Kevin Kreck, Associated Press
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The 25th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs brushed off their Baylor blues in a big way, routing Air Force 35-19 Saturday.
"It's big," Horned Frogs defensive end Jon Koontz said. "We had two tough games on the road against two tough opponents. We would have liked to get that one in Waco but as long as we could come back and get this one, that's definitely better than going back home 0-2."
TCU's 18th straight win in the Mountain West Conference tied the record set by BYU from 2006-08.
The Horned Frogs (1-1), who haven't lost a league game since 2008, were efficient in all phases in bouncing back from a stunning 50-48 loss at Baylor last week that ended their BCS-best 25-game regular-season winning streak.
"We always knew we were a good team, even after last week," TCU quarterback Casey Pachall said. "But this win gives us a lot more confidence knowing what we can do and what we can't do and it's going to help us in the future."
TCU rebounded without its star running back and top tackler, as tailback Ed Wesley (shoulder) and linebacker Tanner Brock (foot) didn't make the trip.
"I feel like this gives us real character, the guys stepping in and stepping up," Pachall said. "With them being out, our mentality didn't change. Our mentality coming in was to come in and get after it."
Wesley was replaced by Matthew Tucker, who scored on a 1-yard leap and a 3-yard run in the first half as TCU built a 21-0 lead. Tucker finished with 95 yards on 16 carries, and Waymon James rushed 13 times for 55 yards and a TD.
"We needed this because everybody had been down," Tucker said.
Kenny Cain replaced Brock at strongside linebacker and was one of three defenders who made his first career start. He had a career-best seven stops and was joined by newcomers Trent Thomas at safety and Kevin White at cornerback in the shuffled lineup.
"We had some of our 2s come in and there was no drop-off," linebacker Tank Carder said. "I think that's the key. That's what you look for."
The backups helped stifle Air Force's vaunted option offense.
Air Force (1-1), which had its five-game winning streak snapped, fancied itself a contender for the MWC crown but now will face an uphill climb in the conference, which loses the Horned Frogs to the Big East in 2012.
"They took it to us pretty good on both sides of the ball," Falcons wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka said.
The Falcons were driving on their opening possession when running back Wes Cobb's illegal chop block thwarted their momentum. Then, Koontz sliced through to stuff quarterback Tim Jefferson on fourth-and-3 at midfield.
"It stopped their drive, stopped their momentum," Koontz said.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he went for it there because he figured "it might help us later in the game if we were able to keep their defense on the field a little bit, especially early."
"It didn't work," he said.
Not much of anything went right for the Falcons.
The fourth-down stop set up a 49-yard touchdown drive capped by Luke Shivers' 3-yard TD catch from Pachall, who completed 20 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two TDs.
The Falcons got on the board with a last-second field goal before halftime and carried that momentum out of the tunnel when they forced the Frogs into a three-and-out to start the third quarter.
Travaras Battle punched the ball out of punt returner Mikel Hunter's hands, however, and Greg Burks recovered it at midfield, a takeaway TCU turned into a touchdown eight plays later.
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