LAWRENCE, Kans. – How you start is important but how you finish is important. It's a truism that you can't have a finish without a start.
TCU officially started its history in Big 12 Conference football here Saturday. Critics in the media and crickets on Tweeter chirped about two Big 12 expatriates starting life in their new conferences with marquis contests while the Horned Frogs were welcomed with a trip to Kansas, winners of three of its last 25 Big 12 games.
While it was more of a struggle than expected, No. 15 TCU got off to a winning start. The Horned Frogs got the first three field goals of freshman Jaden Oberkrum's career and were stifling on defense in a 20-6 victory over the Jayhawks.
Leaving the field with a 10-6 lead, TCU coach Gary Patterson told the team's radio network that "his players came here thinking this was going to be an easy ball game." Four fumbles - three by quarterback Casey Pachall - contributed to the Frogs (2-0, 1-0) leaving between 15 and 35 points unscored.
"They couldn't stop us but we were stopping ourselves," said Pachall, was 24-of-30 for 335 yards and three touchdowns. "We left a lot of points on the field and that's on us. But we showed today we can respond to adversity."
Kansas (1-2, 0-1) came out in different formations and threw the ball deep more often than it had in the first three games. For a TCU team whose defense is relying on freshmen and sophomores, there was need to make halftime adjustments.
In the third quarter, either team was a momentum play away from taking control. TCU made two.
On its second possession of the second half, the Frogs were leading 10-6. They faced a third-and-six at their own 25. Pachall was pressured and hit as he threw. His wobbly pass reached the hands of Brandon Carter, running a short crossing route. Carter's catch and run resulted in a 33-yard gain.
"It was a lucky play," Patterson admitted.
"They came with a blitz and got to me just as I threw it," Pachall said. "It fluttered out there and Brandon made a great run after the catch."
Then on third-and-six from the KU 25, Pachall found Carter on a flag route. He out-leaped the Jayhawks' Tyree Williams, made the catch and tight-roped the final two steps to the end zone. That made it 17-6 and gave TCU breathing room.
Carter, a sophomore, finished with career highs in receptions (eight) and yards (141). Redshirt freshman LaDarius Brown had his first reception and finished with five catches for 70 yards. Along with seniors Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson, Pachall thinks he's throwing to "the best receivers in the country."
Kansas offense teased but didn't please. The Jayhawks forced turnovers on TCU's first two possessions but followed up their second fumble recovery with an interception on the next play. One big play that almost broke for a touchdown was ended by a shoestring tackle. Other drives were short-circuited by dropped passes.
Trailing 17-6, Crist found Andrew Turzilli for a 43-yard completion – the KU quarterback's best throw of the day - but the drive ended on downs. On a fourth-and-one from the TCU 37, Kansas went with a play-action pass but Crist was pressured into poor throw that sailed into the Horned Frogs bench where Patterson made the catch.
"Did you see those hands, that vertical leap?" he joked, holding his thumb and index finger about two inches apart.
TCU's pass coverage kept Crist waiting for receivers to come open. The Frogs finished with three sacks but were able to put pressure on the KU quarterback thanks to the secondary. Crist finished 19-of-39 for 303 yards.
Crist's one interception came after Pachall lost his second fumble. His first came when he Bill Buckner-ed a shotgun snap from the KU nine on TCU's first possession. He was hit, sacked and fumbled on the Frogs' second drive. But on the next play, Crist rolled right and tried to float a pass to Daymond Patterson that sophomore safety Sam Carter tipped and picked.
"That was a big deal," Carter said. "They had a lot of energy at that point."
Both teams treated the red zone as if it was the dead zone. In addition to TCU misfiring three times inside the 20, Kansas' last chance ended when Crist fumbled at the goal line with just over one minute to play.
For Kansas, moving back into the neighborhood of winners continues to be a process. But don't try to sell first-year coach Charlie Weis on moral victories.
"That doesn't exist. There's no such thing," he said. "I was proud that they competed their butts off for 60 minutes. But still, there were too many missed opportunities."
The undisputed truth and the irrefutable logic is that you can't get to 9-0 in the Big 12 if you don't start 1-0. For TCU, it was mission accomplished.
"You can't get to two wins until you get one," said Patterson, whose team is at home against Virginia Saturday. "We're fortunate to get out of here with a win. I warned them that nothing is given, especially when you play on the road."