FORT WORTH, Texas -- After TCU players heard from an irritated coach Gary Patterson at halftime, they quickly took it out on Louisiana-Monroe.
Greg McCoy returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, and the TCU defense came up with a big play right after as the 23rd-ranked Horned Frogs finally took control in a 38-17 victory that was Patterson's 100th win as head coach.
"He was pretty intense," quarterback Casey Pachall said. "He got after all of us in there; we had to step it up."
Patterson's rant had nothing to do with his milestone victory. The 11th-year coach is more concerned about the maturation of his young team after losing so many key players from last year's Rose Bowl championship season.
Louisiana-Monroe (1-2) piled up 189 total yards in the first quarter, when it scored all of its points to take a 17-14 lead.
"Hopefully, we'll learn to get back to fanatic TCU effort, because when they turned up the knob, good things happened," a hoarse-throated Patterson said afterward. "But we've got to keep turning up the knob. You've got to start from the opening bell."
Despite what Patterson called "terrible" defense in the first quarter and "terrible" offense in the fourth quarter, TCU (2-1) matched a Mountain West Conference record with its 21st consecutive home win. It was also the 10th consecutive winning home opener under Patterson.
The Frogs led 21-17 before McCoy took the second-half kick at the 6, then took one step toward the middle of the field before cutting back toward the sideline. He ran nearly untouched to the end zone, his path completely clear once the kicker was knocked down near midfield.
"It was terrible," Warhawks receiver Brent Leonard said. "That special teams play and then that fumble, that kind of killed us. It's hard to come back from things like that."
Three plays after McCoy's sprint up the right sideline in front of the ULM bench, the Warhawks (1-2) gave the ball back when Jyruss Edwards fumbled after taking a crushing blow from Stansly Maponga. D.J. Yendrey recovered at the 28, setting up Matthew Tucker's second TD run, a 1-yarder for a 35-17 lead less than 5 minutes into the second half.
"I gave our guys a pretty good (halftime) lecture, too. We had missed some opportunities," coach Todd Berry said. "I knew (Patterson) was going to get on them. I told the players, 'Get ready. They're going to come out fired up, and we need to match that intensity.' I felt good about it, our team's focus and then all of a sudden you have the kickoff returned for a touchdown. That's not the way you want to open the second half."
TCU didn't score again until Ross Evans kicked a 28-yard field goal with 27 seconds remaining.
Louisiana-Monroe, now 0-22 against Top 25 teams, led 17-14 on Tavarese Maye's 37-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds left in the first quarter. Maye lunged forward in the middle of the end zone for the grab after cornerback Kevin White stumbled and fell against the receiver's legs.
The Warhawks gained only 125 more yards after that.
This was the first game at Amon G. Carter Stadium since a major renovation began after their final home game last season. The work isn't scheduled to completed until the 2012 opener, with the new upper deck unfinished and unusable.
The Frogs haven't lost there since 2007 against Utah.
Patterson, promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach after the 2000 regular season, is 100-29. The only TCU coach to win more games is Dutch Meyer, with 109 from 1934-52. That included the Frogs' only AP national championship in 1938, their only other undefeated season until last year.
TCU finally went ahead to stay only after getting a lucky break. Offsetting penalties wiped away Skye Dawson's fumbled punt return that the Warhawks had recovered at the 15.
After the Warhawks punted again with a minute left, TCU gave the ball back when R.J. Young reached out and stripped the ball from Pachall's hand and recovered it with 10 seconds left at the 32. ULM got 6 yards on a quick pass, but Justin Manton's 43-yard field goal attempt on the final play was wide right.
ULM got a 23-yard field goal by Manton on the opening drive, though TCU quickly responded when Pachall hit Josh Boyce in stride at the 30 behind a defender for what turned into a 68-yard TD.
"I feel like anytime I can get the ball in his area, he's going to make a play," Pachall said of Boyce, who had seven catches for 134 yards.
Backup quarterback Cody Wells played the second series for ULM and was 5 of 5 passing for 38 yards with a 22-yard TD to Leonard for a 10-7 lead. TCU went right back down the field and got a 5-yard touchdown run by Tucker.
Leonard finished with 13 catches for 92 yards.
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Needing the ball back, Northern Illinois breaks out the trickery and goes with a dropkick onsides kick, but Ohio was ready and recovered for the win.