FORT WORTH, Texas – Max Duggan and the TCU Horned Frogs are learning to play with a perfect record that makes them playoff contenders.
That’s the view of first-year coach Sonny Dykes, who watched his team pass another test Saturday.
Derius Davis returned the first punt 82 yards for a touchdown, Kendre Miller ran for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter and No. 7 TCU pulled away in a 34-24 victory over Texas Tech.
Davis caught one of Duggan’s two fourth-quarter TD passes as the Horned Frogs reached 9-0 for the first time since 2010, a 13-0 season that ended with a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 national ranking.
The Big 12’s No. 1 offense in yards didn’t get its first touchdown until the fourth, and TCU has trailed in the second half of four of its six conference victories.
“Despite everybody in the program kind of doing everything we can do to preach the one-game-at-a-time thing, I think there are times our players start to see the enormity and gravity of things,” Dykes said. “It starts with us as a coaching staff and just making sure our guys feel free.”
The Red Raiders (4-5, 2-4) went ahead 17-13 in the third quarter on Tyler Shough‘s 33-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Sparkman, but ended up falling to 2-4 against ranked teams in coach Joey McGuire‘s first season.
“Frustrating game because we have the lead,” McGuire said. “Just got to make plays to win the game.”
The previous perfect run for TCU came in the Mountain West Conference and was before the College Football Playoff.
The nine-game winning streak is the longest since the Horned Frogs won 16 straight spanning the the 2014-15 seasons. In 2014, one-loss TCU had joined the Big 12, but was left out of the first four-team CFP.
“Our deal is let’s just try to figure out a way to win a game and then at the end of the year, we’ll sit down and see what we have to do,” Dykes said. “I think the way we’ve tried to approach this has served us well.”
Defensive standout Tyree Wilson made the first big play for Texas Tech with a fourth-down tackle for loss when TCU was driving up 7-0 after Darius’ return up the right sideline and back toward the middle.
Wilson, though, sparked the Horned Frogs’ go-ahead drive with a facemask penalty when his sack of Duggan would have put TCU in third and long.
A pass interference penalty in the end zone put the ball at the 2-yard line, and Miller extended his rushing TD streak to 10 games on the next play for a 20-17 lead.
“That was a big drive,” said McGuire, who wasn’t pleased with the calls. “Had opportunities to get off the field, could have been different going into the fourth quarter, keeping that lead and hanging on to it.”
Miller surpassed 100 yards rushing for the sixth time in seven games, finishing with a season-high 158 yards on 21 carries.
Playing without leading receiver Quentin Johnston because of an ankle injury, Duggan was 12 of 23 for 195 yards, his fewest as the starter this season. The senior didn’t throw an interception, giving him 24 TDs with just two picks this season.
The Red Raiders started 3 of 3 on fourth down, but failed on consecutive possessions in their territory after Miller’s TD, setting up Duggan’s 23-yard scoring pass to Davis and a 16-yarder to Emari Demercado.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders had one interception after entering the game with a Big 12-leading 15. While they protected the ball better, the league’s No. 1 passing offense was held under 200 yards (163) for the second week in a row after not having fewer than 299 before that.
TCU: The nine-game winning streak is the longest as a head coach for Dykes, who was facing his alma mater and the school where he was an assistant. He’s the first Big 12 coach to go this deep into his first season without losing.
Freshman Behren Morton started strong for Texas Tech, going 7 of 10 with a 47-yard touchdown to Jerand Bradley. But he left in the first half with an ankle injury that’s been bothering him for a month.
Shough, the opening day starter who has missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, went 9 of 22 for 84 yards and had a short touchdown run late.
Davis’ fifth career punt return for a touchdown broke a tie with Dallas Cowboys return man KaVontae Turpin for the TCU record. They are tied for the school mark with six kick or punt returns for TDs.
Texas Tech: After playing ranked opponents six of the first nine games, the Red Raiders don’t have a team currently in the Top 25 on their remaining schedule. Kansas visits next Saturday.
TCU: The Horned Frogs play at Texas. They lost to the Longhorns for just the second time in the past eight meetings last year in Fort Worth.