No. 4 TCU rolled through its first four Big 12 games by an average of more than three touchdowns, winning with a great mix in all three phases.
It figures to take all of that prowess to beat surging No. 25 Iowa State when the teams square off Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Kickoff is set for 3:30 ET.
TCU (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) heads to the Midwest on the heels of a dominating 43-0 home win over Kansas on Saturday, when the Horned Frogs surrendered just 21 total yards (a Big 12 record) and four first downs (two of those on penalties) to the last-place Jayhawks.
“Right now, we’re 7-0 and we need to get to 8-0,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “This one will be tougher. I said before the season that Iowa State was going to be a tough ball game and that’s not even knowing what I know now.”
The Horned Frogs have been balanced on offense and have actually done the bulk of their damage on the ground. TCU has run the ball on 57.3 percent of its offensive snaps, the highest mark since the arrival of its spread offense in 2014.
It helps that TCU has a true dual-threat quarterback in Kenny Hill. He ranks fourth in the nation with a 70.2 completion percentage (146 of 208) that is on pace to set a TCU season record, and he has not thrown an interception in his last 100 pass attempts.
Hill’s five touchdown passes against Kansas equaled a career-high and tied for the second-most in a game in TCU history. He has four games of at least four touchdown passes in his TCU career. His 15 touchdown passes this year are just two shy of his total from last season.
“We’ve had games in the past where I just had to get the ball to playmakers who would run it in,” Hill said. “Against Kansas, the pass was working, and it was nice to have it going, but whatever it takes to win is what we are going to do.”
Earlier this season in a 31-24 win over West Virginia, Hill became the fourth player in Big 12 history, and the second in a conference game, to rush for a touchdown, throw for a score and catch a touchdown pass. His 10 scoring runs last season set a TCU mark for a quarterback.
Iowa State (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) was expected to be improved this season under second-year coach Matt Campbell, but cracking the Top 25 for the first time in 12 years has to be a surprise.
The Cyclones have won three straight games — against then No. 4 Oklahoma in Norman, at home against Kansas and last week at Texas Tech — and head into Saturday’s contest with considerable momentum and swagger.
“Our recipe for success is don’t make mistakes, don’t turn the ball over, force opponents to make some mistakes, and when they do, you got to do a great job of winning situational football,” Campbell said. “We can look back for the last three weeks, that’s what’s worked for us. When we’ve lost, we’ve been the ones that made the mistakes.”
A win on Saturday puts Iowa State firmly in contention to win the league title, pretty heady stuff for a team picked in the preseason to finish ninth of 10 teams in the Big 12.
“Ever since that win at Oklahoma, our confidence is crazy now,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said after last week’s win at Texas Tech.
“We trust each other. We trust what the coaches are doing. We trust ourselves that we’ll be able to go out there and make plays when the time matters. Just knowing that we can rely on each other, it helps us keep our poise and be able to go out there and execute in critical situations every day.”
Iowa State is 3-0 since Kyle Kempt moved into the starting quarterback spot prior to the win over Oklahoma. Kempt has completed 69 percent of his pass attempts.
Linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, with seven tackles and a pick-six against Texas Tech, while linebacker Willie Harvey is coming off a career-high 14 tackles last week against the Red Raiders.
Saturday’s game is the first featuring two AP Top 25 teams in Jack Trice Stadium since 2002, when No. 19 Iowa State beat No. 20 Nebraska, 36-14.