FORT WORTH — David Gibbs nailed it this week when he went on the Kirby Hocutt radio show and said his defense had been "underachieving" this season.

That was Wednesday, and the Texas Tech defensive coordinator expressed optimism that the Red Raiders still had their true, and better colors to show. 

Gibbs had to wait only a little more than 24 hours for the Red Raiders to back up his words.

 

Texas Tech upset TCU 17-14 Thursday night at Amon Carter Stadium, beating Gary Patterson at his own game in the process. The TCU coach is as good as gets when it comes to scheming up defense, which is why the Horned Frogs made the jump smoothly all those years ago from a group-of-five to a power-five program.

This time, Gibbs' guys were the last men standing.

"It was four years ago I walked off that field and they'd put 82 on us," Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said, referring to an 82-27 loss. "So to come back and have that type of performance, I'm really proud of what that side of the football's done — has fought and fought, and that was the consistency that we're looking for from that group with all that veteran leadership."

In an old-fashioned defense-first game interspersed with big plays, Tech limited the damage from 411 yards and came up with three turnovers. And when TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson's last desperation pass fluttered into the hands of Tech cornerback Adrian Frye in the final minute, the Red Raiders celebrated in another team's stadium.

Speaking of which, they're getting good at that. That's three Big 12 victories in a row on the road, all as underdogs: at Texas in last year's regular-season finale, at Oklahoma State and TCU this year.

"I think they have a road warrior mentality," Kingsbury said. "It's us against everybody on the road, and they've embraced that and done a nice job having good mental focus on the road."

Tech is 4-2 and, at 2-1 in the Big 12, off to its best start in conference play since the Red Raiders opened 4-0 in 2013, Kingsbury's first year.

That's a good sign for Kingsbury and the future of the program.

Here's another: The Red Raiders have more than one young quarterback who looks promising, and collectively, they're getting better at dealing with adversity. With Alan Bowman out, Jett Duffey was making his first college start at Amon Carter Stadium, against the Big 12 leaders in total defense and pass defense, and the results weren't unexpected.

TCU kept Duffey and the rest of the offense in check a lot of the time, enough that Kingsbury tried McLane Carter at the start of the second half, looking for spark. Deeming Carter's sore ankle not quite ready, Kingsbury went back to Duffey again. He didn't make a lot of big plays, but in a game like this a few were enough.

And what a couple of master strokes. A 62-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Deion High against a busted coverage gave Tech a 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter. The Horned Frogs overcame that with a TD pass of their own, but Duffey took a quarterback draw 38 yards for what proved to be the game winner with 7:02 left. Kingsbury copied the latter from a 54-yard dash Baker Mayfield pulled off against TCU in last year's Big 12 championship game.

"Coach Patterson does such a great job mixing things up and really kept us out of rhythm all night," Kingsbury said, "and we hit them on a couple of plays where the stars aligned and we got lucky.

"But I was really proud of Jett. That's such a hard situation, first start ever, and at halftime we're going to try something else. Then to have to be put back in and find a way — to dig deep, be mentally tough enough to handle that, make enough plays to win the game, I can't say enough about his mental toughness."

After Duffey's touchdown dash, winning shifted to the shoulders of the defense — the same group who didn't give the team a chance in losses to Ole Miss and West Virginia, digging craters early. This time, they met the challenge and answered it.

Gibbs vowed this week there'd be better days ahead. That was true of his defense on Thursday. Now the Red Raiders will see if they can carry it forward to something more special.