TCU will have had 16 days off before finally concluding the regular season. The Horned Frogs better hope their top-ranked run defense hasn’t gotten rusty.
Hoping for a share of the Mountain West Conference title, the 15th-ranked Horned Frogs look to shut down one of the nation’s top rushing attacks Saturday when they host Air Force in the regular-season finale for both teams.
TCU (9-2, 6-1) hasn’t played since a 13-10 loss to then-No. 10 Utah on Nov. 6, a defeat that dropped it out of contention for a BCS berth and a game behind the first-place Utes in the MWC.
Now, the Horned Frogs need a win and a Utah loss to No. 16 BYU on Saturday night to earn a share of the conference title.
TCU’s run defense has helped give the team a shot at catching the Utes, allowing a nation-best 39.5 yards per game. Only Wyoming (113) and UNLV (108) have reached 100 yards rushing against the Horned Frogs.
But TCU hasn’t been in game action in a while and will be facing a dominant rushing team in Air Force (8-3, 5-2).
With 279.7 yards per game on the ground, the Falcons rank fourth in the nation. Air Force ran for 323 yards against BYU last Saturday night, but lost 38-24.
“You’re never going to be mistake-free,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “But you’ve got to be inching right up against it. When we play teams like BYU and Utah, that’s just the way we have to play.”
The Falcons are averaging 28.1 points per game. TCU, meanwhile, is third in the nation in scoring defense (11.0) and ranks first with 40 sacks.
Jerry Hughes anchors the Horned Frogs’ defense. The defensive end has set a MWC single-season record with 14 sacks, but he isn’t likely to get many opportunities against Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson. The Falcons have attempted more than 13 passes in a game only twice this season.
Jefferson, though, is one of five Falcons who have rushed for at least 360 yards, and nine Air Force players have scored on the ground.
TCU also relies on a strong running game, averaging 218.6 yards a contest. Aaron Brown rushed for 106 yards on 15 carries against Utah.
The Horned Frogs got 251 yards passing from Andy Dalton, but he also threw two interceptions. Dalton has complemented TCU’s running game with steady play at quarterback, passing for 1,724 yards and nine touchdowns. He had only thrown two interceptions before facing the Utes.
Jefferson, meanwhile, had won five straight for the Falcons since taking over the starting job, but the Cougars halted the streak. His 5-1 start is the best for Air Force since Chance Harridge opened 6-0 in 2002.
Jefferson helped the Falcons put together another dominating game on the ground last Saturday, but the Falcons couldn’t overcome two turnovers.
“Just from a program standpoint, we’ve got a ways to go,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “We have some work to do, to say the least.”
The Falcons, who need one more win to match last season’s total, have yet to lose on the road this season, going 5-0. Air Force is bidding to become the second team in school history to go undefeated away from home after the 1958 squad went 6-0-2.
Air Force has lost 10 straight against ranked teams, including three this season. The Falcons haven’t beaten a Top 25 team since a 23-21 victory over then-No. 23 California on Sept. 21, 2002.
TCU leads the all-time series with Air Force 4-2-1, but the Falcons snapped a four-game losing streak with a 20-17 overtime win at home on Sept. 13, 2007.