Will Howard didn't have to dissect his debut performance as a starting quarterback to declare it a success.
It was all there on the bottom line.
The same could be said for Kansas State's defense, which held TCU in check most of the day before fending off a late rally by the Horned Frogs and escaping Fort Worth, Texas, with a 21-14 victory Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"We got the win. That's always what matters to me," said Howard, a true freshman, who got the call when senior starter Skylar Thompson remained sidelined with an injury suffered last week against Texas Tech. "I'm happy as heck that we got the win, but there's a lot to clean up, we all know that."
Howard, who relieved Thompson last week in a come-from-behind home victory over Texas Tech, was just good enough on a day when the Wildcat defense was exceptional. K-State held TCU's offense, ranked 16th nationally at 477.5 yards per game, to 372 total yards and two touchdowns.
The defense also provided what proved to be the margin of victory late in the third quarter when AJ Parker took an interception 38 yards to the end zone for a 21-7 Wildcat lead.
"I thought Will did a great job and managed the game exceptionally well, and did enough for us to be successful," said K-State coach Chris Klieman, whose Wildcats improved to 3-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12 with their third straight victory. "And then what do you say about the defense?
"Credit to Coach (Joe) Klanderman and the defensive staff. Phenomenal game plan, executed almost to perfection by the guys."
The Wildcat defense still wasn't out of the woods after Max Duggan brought TCU within seven on a 3-yard, fourth-down touchdown run with 3:39 remaining. K-State wound the clock down with three straight runs by Vaughn that covered 27 yards and needed just one more first down to finish it off.
Howard nearly sealed the victory when he found an opening on third-and-1 at the TCU 48-yard line, only to trip and come up short. But Ty Zentner's 44-yard punt pinned the Horned Frogs back at their 4-yard line with 1:05 left.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on Hubert as time expired gave TCU an untimed down at the K-State 39, but Justin Gardner batted down Duggan's long heave to the end zone and the Wildcats could breathe a sigh of relieve.
For K-State, Howard completed 8 of 19 passes for 117 yards and did throw an interception — K-State's first turnover of the season — but also led the Wildcats in rushing with 86 yards and his first career touchdown. His 80-yard run on a third-down quarterback draw set up a 25-yard Blake Lynch field goal on the game's first possession.
The touchdown, on a 4-yard run, gave K-State the lead for good with 3:27 left in the first half. Chabastin Taylor's two-point conversion on an end around made it 14-7 at intermission.
TCU (1-2, 1-2 Big 12) answered the K-State field goal with a 75-yard drive and 7-yard touchdown run from Darwin Barlow, but that would be the end of the Horned Frogs' scoring until late in the fourth quarter.
Lynch booted a career-long 53-yard field goal that cut the deficit to one point with 10 seconds left in the first quarter. K-State then drove 91 yards in six plays to grab the lead, with the big play a 45-yard completion from Howard to running back Deuce Vaughn.
The Wildcats preserved the seven-point lead when Wyatt Hubert blocked a 49-yard field goal try by Griffin Kell as time expired in the first half.
"A total team win," Klieman said. "I'm really pleased that we battled through the adversity that we faced. Brought a freshman quarterback into a tough environment against a great defensive coach in coach (Gary) Patterson.
"And then what do you say about the defense? I couldn't be happier about the resolve of a bunch of guys that came in here when nobody expected us to be successful, except for the guys in that locker room."
While Howard became the first K-State freshman quarterback ever to win his first road start, he had help. And TCU had quarterback issues of its own after Duggan limped off the field at halftime and was replaced briefly in the third quarter by fellow sophomore Matthew Downing. It was Downing who threw the interception to Parker, and Duggan returned shortly thereafter.
Duggan completed 19 of 31 passes for 154 yards, but was sacked three times. The Horned Frogs rushed for 189 yards, led by Barlow with 56 on eight carries.