU had held the previous two opponents to a combined nine points, head coach Paul Rhoads was far from pleased with his team's efforts, particularly at quarterback.
"Steele Jantz is not the one to blame for this single loss. Obviously, Steele Jantz contributed to it ... the guy's got talent, he's used poor judgement too much and he's made certainly a number of negative plays that have hurt our football team. He's got to improve."
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Horned Frogs have won all three previous meetings with Iowa State, including the most recent matchup back in 2005 by a score of 27-24 during the Houston Bowl.
Coach Rhoads had every reason to be disappointed with the play of his signal- caller against Texas Tech as he completed just 10-of-20 passes for 73 yards and a single score. Steele was sacked four times and tossed three interceptions, which prevented ISU from ever making a serious push in the end in front of the hometown crowd.
Unfortunately, the running game for the Cyclones was also lackluster as the group recorded only 116 yards on 38 rushing attempts.
Considering Texas Tech was one of the nation's top scoring teams entering play last week, limiting the Red Raiders to only 24 points could have been seen as a moral victory at least. Leading the charge for the Iowa State defense was A.J. Klein who scored the first points of the night as he returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter. Klein finished second on the unit with 11 tackles, while Roosevelt Maggitt logged a pair of sacks.
Recording the fourth-longest interception return for a touchdown in ISU history, Klein now has brought back four picks for scores which is a school record and ties the NCAA record for INT returns for a TD by a linebacker as well.
Unfortunately for the Cyclones, even with the pick by Klein the team is still in a deep hole when it comes to turnover margin, showing a minus-1.25 per game after four outings, which is ninth in the conference and 106th in the nation. More than anything else, the squad has suffered from poor play by Jantz who has accounted for seven of the team's eight interceptions thus far.
Because the offense has given the ball away so often, it should come as little surprise that the group ranks last in the league and 88th in the country with just 369.0 ypg. Jantz has completed a strong 66.9 percent of his pass attempts, but has just seven TDs to show for his efforts.
If Jantz is still in at quarterback when the Cyclones take the field this weekend then TCU will certainly make the visitors pay. After four games the Horned Frogs are 17th in the country with just 177.0 ypg allowed through the air. The run defense has been even more punishing, coming in first in the conference and eighth in the nation with only 78.8 ypg surrendered.
Against SMU in less than perfect weather conditions, the Frogs logged five interceptions, the most ever under coach Patterson, which was key to the program overcoming several factors that worked against them through 60 minutes of action. Jason Verrett made two of those picks, while Devonte Fields stepped up the pressure in the backfield with four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
The squad was flagged 13 times for 140 yards, the yardage total tying for the fifth-most in program history. The offense was limited to a mere 156 yards, the lowest total since putting up just 151 in a loss at Kansas 15 years ago. Casey Pachall converted just 10-of-26 passes for 107 yards, but did find the end zone twice, while Matthew Tucker carried the ball 18 times for a game-high 56 yards and a score as well.
Even though he registered just 10 completed passes against the Mustangs, Pachall is still one of the most accomplished signal-callers in the nation again this season, sporting an efficiency rating of 180.0. Pachall has tossed a total of 10 TDs, against just a single interception, with Brandon Carter and Josh Boyce being his favored targets with a combined 33 receptions for 540 yards and seven scores.
Unfortunately for TCU, the team will probably have to go with a youngster under center this weekend. Pachall was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of DWI and will be suspended for at least this game. That leaves the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin, who is likely to get the start. Boykin has played sparingly this season, completing 9-of-10 passes, for 74 yards and one TD.
Patterson is trying to keep the team focused on the opponent in front of them.
"They have good players. Both of their linebackers were named preseason All- Big 12. They have a couple of good wide receivers and are big up front on both sides of the ball. They play well in the secondary. They are very talented and a good Big 12 football team."
The key to TCU's success will always be the defense, at least as long as Patterson is around. Responsible for a total of 17 tackles over four games, Fields has made half of those behind the line of scrimmage and also leads the team with five total sacks. As a unit, the Frogs are second in the conference in sacks with 2.75 per game, which means opposing quarterbacks are always trying to keep themselves standing upright.