ARLINGTON, Texas -- Three mishaps on punt snaps were one too many for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
The TCU Horned Frogs gladly took advantage.
TCU scored 21 points off BYU's three special teams miscues, building a big first-half lead over BYU and holding on for a 38-28 victory Friday night.
"I can't even describe it," Mendenhall said. "It caught me completely by surprise, not only once or twice, but three times. After the first one, you think it's an accident. After the second one, you realize something isn't quite right, and the third one is probably one too many."
The Horned Frogs (6-2) became bowl-eligible for the seventh straight year, beating BYU (6-3) for the fourth season in a row -- although the teams were playing each other in a nonconference game for the first time after facing off as Mountain West Conference rivals for the last six seasons.
BYU is in its first season as an independent in football, while TCU will join the Big 12 next season.
TCU's Casey Pachall completed 13 of 23 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and the defense forced three turnovers, two inside BYU territory.
BYU had won five in a row and outgained TCU 218-191 yards in the first half, but TCU's defense and special teams helped the Horned Frogs tame the Cougars and shorten the field for four quick drives in the first half.
TCU had three two-play scoring drives and one three-play scoring drive in the first half, building a 28-10 halftime lead in just a combined 3:14.
"(The defense) helped us whenever we had short field position," Pachall said. "We're pretty good in the red zone. It helped out getting the ball where we did, and we were able to punch it in."
After Pachall hit a wide-open Skye Dawson for a 48-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game, a low, rolling snap to BYU punter Riley Stephenson resulted in an illegal kick and TCU started its second possession with a first-and-goal at BYU's 4-yard-line.
Backup quarterback and goal-line run specialist Matt Brown came in on the second play of that drive and scrambled up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 lead just 5 minutes into the game.
Then BYU quarterback Riley Nelson provided the elusiveness TCU was worried about. The junior, starting in his fourth straight game, rushed 23 times for 84 yards and completed 15 of 29 passes for 215 yards.
Nelson's 42-yard completion to receiver Ross Apo in the first quarter helped set up the Cougars for a first-quarter field goal. Then Nelson completed all three of his pass attempts for 45 yards and rushed four times for 18 yards in a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 22-yard pass to Michael Alisa that made it 14-10.
"You just can't let the quarterback run," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "That's the bottom line to it. We knew he was going to take some chances. He's made some plays since he's been the starter."
In the second quarter, TCU's defense and special teams were at it again.
Greg Burks partially blocked a BYU punt, setting up the Horned Frogs at the BYU 30. Brown scored on a 2-yard run on the third play of that drive, giving TCU a 21-10 lead. Brown has four rushing touchdowns in TCU's last two games and five this season on just 17 carries.
TCU extended its lead to 28-10 after Pachall and Josh Boyce connected on a 33-yard touchdown pass 36 seconds before halftime.
The Horned Frogs picked right back up where they left off in the second half, taking over at the BYU 37 on their first possession after BYU's Stephenson dropped the snap on another attempted punt, the third punting team gaffe. This drive took four plays, and Waymon James scored on a 4-yard run for a 35-10 lead.
A field goal and a punt return for a touchdown for BYU got BYU to 35-20, but a fumble recovery by TCU's Jon Koontz on a lateral at the start of the fourth squelched another Cougars drive inside TCU territory. BYU would go on to score and convert the 2-point conversion with 2 minutes left in the game, but it wasn't enough.
"We wanted to just come out of this with a win," Patterson said. "I was really proud of my team, probably one of the better ballgames we've played this year."
Announced attendance for the game was 50,094, even with the game competing against the Texas Rangers playing in Game 7 of the World Series in St. Louis.
The Horned Frogs and Cougars played at Cowboys Stadium because TCU's home Amon G. Carter Stadium is undergoing a $164 million renovation. Both teams had played in the Cowboys' stadium before. BYU played in the first collegiate football game at Cowboys Stadium in 2009, knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma 14-13. TCU beat Oregon State 30-21 last season in the opener at Cowboys Stadium.