"I don't know if it was something I ate or what," Kerley said. "I had a bug in my stomach. It was killing me, man. I felt like I had to throw up the whole game. But I took some medicine and it kicked in."
Kerley didn't specify what medicine he took, but it obviously worked wonders. After an Andy Dalton interception deep in TCU territory set up a Mustang touchdown, the Frogs were feeling the heat. The fourth-ranked team in the country had walked into a hornet's nest in Dallas. In front of a stadium record crowd of 35,481 at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, the Frogs were trailing by three points early in the third quarter. That's when the medicine – or perhaps more importantly, Kerley's will to win – took effect.
Number 85 took the SMU kick at his own 4-yard line, burst upfield and found wide open space in front of him. 83 yards later, Kerley was finally forced out of bounds, but the Frogs had regained momentum. They didn't look back from there, putting away the Ponies 41-24.
"No," Kerley said when asked if he felt any pressure on himself to reenergize the team after falling behind. "I'm glad my teammates can look at me as kind of a leader to get a spark going. There was no pressure on me. I just had to go out there and do what I've been doing for the last four years."
Kerley has indeed thrilled fans with electrifying returns for the last few seasons. Tonight's runback had an interesting parallel, though, as Kerley played a very similar role in last year's Battle for the Iron Skillet. In the midst of a heavy downpour, TCU trailed SMU 7-6 at home. The crowd at Amon G. Carter Stadium seemed nervous until Kerley fielded a punt, utilized several tough blocks – including one from then-freshman Tanner Brock, who wasn't wearing a helmet at the time – and took it back 71 yards for a touchdown. From there, the Frogs never relinquished the lead and went on to win 39-14.
This year's contest started much like the 2009 game. SMU came out and smacked the Frogs in the mouth, with sophomore tailback Zach Line carving up the TCU defense on the ground during the Mustangs' second drive of the game. A tipped Kyle Padron pass found its way into the waiting arms of senior wideout Aldrick Robinson, who grabbed it and found the endzone on a 23-yard catch and run. Right out of the gate, the Frogs had their backs up against the wall.
TCU rallied with an eight play, 85-yard drive capped off by a two-yard Matthew Tucker score at the end of the first quarter. The Frogs appeared ready to take control of the game by forcing SMU to punt the ball away on the next drive, and then taking it 70 yards for another touchdown, this one by freshman tailback Waymon James.
Usually the third string runner, James replaced TCU leading rusher Ed Wesley, who suffered a concussion on the drive. James filled in admirably for Wesley, rushing for 41 yards on eight carries, including two touchdowns.
"Every year I talk about when guys have to come in and play, backup guys are how you win championships," TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. "Waymon James came in and did that tonight."
Although the Frogs came away with a convincing win on the scoreboard, they seemed to struggle with multiple issues throughout the night. Line finished the night with 139 yards on 17 carries, most of them on draw plays that seemed to fool the Frogs' defense. Mustang receiver Darius Johnson also made a spectacular one-handed catch deep downfield that set up SMU for a field goal at the end of the first half.
Dalton also had a rough night at times, throwing two interceptions, including one that helped give the Mustangs the lead. But Dalton remained resilient and made several important throws and runs to extend TCU drives in the second half.
"It's college football. You never know what's going to happen at any time," Kerley said. "I was kind of down when the [second] pick happened, but I know my quarterback. I know he's going to bounce back and that's what he did. He's a leader. He brought the team back up, and we were able to take back over the lead."
Patterson knows critics may point to his team's performance as a reason for moving the Frogs down in the polls, but he also thinks they deserve credit for the win.
"I'm not making any excuses for my football team," Patterson said. "We need to tackle better, we need to play better on third down. We can't throw interceptions. We can't let them throw the ball over our head. But we did do what we needed to do. We did stop them in the second half."
Tonight's TCU Superman Kerley did it all. He even threw a 15-yard pass to Bart Johnson in the third quarter. Kerley admitted he did have a weakness after helping his team avoid the upset bug. After all, gaining 228 all-purpose yards in one game can wear a guy down.
"I feel tired," Kerley said. "I went out there and tried to give it everything I got. I'm dead. But that's how you're supposed to feel, playing and battling [Baylor], and then coming back and playing for that Iron Skillet."
"We knew it was going to be an emotional game. They came out swinging, and we weren't ready for it at the start. But we bounced back and finished the game."
Patterson also said playing two in-state rivals should carry some merit when weighing TCU's performance on Friday night.
He stands just 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighs less than 200 pounds, but tonight in Dallas, Jeremy Kerley proved his shoulders were strong enough to carry the weight of TCU's national title hopes. Regardless of where the Frogs end up in next Monday's polls, they still hold hopes – however slim – of making it to Glendale after staying undefeated. In Patterson's eyes, that's all that matters.
"I can't worry about that," Patterson said about fretting over whether pollsters will be harsh on his squad. "It's like I told the kids today: if they do, they do. All we need to worry about is to get to 5-0…I don't have any control over the rest of it."