FORT WORTH, Texas (AP)Sonny Dykes and TCU have gotten halfway through their first regular season together still undefeated, a fact the coach succinctly put into perspective.
”It’s been a good half of the season so far,” Dykes said.
The eighth-ranked Horned Frogs (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) have won three consecutive games over ranked opponents for the first time in school history, the last two against teams that were also without a loss. A win over No. 17 Kansas State (5-1, 3-0) at home on Saturday night would put TCU alone atop the conference standings.
”We’ve got a long way to go,” cornerback Josh Newton. ”We could be even more special, way more special.”
This is the deepest TCU has gotten into a season without a loss since a 7-0 start in 2017, when Dykes was in an off-field role as an offensive analyst for Gary Patterson and even pondered whether he was going to stay in coaching. He had spent the previous four seasons as head coach at California, a Pac-12 program in turmoil before he got there, after three at Louisiana Tech.
But the Texas-born son of a coaching legend – Spike Dykes was in the Lone Star State for 38 of his 41 years, coaching at several levels – was then offered the job at SMU. The younger Dykes led the Mustangs to 30 wins in their best four-season stretch since being the only program ever shut down by the so-called NCAA death penalty three decades earlier.
The Frogs went 23-24 over that same span following their Big 12 runner-up finish and 10-3 record in 2017. Patterson, the winningest coach in school history, and TCU mutually parted ways eight games into his 21st season last October. Dykes replaced him after the regular season.
”Just full of good energy” is how Newton, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, described Dykes.
”He’s done a great job, him and whole staff. . They just pump us full of confidence,” sixth-year offensive lineman Wes Harris said. ”They’ve instilled a lot of confidence in us, and it’s rolling right now.”
Harris said he could sense everybody coming together as a team for Dykes from the start of 5 a.m. offseason workouts and through spring practice. And their confidence grows as they keep winning games.
The Frogs overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter last week against No. 11 Oklahoma State, and won 43-40 after bruising running back Kendre Miller’s game-ending 2-yard touchdown run in the second overtime.
TCU has the Big 12’s best offense and ranks third nationally with 526.7 total yards and 45.8 points a game.
Senior quarterback Max Duggan lost the starting job going into the season, but has thrown for 1,564 yards and a Big 12-high 16 touchdowns, with only one interception, in his five starts since Chandler Morris got hurt in the opener. Duggan has also run for 237 yards and four more scores.
Miller has run for a TD in every game, and three 100-yard rushing games the past four weeks. Quentin Johnston, the 6-foot-4 receiver Dykes said was banged up early in the season, has 22 catches for 386 yards the last two games, after 12 for 114 before that.
The Frogs play three of their next four games on the road after K-State, then finish the regular season at home against Iowa State.
”When we look at this season after it’s all done, obviously we’ll remember what happens here over the next six, seven, eight weeks, and how that plays out,” Dykes said. ”That will determine really how we feel about this whole thing.”
This is the fourth season in a row that Dykes’ teams have gotten to the halfway mark of the regular season without a loss. SMU was 8-0 in 2019 on the way to a 10-3 finish, and 5-0 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that ended 7-3.
The Mustangs were 7-0 last season before back-to-back losses at Houston and Memphis, which happened about the same time of Patterson’s departure from TCU. They lost four of their last five games overall.
Dykes has said some of those teams didn’t have the depth needed as injures mounted during the season. He said these Frogs keep getting stronger in the weight room, instead of a usual decline during the grind of the season, and focus on each day rather than talking about rankings, potential bowl games or more.
”I’ve been here before enough to know that when it doesn’t end the right way, it takes all those happy feelings away,” Dykes said. ”We’ve just got to keep grinding .”
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