As Josh Doctson trotted the final five yards into the end zone, the atmosphere in Bill Snyder Family Stadium went from boisterous to muted.
TCU had done it again.
The Horned Frogs’ 52-45 win at Kansas State on Saturday was their third road win by a single possession as TCU -- spurred on by the star power of Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin and Doctson, a Biletnikoff front-runner -- continued to find a way to win.
“If you want to win in this conference, you have to go on the road and win games,” Boykin said.
Gary Patterson’s team opened the season with a 23-17 win at Minnesota and ended September with 55-52 win at Texas Tech to secure a pair of road wins before October.
“With your rank, going into these away games, you’re going to have sell out crowds, they’re going to be fired up to play,” said Doctson, the Horned Frogs’ star receiver. “You have to understand that they’re all targeting you.”
Going on the road is a different experience for the No. 3-ranked Horned Frogs than it was as they went 12-1 in 2014. TCU didn’t venture out of the state of Texas until November and only played two true road games (at West Virginia, at Kansas) outside of its home state a year ago.
“It’s one thing to come to Manhattan, it’s another thing to go to Baylor or Texas where you’ll take 10-20 thousand people with you,” Patterson said.
The difference in the road atmospheres is night and day. Last season, TCU was the hunter, as a team on a roll but coming off a 4-8 season in 2013. Few teams had the Horned Frogs circled on the schedule before the season began.
This year the Horned Frogs are the hunted when they step on the field as the Big 12 preseason favorite and one of the favorites to land a College Football Playoff berth. A win over Patterson's squad would be a highlight of any team's season.
“I see it [the difference] versus last year and the year before that when we went 4-8,” Doctson said of the road atmospheres his team has faced this season. “Everybody’s [the fans] calling your name out on the sideline. You understand quick, some of these young guys understand quick, ‘Hey, everyone is gunning for us.’”
The Horned Frogs are proving they can handle it. And having the nation’s top quarterback-receiver duo doesn’t hurt. No matter the atmosphere around them, Doctson and Boykin repeatedly cement their star status when TCU needs them most.
As TCU outscored K-State 21-3 in the fourth quarter of the comeback victory, its dynamic duo put up huge fourth-quarter numbers. Boykin went 5-of-6 for 87 yards and one touchdown while adding five carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Doctson had three receptions on three targets, 78 yards, one touchdown and a two-point conversion.
"I keep telling you guys. You should enjoy Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin because they have been around here for a while and they love pressure," Patterson said. "They do great things."
Those September road wins over Minnesota and Texas Tech helped the inexperienced players on the roster, resulting in a mentally tougher, more seasoned TCU team against K-State. Relatively inexperienced players the Horned Frogs have been counting on to make plays, such as freshman linebacker Montrel Wilson or freshman receiver KaVontae Turpin, no longer need to be told what to expect when the calendar turned to October. Bill Snyder Family Stadium was loud and intimidating, particularly once the Wildcats took control in the first half. But TCU didn’t buckle; they’d seen it all before.
“Every road game is important,” safety Derrick Kindred said. “It helped us grow as a team, winning in Minnesota and Lubbock, helped us grow and build more confidence.”
When TCU heads to Iowa State this Saturday, it will finish up a stretch of three road games in its first four contests to open Big 12 play. But it won't be the same TCU team that started Big 12 play on Sept. 26.
“They’re learning that if you want to be a champion, all champions are judged by how you play on the road,” Patterson said. “Everybody holds court at home. How do you play on the road?”
After connecting with Doctson for the 55-yard, game-winning touchdown against K-State, Boykin’s body language revealed an underlying message. No major celebration, just a shake of the head and a few high-fives for teammates as if to day “this is what we do.”
It’s what champions do, too.