TCU has gone from unranked in the preseason to No. 4 in the country and the only unbeaten team in the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs’ rise has mirrored that of senior quarterback Kenny Hill. The Texas A&M transfer was uneven last season in his first year of eligibility at TCU, throwing a conference-high 13 interceptions and not getting a lot of help from a slippery-fingered receiving corps.
But things have fallen into place nicely for TCU (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) this season as it heads into Saturday’s home game against Kansas (1-5, 0-3).
Hill’s 69.8 completion percentage (127 of 182) ranks sixth in the nation and is on pace to shatter the TCU season record.
He also has been clutch, completing 70.6 percent (24 of 34) of his third-down passes. He was 9 of 11 for 144 yards in those situations last week in TCU’s 26-6 win at Kansas State.
TCU’s 133 receptions have been spread among 18 players, which is tied for the second most nationally, one behind Clemson. The Horned Frogs are tied for first nationally with 10 players having a touchdown catch.
“Honestly, no,” Hill said when asked whether he thought TCU would be the Big 12’s lone unbeaten team at the halfway point of the season. “To get to this point, I wasn’t expecting that at all. I mean, it’s a good feeling, but you’ve got to keep pushing, keep plugging away and keep trying to get another win.”
That shouldn’t be too hard against Kansas. Jayhawks coach David Beaty has 27 losses in 28 tries against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. One of those was a 45-0 setback at Iowa State last week.
First-year starting quarterback Peyton Bender began the season with three 300-yard passing performances, and running back Khalil Herbert had a 291-yard rushing performance in a loss to West Virginia.
Against Iowa State, however, Herbert was sidelined with a hamstring injury and Bender threw an interception on the Jayhawks’ first snap. The offense never got any better, averaging 1.8 yards per play on 106 total yards as the defeat stretched Kansas’ road losing streak to 43 games, one short of the all-time record set by Western (Colo.) State from 1926 to 1936.
“Last week’s offensive performance is unacceptable,” Beaty said. “There is just no other way to say it. We all shoulder that burden — myself, our staff, all of our players — and we have to do a good job of looking inside. Really, our entire team does.
“Some of the issues that you run into, it’s just real easy to say, man, can you believe that happened? But that’s not how you deal with it. There is a reason why some of those things can be happening, and it forced us as a team to really look inside and really go back to the very foundation of how we’re building this program. And it starts with being entitled to nothing and grateful for everything.”
Herbert, who had limped off the field after a 45-yard carry against Texas Tech on Oct. 7, figures to be a game-time decision this week, Beaty said Tuesday. So, too, will starting center Mesa Ribordy, who missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury.
Either way, it figures to be tough sledding against TCU, which leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), total defense (336.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (98.3 yards per game).
Defensive end Ben Banogu has been dominant with 25 tackles, including eight for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles. The Louisiana-Monroe transfer is making a name for himself as the next great TCU defensive end.
In addition to Hill’s skill on offense, TCU’s running backs have been solid through six games. Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua have six rushing touchdowns apiece, with Anderson leading the team in carries (79) and yards (470).
Anderson’s dynamic play in the big win at Oklahoma State (160 yards and three touchdowns) was his coming-out party, but he has been a little quieter in recent games after the return of Kyle Hicks to the rotation as he works his way back from injury.
Hicks, who rushed for 1,042 yards last season, might still be the Horned Frogs’ best overall runner. The three have combined for 163 carries, 884 yards and 13 touchdowns.
TCU already has equaled its number of wins from 2016, when it went 6-7.
“All I know is, we’re bowl eligible,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “That’s my first goal, is to get to six, and now it’s going to be to get to seven. But you got to have six first.”