AMES — When ISU coach Paul Rhoads prepared for TCU’s then-freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin in 2012 he saw a great runner, but an inconsistent passer.
Thus, defensive coordinator Wally Burnham’s game plan hinged on making Boykin beat the Cyclones with his arm and he couldn’t.
“We knew we had to account for his athleticism and we thought we could do something in the passing game because of his inconsistency that he’d shown,” said Rhoads, who faces the vastly new and improved Boykin 2.0 in Saturday’s 11 a.m. season finale with the No. 3 Horned Frogs in Forth Worth. “We knew at times there were probably going to be guys open and he’d miss them. He doesn’t miss them anymore. So now you’ve got to play run and pass defense and all scenarios. You can’t be heavy in one direction.”
Boykin and his development is symbolic of TCU’s as a whole.
The Horned Frogs (10-1, 7-1) won four games last season — and lost that initial 2012 Big 12 matchup against Jared Barnett and the Cyclones, 37-23.
Boykin was pressed into his first start that game and threw one touchdown pass and three interceptions. He then switched to wide receiver as a junior once Casey Pachall sorted out personal and legal issues. Now Boykin’s a quarterback again — and one of five finalists for the Walter Camp Award, as well as as a trendy darkhorse Heisman pick.
“That’s pretty surprising to me, too,” said ISU cornerback Ken Lynn, a Dallas native who in high school used to compete with Boykin at TCU football camps. “That’s pretty exciting to see from someone I was familiar with in high school.”
It’s also daunting.
Boykin’s game has been fully “off” just one time this season. He went 12 of 30 for 166 yards and one touchdown and one interception in a 31-30 win Nov.1 at West Virginia. His season stat line includes 3,254 yards passing, 26 touchdown throws, eight rushing scores and just six interceptions.
“Boykin and the offense at TCU has really evolved,” Rhoads said. “(He) throws the ball with so much better accuracy than he did in 2012 when he was given his first start. He’s always been a great threat with his legs. Remains a great threat with his legs and his athleticism. Velocity, always strong and outstanding, but now the accuracy with every throw goes along with that.”
If ISU is to hang around, it must punch holes in a Horned Frogs defense that has helped create an eye-popping plus-20 turnover margin.
TCU’s surrendered more than 30 points twice this season — and crushed a then-surging Texas team 48-10 in Austin 10 days ago.
The Cyclones (2-9,0-8) have scored 30 or more points three times and won only one of those games. So how could ISU — a 34-point underdog — even entertain the thought of winning? For one, there’s no pressure. The very fact no one views an upset as being remotely possible helps to relieve internal tension and doubt.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” said Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson, who is chasing his first Big 12 win as a starter. “We’re going to be at our best, I’ll tell you that much. We’re leaving everything out there, throwing everything we’ve got. So it will be a fun game, honestly. Just go out there and, ‘What the hell?’ It’s the No. 3 team in the nation. Who really cares? It will be fun. We’re 2-9, so obviously we don’t have anything to lose and they’ve got pretty much everything to lose. So it will be a fun one. Just lay it all on the table.”
The word “fun” likely doesn’t come to mind when defenders try to figure out ways to control Boykin.
“Tremendous player,” Rhoads said.
But it’s the right theme to adopt for the final game of a season that’s featured far too little of it, for players, fans and coaches alike.
“Their end goal is to get to the national championship,” said center Tom Farniok, who will make his 47th and final start in an ISU uniform. “Ours is to finish the right way because we know this is our last one. It really gives you a no-sense-of-holding-anything-back mentality, because this truly is the end.”