Rose Bowl bound? No. 4 TCU beats New Mexico 66-17
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Andy Dalton trotted off the field, a single-stem red rose in hand.
The next stop for the BCS-busting Horned Frogs could very well be the Rose Bowl.
Dalton threw three touchdown passes before leaving with a minor elbow injury and No. 4 TCU capped its second straight undefeated regular season with another Mountain West championship, beating lowly New Mexico 66-17 on Saturday.
TCU (12-0, 8-0 Mountain West) has been jockeying with Boise State for a possible BCS appearance and got a major boost from Nevada, which knocked off the previously unbeaten Broncos on Friday night to give the Frogs an easier path to Pasadena.
"Honestly, I feel bad for Boise State," coach Gary Patterson said. "I know how hard they’ve worked to get where they’re at. We’ve been down the same road."
If form holds next week across the college football landscape, it could be a purple Rose Bowl. Of course, Patterson and his players are holding out hope that top-ranked Oregon could lose next week to Oregon State or No. 2 Auburn could be upset by South Carolina in the SEC title game.
"We’ll be happy to be in whichever game we go to," Dalton said. "It will be fun to watch this weekend to see what happens with those games. You never know, but if we play in the Rose Bowl, that’s going to be a lot of fun."
Fullback Luke Shivers scored twice on short runs and reserve quarterback Casey Pachall passed for one TD and ran for another as TCU dominated New Mexico (1-11, 1-7) as expected.
But before the Frogs could address their postseason prospects, they needed to complete the formality of ending the regular season. They were the highest-ranked opponent to visit Albuquerque since No. 4 BYU won 48-0 on the Cougars’ march to the 1984 national title.
Other than Dalton’s injury and a bumpy second quarter where TCU was outscored 10-7, everything went right for the Frogs.
Dalton, the nation’s active quarterback leader with 41 victories, was setting up to pass when he was taken down by New Mexico’s Jacori Greer. Dalton fumbled, and linebacker Joe Stoner picked up the ball and returned it 36 yards to the 1 to set up a touchdown.
Dalton was briefly examined by trainers. Moments later, he was up and cheering for his teammates.
"Andy will be fine," Patterson said. "We just didn’t want to take any chances. He got hit on the elbow. His arm went numb a little bit, but he was fine at the end of the game. There was no sense in doing anything foolish."
Oregon beat New Mexico 72-0 in the season opener but Patterson, asked about comparison scores and whether TCU needed to put up a lot of points to impress the voters, said during the week he would be happy to get past the Lobos by one point.
No problem there.
The Horned Frogs had their highest scoring output of the season, outperforming a 62-7 win over Tennessee Tech on Sept. 11. With Dalton watching, TCU scored five unanswered TDs in the second half to pull away from a 31-17 halftime margin.
TCU set single-season school records with 68 TDs and 506 points, the third straight year with a new mark in each category.
And the Frogs did it with a backup quarterback directing their base offense to run out the clock.
"We ran the ball the last quarter and a half and we didn’t throw a pass," Patterson said. "I’m not going to quit doing what was right. They knew I wasn’t going to quit doing what’s right for the sake of a national championship."
But if anyone thought Nevada’s upset took the pressure off TCU, Patterson disagreed.
"No, in fact, I thought it was more pressure," he said. "Now you’re playing for a chance at the Rose Bowl or to play for a national championship if you can win out."
TCU’s seniors set a record with their 43rd victory, the most successful class in school history.
The Frogs raced to a 21-0 lead in the opening period, with Dalton throwing easy TD passes to Antoine Hicks, Waymon James and Jimmy Young — all undefended and wide open — before New Mexico started contesting the left side of the field.
Dalton became TCU’s career passing leader with 10,022 yards and took over as the Mountain West’s total offense leader with 11,617 yards.
The Frogs struck quickly in the third, getting three TDs after brief drives that started deep in New Mexico territory. Each score was set up by a big play: a fumble recovery by Colin Jones, a 50-yard punt return by Curtis Clay and an interception by Jurrell Thompson.
Pachall scored on an 8-yard run and threw a 21-yard TD strike to Logan Brock, then Shivers scored on a 1-yard run to put TCU up 52-17.
"We didn’t play well today," New Mexico coach Mike Locksley said. "We didn’t execute on offense, defense, and special plays, and that all starts with me as a head coach."