FORT WORTH, Texas — It didn't take long for fourth-ranked TCU to take sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference.
The Horned Frogs scored early and often in a 55-28 rout of No. 16 Utah before a record crowd of 50,307 at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"That's a great football team. As the head coach for five years, that's probably the best team that we've faced," said Utah's Kyle Whittingham. "We knew we had to play our best to compete tonight and it didn't happen."
TCU netted 549 yards of total offense and 32 first downs in snapping a three-game skid against the Utes.
"It's one of our worst performances as a university," said linebacker Stevenson Sylvester. "I don't ever remember us making as many mental mistakes as we made."
It was the Utes' most lopsided loss since a 27-0 decision at UNLV on Sept. 22, 2007 and the first time they've given up more than 50 points in over 13 years.
"They're performing like the No. 1 team in the nation. I really feel like they should be No. 1," Sylvester said of the Horned Frogs, who have now won 12 straight games over the past two seasons. "They're playing great in all areas — special teams, offense and defense. They're a train that can't be stopped right now."
Ribbet. This one was over quick.
Turnovers and penalties plagued the defending league champion Utes (8-2, 5-1). They trailed 35-7 midway through the second quarter and never recovered.
The setback, in all likelihood, ends Utah's title reign. TCU (10-0, 6-0) can win the MWC championship outright with season-ending victories over Wyoming and New Mexico. A berth in the Bowl Championship Series will follow such a finish.
It's a scenario the Frogs pursued with great passion Saturday night. They reeled off 21 straight points over the first and second quarters to seize control of a game billed as the "Cowtown Showdown."
After an early 7-7 standstill, however, the Frogs proved dominant.
"We had to come alive," said TCU coach Gary Patterson. "At the beginning of the game we knew it was going to be a challenge. And when they scored, we were able to turn it on."
TCU, which capped the game's opening drive with a 41-yard touchdown run by Matthew Tucker, pulled away after Utah's Shaky Smithson tied things up on a 10-yard TD scamper off a direct snap with 4:48 to go in the first quarter.
The Frogs took the lead for good less than two minutes later when quarterback Andy Dalton teamed with Ryan Christian on a 16-yard scoring strike.
A blocked punt on Utah's ensuing possession set up another score early in the second — a 3-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Kerley.
TCU's outburst continued after Utah allowed a 39-yard punt return a few minutes later. A three-play drive ended with a 1-yard TD run from Antoine Hicks.
It took just 54 more seconds for the lead to swell to 35-7. That's when linebacker Tank Carder intercepted Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.
"You blink your eyes and it was starting to get out of hand," Whittingham said. "You can't put a football team like TCU in those short-field situations and hope to survive. They're too good. They're too good for that."
Wynn eventually bounced back before the half was complete. However, his 50-yard TD toss to David Reed failed to ignite a momentum shift.
TCU answered with a 30-yard field goal by Ross Evans with 15 seconds left to take a 38-14 halftime lead.
The Horned Frogs dominated the first half statistically. They racked up 309 yards of total offense and 20 first downs.
The Utes, meanwhile, were held to just 157 and four. They turned the ball over twice, including a fumbled kickoff return by David Reed. A blocked punt also proved costly, as did a whopping 10 penalties for 85 yards.
"We killed ourselves," Sylvester said.
Things improved in the third quarter. But it proved to be far too little, far too late for the Utes. They outscored the Frogs, 7-3 — countering a 42-yard field goal by Evans with a 1-yard touchdown run by Eddie Wide.
Even that proved to be shortlived, though.
With 12:50 left to play, TCU added a 14-yard TD run by Ed Wesley to the mix.
In the final 5:06, both teams reached the end zone. The Horned Frogs scored on a 9-yard run by Tucker and the Utes capped things off with a 10-yard burst by Smithson.
"Coming into the game we watched film on Utah and we prepared for them. So we kind of figured it would be a dogfight," said TCU's All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes. "Our offense came out and played well. So you have to tip your cap to them. They scored when they needed to and that's all you can ask for."
Thanks to Hughes and others on the Horned Frogs' defense, Utah wasn't as productive with the ball. The Utes finished with just 65 yards rushing on 27 carries.
Wynn, in his second collegiate start, completed 16-of-32 passes for 219 yards.
"I didn't play very well. It's back to work on Monday," he said while acknowledging it was a tough loss. "I don't like losing. It stings a little bit."
Adding to the pain, Wynn explained, is how the Utes lost. He said it was a combination of hurting themselves and the Horned Frogs playing a great game.
"Definitely a combination. But that's a damn good team over there," Wynn said. "I have nothing but respect for them. We've got a lot of stuff to work on."
The Utes return to action Saturday in their home finale against San Diego State.