FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jeremy Kerley came to a near stop after tiptoeing the sideline. Then TCU's electrifying punt returner backtracked a couple of steps, curled into an open gap and sprinted into the end zone.
"That play happened at a perfect time," quarterback Andy Dalton said after the 12th-ranked Horned Frogs beat Colorado State 44-6 on Saturday to remain undefeated halfway through what they hope is their BCS-busting season.
Kerley's 69-yard return, his second for a touchdown in three games, made it 17-6 just before halftime and came less than 2 1/2 minutes after TCU (6-0, 2-0 Mountain West) finally took the lead on Joseph Turner's 2-yard touchdown run.
"He's a pretty amazing dude," coach Gary Patterson said. "It's always fun to get the ball in his hands."
TCU had gone 89 games without returning a punt for a score -- since the 2002 season opener -- until Kerley's 71-yarder just before halftime two weeks ago against SMU put the Frogs ahead to stay in their last home game.
This time, Kerley fielded the punt and sprinted down the right sideline in front of Patterson and the TCU bench. He was almost pushed out of bounds near the 25, but kept his balance and then avoided another defender before suddenly putting on the brakes near the 15 before his final move to score with 49 seconds left in the half.
"Walk the tight line, that's all I could think about," Kerley said.
"I watched the whole play from when he caught it, until he made six guys miss and scored," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "It lit a fire under everybody."
Colorado State punted after being pushed back by Hughes' seventh sack of the season. Hughes, the national leader with 15 last season, later added his eighth.
The Frogs seized the momentum, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives after halftime. Dalton threw two touchdown passes, ran twice for 28 yards to set up Antoine Hicks' 3-yard TD run, and Luke Shivers scored on a 4-yard run.
Colorado State (3-4, 0-3) lost its fourth straight game despite taking a 6-0 lead on field goals by Ben DeLine (31 and 47 yards) its first two drives, the second after a TCU fumble. The previous three losses were to No. 18 BYU, No. 24 Utah and Idaho -- a trio that entered Saturday with a combined 14-3 record.
"They outclassed us and outplayed us in every way, shape and form," Rams coach Steve Fairchild said. "We didn't play well enough to even give them a game."
Boise State is the only non-BCS team ranked higher in the polls than the Frogs, whose convincing victory came three days after the fifth-ranked Broncos held on to win 28-21 at Tulsa and before TCU plays at BYU next weekend.
So are the Frogs, who have won eight consecutive games overall and 11 in row at home, curious about where they will be when the first Bowl Championship Series rankings of the season come out Sunday?
"Well, I mean everybody's curious. We're all a little bit of a fan at heart," Patterson said. "But we're only going to be able to control what we can control, so go play and do the things we need to do and see how it all turns out."
Dalton finished 15-of-23 passing for 211 yards in his 23rd career victory. Sammy Baugh (29 victories from 1934-36) is the only TCU quarterback who has won more, and the junior Dalton still has 1 1/2 seasons left.
Curtis Clay was wide open over the middle when he caught a 47-yard TD pass on the opening drive of the second half. Dalton then dumped a short pass to Ed Wesley, who broke three tackles and turned that into a 39-yard touchdown and made up for his earlier fumble.
Leonard Mason had seven carries for 42 yards on Colorado State's first two drives, but didn't play again because of bruised ribs on his last play.
TCU didn't get a first down until the final play of the first quarter, part of a drive when 11 plays were needed to gain 26 yards before Ross Evans kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 6-3. The Frogs had first-and-goal from the 9 before a holding penalty.
"We always seem to start slow," Patterson said. "I wish we'd start faster, I'd feel better. But in the end it turned out all right, 44 unanswered points."