Texas (5-2, 4-0 Big 12) actually entered Saturday's game a two-point underdog to the Horned Frogs (3-5, 1-4), likely as a nod to the fact that 1) TCU beat Texas a year ago, 2) Texas seemed to need to run the ball to win and TCU had the league's best run defense and 3) the likelihood that quarterback Casey Pachall, who began 2013 as the Frogs' starter, would play in his first game back from injury.
All were good points — though Texas stuck with the running game, toting the ball 52 times for 187 yards, the Longhorns averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, and Pachall entered the game on the Frogs' third series. But Texas exploited a serious advantage in its own defensive line against the TCU offensive line, and went to shot plays in the passing game, hurling the ball downfield for big plays against a stacked box.
Appropriately for a game that figured to be an airtight showdown with few offensive points, the first score was set up by a defense. Facing a third and 15, Texas gang-sacked Horned Frog quarterback Trevone Boykin, with cornerback Quandre Diggs forcing a fumble that safety Adrian Phillips recovered at the three. On the next play, Malcolm Brown trotted in standing up.
At that point, Casey Pachall entered the game for the Frogs, though the initial results were more of the same. TCU went three-and-out, and Texas drove down to add a 43-yard field goal from Anthony Fera for a 10-0 lead.
TCU hit back before the end of the quarter on a double pass, with Cameron Echols-Luper catching the sideways pass and connecting with Ladarius Brown for a 38-yard score. The deception certainly worked as Brown ran past safety Josh Turner into wide-open space before Mykkele Thompson could come over the top in support.
But as he did against Oklahoma, one of Case McCoy's biggest passes came on third-and-long. Facing a third-and-10, McCoy stared down Jaxon Shipley on a pivot route, then aired it out for Marcus Johnson, who got behind the coverage on a wheel route. Johnson caught it and raced 65 yards for a score, and the Longhorns never led by fewer than double digits again.
A few minutes later, the storm expected to hit moved in, with the game delayed for three hours and six minutes because of lightning.
After the lightning break, the two teams played out the final 6:08 of the second quarter, with only a three-minute halftime break following the second stanza. But that short time span before the half wasn't without fireworks, as a 44-yard McCoy pass to Mike Davis tip-toeing down the sideline set up Fera's second field goal, a 37-yarder as time expired in the half.
While Johnson didn't score the Longhorns' next touchdown, he certainly did his best to set it up. Again facing a third down, this one a third-and-9, McCoy found Johnson for 43 yards and a first down. On the next play, Johnson drew a pass-interference call and another 15 yards. Three plays later, Brown had his second three-yard touchdown run of the game. Fera later closed out the scoring with his third field goal of the game.
McCoy hit on nine of his first 16 throws for 228 yards and a touchdown, including completions of 20 or more yards to four different receivers. Johnson in particular benefitted, catching three passes for 120 yards and a score. But after hitting Kendall Sanders for a 33-yard strike on his 16th pass, McCoy went to the well one time too often, throwing an interception to Jason Verrett. His next pass, another deep shot, was also picked off, this time by Kevin White. And his final pass fell incomplete.
Afterward, McCoy admitted that he should have checked down on the interceptions, and Brown conceded that the Longhorns got a bit "greedy" by going for the kill shot that had been there all game.
"They weren't moving the ball, so we knew that as long as we didn't turn it over and kept it on that end of the field we were in pretty good shape," Brown said.
Two series later, Texas pulled the redshirt from freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, with Swoopes driving the Longhorns into the red zone before suffering a turnover on downs. Afterward, Brown said that Texas needed to get Swoopes experience with the uncertainty surrounding former starting quarterback David Ash, who has yet to return from his second head injury. Ash has not yet been cleared, meaning he won't play against Kansas next week.
"It's a fluid situation," said Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. "You don't know what's going to happen with David. The doctors are doing a great job with him. But we've got to make plans for the next half of the season."
But the story of the game was the Texas defense. While the Longhorns certainly had help from a TCU passing game plagued by missed opportunities and drops, they also deserved credit for supplying constant pressure, dominating up front and choking off any chance TCU had at a coherent running game.
In all, Texas held TCU to just 3.9 yards per play and 246 yards of total offense, sacking Pachall and Boykin a combined three times, turning TCU over three times and holding the Horned Frogs to 45 yards rushing on 24 carries. Pachall and Boykin combined to go just 16-of-38 (42.1 percent) for 163 yards and no touchdowns to one interception.
What does it say that the Horned Frogs' lone points came from a trick play?
"That means we came out and played the defense we were supposed to play," said defensive tackle Chris Whaley.
Texas is now not only 4-0 in Big 12 play, but is coming off solid wins over two teams that were picked in the preseason as league contenders. And the Longhorns have achieved their current streak despite a rocky 1-2 start that began with a 40-21 thumping in another game with a rain delay, at BYU. Brown was asked if his team was surprising.
"They are," Brown said. "That's what I thought we would be in preseason. That's what I thought we would be in the summer. I was a lot more surprised at Brigham Young than I was tonight."
TEXAS — Malcolm Brown 3 run (Anthony Fera kick), 7:48 1Q
TEXAS — Anthony Fera 43 FG, 3:07 1Q
TCU — LaDarius Brown 38 pass from Cameron Echols-Luper (Jaden Oberkrom kick), 1:24 1Q
TEXAS — Marcus Johnson 65 pass from Case McCoy (Fera kick), 9:48 2Q
TEXAS — Fera 37 FG, 0:00 2Q
TEXAS — Brown 3 run (Fera kick), 9:20 3Q
TEXAS — Fera 36 FG, 11:55 4Q