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Dalton keeps TCU's title hopes on track

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- TCU's season almost ended before it began.

And Andy Dalton wasn't about to sit around and watch the Horned Frogs lose back-to-back games for the first time in three years -- and ruin a shot at another BCS-busting season.

The four-year starter set TCU's all-time record for wins by a quarterback, piloting the sixth-ranked Frogs to a 30-21 victory over No. 24 Oregon State in the season opener. Dalton now has 30 wins -- surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh.

"We knew all we had to do was win by one," said Dalton, the NCAA's active leader in wins.

Dalton ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the Frogs' come-from-behind win in front of a Cowboys crowd of 46,138 -- most of whom wore TCU purple.

Dalton completed 17 of 27 for 175 yards, but was picked off twice -- to start the first and second halves. Both of his interceptions led to touchdowns as the Beavers built leads of 7-0 and 14-7. He completed passes to seven different receivers and five Frogs carried the ball in TCU's spread-option attack.

More on TCU

"The quarterback, he can do a lot," OSU safety Lance Mitchell said of Dalton, who ran for 64 yards. "He makes plays on his feet. It's tough on a defense to make plays against a mobile quarterback."

Last year, Dalton suffered just five regular-season interceptions, but he was picked off three times in TCU's Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State. One of them was a pick-six. So with five interceptions in two games and a BCS do-over slipping away in the final minute of the third quarter of a 21-21 game, Dalton panicked, right?

Dalton's mind must have rewound to the 2007 season. As a gun-slinging redshirt-freshman, he threw 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns as a result of forcing the football. He learned that the bench is not where he wanted to be, and cleaned up his decision-making.

"I didn't let those [two interceptions] affect me," Dalton said. "I knew I had to come back and play well to win the game. At times I made some stupid mistakes, but I felt like I also made a couple of plays in the game."

TCU coach Gary Patterson can breathe a sigh of relief after surviving in Week 1. (AP)  
TCU coach Gary Patterson can breathe a sigh of relief after surviving in Week 1. (AP)  
Saturday night was an example of that poise. Unlike his counterpart, OSU quarterback Ryan Katz, who was making his first career start, Dalton punched all the right buttons on the game-winning drive. He leaned on tailback Ed Wesley, who had already pounded out 77 of his game-high 134 yards. Then he called his own number, running up the middle for a 4-yard TD to give the Frogs a lead they would never relinquish.

Katz, a sophomore, completed just 9 of 25 throws for 159 yards. He did have two touchdown passes, but committed the deadliest of sins with 4:14 remaining.

Katz, backed up against his own goal line, tried to audible from the shotgun. With the TCU faithful at full roar, center Alex Linnenkohl thought Katz was calling for the snap instead. The premature snap sailed over Katz's right shoulder. The quarterback kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety, giving TCU a nine-point lead and effectively ending the game.

"We should have stayed with the [original] draw' play," Katz said afterward. "That was on me. It was just a bad check."

TCU, with its highest-ever ranking, has now won 27 of its past 30 games. Realistically, only BYU (at home in October) and a visit to Utah (in November) are potential stumbling blocks to the Frogs' fifth 11-win season in the last six years.

The victory over Oregon State was another feather in the cap of the defending Mountain West champions. TCU improved to 14-3 in its last 17 matchups with opponents from BCS conferences. The Frogs are now 4-0 against the Pac-10 under coach Gary Patterson.

"We knew how big a game this was," Patterson said.

If the Horned Frogs are to duplicate their 12-1 season from a year ago, they know they'll need nights like this from Dalton -- even with the mistakes.

He is TCU's all-time leader in passing yards, and is closing in on school records for completions, attempts and touchdowns. But Dalton would trade it all for a 13th win.

"We've set ourselves up to have some national goals," Dalton said. "People are starting to portray us as one of the national teams that are pretty good. We have a lot of expectations for ourselves."

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