LAS VEGAS -- Two years ago, a less-seasoned TCU team won easily at UNLV and set up a showdown at Utah the following week.
It was there that the Horned Frogs' hopes of playing in a BCS game were dashed in the final seconds.
After a 48-6 victory over UNLV on Saturday night, No. 4 TCU has a chance to make up for that missed opportunity at Utah. This time, the Horned Frogs have their sights set not only on a BCS bowl game, but on a spot in the national championship contest.
TCU (9-0, 5-0 Mountain West), which was also fourth in the BCS standings, heads into a huge matchup at No. 8 Utah (8-0, 5-0) next Saturday having allowed 16 points in the last five games.
"The difference is we don't have to play them on a Thursday night," said TCU coach Gary Patterson, who didn't allow his players to address the media after the game. "We got home late. We're going to stay all night tonight, so we can get more rest and eat better.
"And then we're going to play on Saturday. It's a day game, and it is the first time we're going to play in Salt Lake City in the day time, not in the night time."
Ed Wesley ran 64 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown, and Dalton finished 16 of 23 with no interceptions. TCU put up 530 yards of total offense.
The Horned Frogs, the highest-ranked team to ever play in Las Vegas, have won 22 straight regular-season games and nine consecutive on the road.
"I didn't think we played that well," said Patterson, who added that he wanted his players to leave immediately after the game and get rest. "We did what we needed to do. We understand what we have got ahead of us. I thought UNLV was very physical coming off a week of rest. They knocked us around a little bit."
Clayton finished 15 of 29 for 128 yards and two interceptions.
"You have to play error free against TCU, and we didn't," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. "TCU does not give up much, and a 4-yard gain is a good play. We knew we had to have the ball bounce our way flawlessly. There are signs we'll be a good football team. I liked our effort."
TCU built a 28-6 halftime lead, and it could have been even bigger if Matthew Tucker hadn't fumbled at the UNLV 1 with 5:49 left in the half.
Kerley started the scoring with a 5-yard run around the left side with 9:31 left in the first quarter, followed by Wesley's 1-yard run up the middle on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0. Colin Jones intercepted Clayton's pass and ran it back for 30-yard touchdown one minute later.
TCU has returned five of its last seven interceptions for touchdowns, dating to last season.
Dalton had a 1-yard dive into the end zone one minute before halftime.
Three plays into the second half, Dalton found Josh Boyce across the middle in stride for a 54-yard touchdown pass. It was the longest play from scrimmage this season and it extended Dalton's MWC record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 17.
Dalton hooked up with Kerley on a 24-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. That was enough to allow the Horned Frogs to look forward to another shot at Utah.
"The two extra days of rest makes a lot of difference, especially for getting people back and getting healthy," Patterson said. "Defense seems to get ready quicker for Thursday games. (Rest) always helps your offense. We know the crowd is going to be loud."
TCU played in front of a sparse crowd of 16,745 at Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday.
"We understand there are not a lot of things in our favor, but you know what, why would you want anything different than that? Maybe we'll win a championship," he said.
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