All night, the Horned Frogs looked like they were playing at a different speed. They hounded BYU quarterback Max Hall into four turnovers and baffled the BYU defense with a varied package of runs and passes in a beating that was a perfect convergence of the Cougars' sloppy play and a vintage TCU performance.
The Frogs were primed for this game "since January," coach Gary Patterson said, and they were relentless, jumping on the Cougars early and keeping them down. BYU's first three drives ended with a fumble, a fourth-down stop and an interception, while TCU went touchdown, touchdown, field goal.
The Cougars never recovered. Two years after an upset of a nationally ranked TCU team was a significant checkpoint in Bronco Mendenhall's building of the BYU program, the coach grimly climbed the steps toward the locker room, blaming himself.
"They were sharper in every phase of the game. . . . That comes down to simply coaching and preparation," he said later.
That's part of it, anyway. BYU hoped to overcome the Frogs' athletic advantage with precise play, but that certainly did not happen.
So TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium, named after a newspaper publisher, was once again home to some stop-the-presses news. In a venue where Utah's 18-game winning streak was stopped by TCU in 2005 and TCU's 13-game run was ended by BYU in '06, the Cougars' ride of 16 games overall and 18 in Mountain West Conference play ran into a purple-and-black wall.
We'll know more when the first BCS standings of the season are published Sunday, but BYU obviously is the big loser at the moment - and so, potentially, is the Mountain West. The winner might be Boise State. It could become a case where the MWC schools - with Utah hosting both the Frogs and Cougars next month - knock each other out and push Boise State into the one BCS slot promised to an outsider that finishes in the top 12.
"We still have a shot for whatever we're going for . . . you never know what can happen," said BYU receiver Austin Collie.
Nobody among the Cougars could be sure what all was lost Thursday, exactly, but they knew it was painful.
"You never want to lose like that, especially when you have as high expectations as our team has and as hard as we work," said defensive end Jan Jorgensen. "It just feels horrible."
While BYU's demise is naturally being celebrated in Uteville, there has to be just a little bit of fear associated with the Frogs' Nov. 6 visit.
Seriously, was TCU supposed to be this good? The Frogs were dissected by Oklahoma for 416 passing yards and 35 points. BYU is not Oklahoma; that much we know. Maybe nobody in the Mountain West can play with the Big 12's elite, which is an issue that may or may not be addressed in the Fiesta Bowl.
Clearly, BYU did not even belong on the same field with TCU. The Frogs confused, rattled and frustrated the Cougars. Quarterback Andy Dalton picked on BYU's cornerbacks with sideline patterns, a direct snap to receiver Jeremy Kerley worked nearly every time, and TCU sustained long drives.
Offensively, BYU was not itself in the first half, and the Cougars' recovery was only mild. BYU could not find any rhythm until its first possession of the second half, and even that drive was almost counter-productive - cutting the lead to 26-7, but taking seven minutes.
In short, this was everything you thought could happen to BYU in Fort Worth, but did not figure would happen.
So what happens now?
There's a lot of football left, but already, BYU is in a very awkward position: Amid their own recovery process, the Cougars have to cheer for Utah to beat TCU.
KURT KRAGTHORPE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org" Target="_BLANK">email@example.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org" Target="_BLANK">email@example.com.