A challenge from his coach and a bone-rattling block from a teammate who lost his helmet in the process was all Jeremy Kerley needed.
The result was the end of TCU's seven-year drought without a punt return for a touchdown. Kerley's 71-yard score put the 11th-ranked Horned Frogs ahead to stay in a 39-14 victory over rival SMU on Saturday night.
"After that block from Tanner, I saw the end zone. I wasn't going to be denied," Kerley said. "For your head coach to tell you you're overdue, it will push you a little bit. ... We had talked about getting it done."
Kerley sprinted up the right sideline, got the block from freshman Tanner Brock near midfield and shredded several tacklers before cutting back to the middle of the field. Kerley then pinballed off a defender and a teammate into the end zone 5 minutes before halftime.
"That play right there was just an electrifying play, and it just kind of boosted everybody, got everybody amped up ready to play again," said All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes, whose 1 1/2 sacks pushed his season total to six.
The block by Brock took out two defenders, and left him on the ground without his helmet.
"He might have sprung him for the touchdown," coach Gary Patterson said.
The first punt return for a TD by the Frogs (4-0) since their 2002 opener _ a span of 89 games _ put them up 12-7. TCU, which had three first-half turnovers, didn't take advantage of another long return by Kerley earlier in the game.
Antoine Hicks had a 2-yard TD run and caught a 28-yard scoring pass from Andy Dalton for TCU, which averted a repeat of four years ago against SMU (2-2).
A week after winning at Oklahoma four years ago, TCU was in turn upset in the Dallas-Fort Worth rivalry known as the "Battle for the Iron Skillet." The Frogs were coming off another significant non-conference road victory last week, 14-10 at Clemson in another rain-soaked game.
"Our main focus coming in was to not let that happen again," said linebacker Daryl Washington, who had five tackles, two sacks and an interception.
SMU led 7-0 when Shawnbrey McNeal turned a screen pass from Bo Levi Mitchell into a 24-yard touchdown in the opening minute of the second quarter. That capped a 75-yard drive, but the Mustangs were held to 224 total yards, well below their season average of 432.
Even though TCU quickly responded with Hicks' TD run, SMU kept the lead. The extra point attempt was blocked by 6-foot-8 freshman Margus Hunt, a world-class shotput and discus thrower from Estonia who had never played football before getting to SMU.
The Frogs got a huge break midway through the third quarter when after a lengthy replay, officials overturned a fumble by Dalton that SMU had returned to the 1. Instead of SMU having a chance to cut into an 18-7 deficit, it was no gain for TCU.
"How can it be conclusive if it took 10 minutes? That's what I want to know," SMU coach June Jones said. "To have it taken away, it really was kind of unfair."
Dalton finished 12 of 20 passing for 189 yards with two touchdown and an interception.
Kerley had a 42-yard punt return in the first quarter to the SMU 22, but Ryan Christian then fumbled at the end of a 10-yard catch after a scary helmet-to-helmet blow that knocked him and defensive back Derrius Bell to the ground _ and out of the game.
Before both walked off the field with help, Christian and Bell were tended to only feet from each other. Bell missed SMU's last game, an overtime loss at Washington State two weeks ago, because of a concussion sustained in an earlier game.
The Mustangs went three-and-out, but got the ball back two plays later when Bart Johnson was stripped by Chris Banjo at the end of the a 32-yard play to the SMU 16. Again they failed to covert, getting a quick 45-yard pass before Matt Szymanski missed wide right on a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Kerley had a 63-yard kickoff return to start the second half wiped out by offsetting penalties, but the Horned Frogs capped their opening drive with Matthew Tucker's 11-yard TD run.
Joseph Turner added a 1-yard TD with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, making is 25-7 only four plays after Emmanuel Sanders botched a fair catch on a punt that Tank Carder recovered at the SMU 21.
Sanders, who entered the game as the national leader with 11.7 catches per game, had eight receptions for 74 yards with a 4-yard score at the end of the third quarter. Mitchell completed 17 of 37 passes for 240 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.