FORT WORTH, Texas -- Coach Gary Patterson and third-ranked TCU find themselves in an uneasy situation now, even after one last victory at home to remain undefeated.
After rallying from an unusual two-touchdown deficit early and then holding off a late comeback attempt by San Diego State for a 40-35 victory, the Horned Frogs have to wonder how an odd Saturday will affect their national title hopes.
Or at least being able to stay ahead of Boise State in the BCS standings for a shot at going to the Rose Bowl.
TCU (11-0, 7-0 Mountain West) had its closest game of the season a week after a 40-point win at then-undefeated Utah, a victory that strengthened the Frogs' hold on third place in the BCS standings.
"I can't do anything about the polls. I would say we found a way to win in a conference game. We played a big game and we didn't play as well as we needed to the next week," Patterson said. "It's not the final score we would have liked to have had, but the bottom line, it falls under my category of [to win] by one point."
Then Patterson joked that he should cheer up, forcing a smile while saying, "so everybody be happy."
But there will be plenty of uncertainly for the Frogs, who are off next week before closing the regular season Nov. 27 at New Mexico. Utah lost again Saturday -- 28-3 at Notre Dame. And Boise State had already posted another lopsided victory.
"The bottom line is we're 11-0," Patterson said. "That is what we wanted to do."
Andy Dalton threw for 240 yards and four touchdowns, three to fellow senior Jeremy Kerley in their last home game, as the Frogs rallied for their 20th consecutive home win to clinch at least a share of the Mountain West title. The Frogs, behind Oregon and Auburn in the BCS standings but ahead of Boise State, won their 24th consecutive regular-season game.
San Diego State (7-3, 4-2), riding its first four-game winning streak in 12 years, led 14-0 less than 6 minutes into the game. A 49-yard flea flicker set up Brandon Sullivan's leaping 1-yard run and Jerome Long recovered a fumble in the end zone after Dalton was sacked.
It was the Frogs' first two-touchdown deficit in more than two years. They had trailed for only nine minutes, 19 seconds combined their first 10 games.
Though it took the Frogs nearly 21 minutes to erase their deficit against San Diego State, a missed extra point after the second touchdown extending their time behind, before finally going ahead to stay.
" You gotta play four quarters in a game, and as a team and as coaches we took the second quarter off. You can't win football games that way," second-year San Diego State coach Brady Hoke said. "I just like how the team acts together, how they treat each other and how they fight. I like that part of it. But I don't like the inconsistencies in the second quarter."
San Diego State scored three touchdowns in the final 16 minutes of the game, getting within 40-35 when Ryan Lindley threw two TD passes to Vincent Brown (33 and 35 yards) in less than two minutes. But after the final score with 4:50 left, Dalton and the Frogs ran out the clock.
Lindley was 11 for 26 for 262 yards, with two interceptions. Brown had four catches for 167 yards.
After Dalton took a blindside hit from Rob Andrews in the end zone and fumbled with 9:16 left in the first quarter, TCU scored touchdowns on five of its next six drives before halftime to build a 34-14 lead. The Aztecs didn't even make a first down in that span.
"We were saying all week we wanted to start fast, we wanted to get out and get on top of them. That's what we did," Lindley said. "We kind of needed to keep that up."
Dalton capped TCU's first scoring drive with a 38-yard TD to Kerley, who caught the ball near the 30 and slipped past a defender along the sideline.
Kerley's 43-yard punt return set up Dalton's 15-yard TD pass to tight end Logan Brock on the next drive. But Ross Evans' extra point attempt hit the upright, keeping the Aztecs ahead 14-13.
Freshman tailback Waymon James put the Frogs ahead to stay on a powerful 9-yard run with 6:39 left in the first half, when he dragged defensive back Larry Parker into the end zone.
The last home game for Dalton and 25 other seniors was also the last game at Amon G. Carter Stadium before the 80-year-old campus facility undergoes a $105 million major modernizing renovation. Work on that begins next week.
This senior class has won 42 games at TCU, matching the record four-year mark of last year's seniors. Dalton has 40 wins as the starting quarterback, the most among active FBS quarterbacks and the most in school history.
San Diego State had 300 total yards, 135 below their season average but the second-most this season against TCU's top-ranked defense. Five of the previous six Mountain West opponents had been held under 200 yards, and SMU had a season-high 361 yards against TCU back in September.
The Aztecs got 199 yards on their three late TD drives.
"We're happy to get out with a win," safety Tejay Johnson said. "Coming into the game, we talk about winning by one point, that's the only stat that really matters. ... We don't really feel like at the end of the game we played TCU football, so there are mixed emotions."
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