UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas -- Gary Patterson was hacked at half time and he wasn't too thrilled immediately after Friday night's hot Skillet game either.
"He was pretty fired up at halftime," game hero Jeremy Kerley said. "Miscues and misplays, that’s basically what it was."
Patterson told his team: "We’ve got to go take the ballgame. They were walking in with their heads down because it was 14-10. I said, 'You’re ahead. This team probably was preparing for you from last spring. You took their best shot. Now we got to go out and we got to play. That’s what it’s all about.'"
As the media gathered outside the visitor's locker room for coach and player interviews after TCU's 41-24 win over June Jones' inspired SMU team, media relations director Mark Cohen marched over and whispered orders from the head coach: Only one player would be made available to meet the media. Hello, fullback Luke Shivers.
No disrespect to Shivers. He landed the knockout touchdown from 4 yards out early in the fourth quarter. But, reporters that coverd this re-budding little rivalry Friday night wanted to also talk to players like Kerley, who gutted through a stomach virus, senior quarterback Andy Dalton, and junior linebacker Tank Carder and others on a veteran-laden team that ranks fourth in the nation and moved to 4-0.
Not until Patterson wrapped up a nearly eight-minute press session that touched on themes from Dalton's two interceptions ("he needs to stop") to TCU's place in the next poll ("the only thing we can control is at the end of the season we have an argument if we’re still undefeated"), did he soften and relent on a last-ditch request to talk to Kerley, a wily senior who's been there before.
His 83-yard kickoff return after SMU took a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter, quickly snapped momentum back in TCU's favor. He was asked what it felt like to have essentially saved the season. He also had four catches for 33 yards and a completion for 11 yards.
"I wouldn’t say I saved the season [with the return]," said Kerley, who acknowledged SMU stunned the Frogs early with hard-hitting play. "I’m glad I could step up to do that."
The silliness that governs college football today allows for the odd post-game interview in which the coach won, yet feels compelled to defend the way in which his team won the game. As the fourth-ranked team in the nation, it comes with the territory. He admitted mistakes and some sloppiness, but he ultimately praised his team for persevering in a tough spot, whether it costs them in Sunday's polls or not.
"I can’t worry about all that," Patterson said. "All I can worry about is trying to go into conference next week against Colorado State. If I let this be a negative that we just won a ballgame like that then I’m not the coach that I say that I am. We’ll see what people say about us in December."
TCU now enters its eight-game Mountain West Conference schedule. It starts in Fort Collins then back to TCU for three consecutive games against Wyoming, BYU and Air Force. The triple-option Falcons and the Nov. 6 road game at Utah figure to be the Frogs' toughest challenges in their quest for regular-season perfection.
The Mustangs on Friday night gave TCU, riding high after the Baylor rout, a timely reminder that everyone can be vulnerable.
"You got to give coach Jones and his staff and SMU a lot of credit," Patterson said. "We came into their house, they went door-to-door, they got a big crowd in the stands and it was a great football game in the state of Texas on a Friday night. We’re just glad we won because I think they would probably trade us."