ONLINE EXCLUSIVE! – Frogs defeat CSU, clinch conference title

The TCU Horned Frogs clinched their first outright conference title since 1958 in commanding fashion Saturday night, knocking off the Colorado State Rams 33-6 at Amon Carter Stadium.The title comes in TCU’s first season of Mountain West Conference play.

“To come out and win in our first year outright is awesome,” senior defensive tackle Jared Kesler said.

Sophomore strong safety Brian Bonner had two picks and shared a sack for a safety with sophomore defensive end Chase Ortiz to lead a swarming TCU defense that forced four interceptions and limited an explosive CSU offense to 253 yards, many of which came in garbage time.

“Words can’t even describe it,” Bonner said. “I don’t even know how to act right now.”

Bonner credited the defensive line for pressuring CSU quarterback Justin Holland and forcing the senior to make bad decisions.

“We played a smash-mouth game,” senior defensive tackle Ranorris Ray said. “We flew around to the ball at the same time, and that caused a lot of problems for the offense.”

The Frogs’ 23 interceptions and +19 turnover margin are tops in the nation.

The Frogs put together a balanced performance on the offensive side of the ball.

Junior Robert Merrill ran 16 times for 94 yards, freshman Aaron Brown added 84 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown and junior quarterback Jeff Ballard contributed 44 yards on the ground, finding the end zone once. Ballard also threw for 160 yards and a touchdown.

“It’s very important, the fact that we can all contribute,” Ballard said. “The main thing is to get the run game. These running backs did a great job of making the cuts and making guys miss.”

TCU looked like a team hungry for a title from the outset of the game.

The Frogs marched 80 yards on 9 plays on their first drive, which was capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Ballard. Merrill converted a fourth-and-one from the five yard line to set up Ballard’s score.

CSU answered with a 39-yard field goal by freshman kicker Jason Smith on its first possession, but TCU bounced right back with another methodical scoring drive, going 83 yards on 10 plays.

Aaron Brown carried four times for 42 yards on the drive, including a dashing 10-yard touchdown run. Ballard connected with junior reserve tight end Brent Hecht for 20 yards and a first down on the way to the end zone.

CSU was given a golden opportunity to score early in the second quarter after officials ruled a CSU punt grazed TCU’s Vernon Russell down field, and CSU recovered the fumble at the TCU 21-yard line.

Despite the short field, the Rams could only manage a field goal.

“We were fortunate in the red-zone play,” head coach Gary Patterson said. “That’s where you have to play. You have to play down there. We’ve been playing that way all year.”

With CSU in a goal-to-go situation, senior cornerback Quincy Butler blanketed his Ram receiver on consecutive touchdown-pass attempts to force a short field goal by Smith, bringing the score to 14-6.

From there, the rout was on.

On the next TCU series, Ballard hit a streaking Cory Rodgers, who then cut and juked his way through the Colorado State defense for an 18-yard touchdown.

Bonner’s second interception of the night set sophomore kicker Chris Manfredini up for a 26-yard field goal shortly before the first half ended, making the score 24-6 heading into the break.

TCU killed any hopes CSU had of making a comeback early in third quarter, when Bonner and Ortiz sacked CSU quarterback Justin Holland in end zone for a seven-yard loss and safety.

Rodgers, a junior wide receiver, returned the ensuing free kick to the Ram 38. and then finished TCU’s final scoring drive with a six-yard touchdown run.

The Rams threatened in the second half, but ultimately failed to score, coming up short on two trips to the red zone.

Holland struggled for the Rams, connecting on 22 of 38 pass attempts for 194 yards and throwing the four picks.

“He threw the ball up tonight, and the secondary made plays,” Bonner said.

CSU senior wide receiver David Anderson caught seven balls for 96 yards, but the Rams could not muster much on the ground. Sophomore starting tailback Kyle Bell averaged 2.7 yards per carry and ended the night with only 41 yards rushing.

The Frogs moved to 9-1 with the win and 7-0 in conference. TCU will host Nevada-Las Vegas next week to finish the regular season. The MWC cellar-dwellers lost to Brigham Young 55-14 Saturday.