LAWRENCE, Kan. — TCU coach Gary Patterson spent most of Saturday watching every bounce, blooper and bizarre play go against his team on a frigid afternoon at Kansas.
In the end, the fifth-ranked Horned Frogs did just enough to turn back a spirited upset bid by the Jayhawks and remain in contention for the inaugural college football playoff.
“A lot of people would have lost that ballgame,” Patterson said after the 34-30 win. “There wasn’t any style points here other than the fact that we fought back and won the game.”
Aaron Green ran for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 69 yards for another score to pace the comeback from a 27-17 third-quarter deficit. Trevone Boykin added 330 yards passing and a touchdown as TCU (9-1, 6-1 Big 12, No. 4 CFP) avoided what would have been a catastrophic blow to its national title hopes.
The Horned Frogs won their fifth straight, even without top running back B.J. Catalon. And with a trip to Texas followed by a home game against lowly Iowa State, they may have the easiest road standing between them and the four-team playoff for the national title.
Still, even after Chris Hackett’s interception with 3:26 left sealed the victory, the underwhelming performance could cost TCU its spot in the playoff committee’s top four.
“We’re not too worried about it,” Boykin said. “It’s not up to us. It’s up to the committee.”
Michael Cummings had 332 yards and two touchdowns passing for the Jayhawks (3-7, 1-6), who were trying for their first regular-season win over a top-five team since beating Colorado in 1995. Jimmay Mundine had 137 yards receiving and a touchdown, and Nigel King had 128 yards and a score as the Jayhawks nearly gave a sparse crowd of about 10,000 fans a reason to celebrate.
Still, Kansas made another strong statement in support of interim coach Clint Bowen, who has steadied the program after Charlie Weis was fired and become a strong pick for the full-time job.
“We were a play or two away from probably a better day,” Bowen said.
TCU did what most expected on the game’s opening drive, going 67 yards in just over 2 minutes for a touchdown.
But after that, nothing went as expected for quite some time.
After holding Kansas, TCU was flagged for roughing the punter. Later in the drive, the Jayhawks attempted a field goal and holder T.J. Millweard dropped the snap, scrambled to his left and threw a pass for a first down instead. Then, a TCU player batted a third-down pass and it was caught by the Jayhawks’ Nick Harwell for another first down.
Finally, Corey Avery capped the bizarre 17-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
“We didn’t get a lot of breaks,” Hackett said with a smile.
Kansas held on fourth-and-1 at its 11 to get the ball back, and the Jayhawks promptly headed 89 yards the other way, with Mundine hauling in a 13-yard touchdown pass to give Kansas the lead.
By that point, the few thousand fans in Memorial Stadium were awaking from stunned silence.
Not everything went perfectly for Kansas. A 22-yard interception return for a TD was wiped away by an illegal substitution penalty, and a 16-yard pass into the red zone for a first down was taken away by a review that showed the ball had skipped off the turf. The Jayhawks wound up punting.
Still, they headed into the locker room with a 13-10 lead.
Kansas pushed the lead to 20-10 with an 82-yard drive to start the second half, and the Horned Frogs answered with a 72-yard drive that Green capped with a short touchdown run.
That set up one of the game’s highlights: Cummings threw a pass to King down the sideline, and the big wide receiver caught the ball after three bobbles and ran 78 yards for the score.
There was still plenty of time, and the Horned Frogs showed plenty of poise.
After a quick drive downfield, Green’s 24-yard touchdown run pulled TCU to 27-24. And after the Horned Frogs’ defense forced a punt, Echols-Luper sliced through the coverage for his big return that gave them their first lead since the game’s opening minutes.
TCU held on through a tense fourth quarter to avoid the upset bid.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” Boykin said. “Everybody is going to be out for us because we’re one of the teams at the top right now.”