By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The record books will forever show that Texas Tech put 56 points on the TCU defense in three overtimes last week, which probably has West Virginia University fans salivating in anticipation of a return to the offensive glory days of the early season when the Horned Frogs come into Milan Puskar Stadium for Saturday’s 3 p.m. meeting of the Big 12’s two expansion teams.
But first, a word of warning, or as Lee Corso would put it, “Not so fast, my friend!”
See, defense is TCU’s game.
“Defensively, they are playing really good,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Gary (Patterson’s) defenses have been very good.”
But the 56 scored by Texas Tech?
“They are giving up more points and yards than they would like,” Holgorsen admitted. “Everyone is complaining and asking what is wrong, but they are doing a good job of staying true to their schemes and coaching their kids up.”
And kids they are, even more so than WVU, with just one senior on defense. The entire team has only 11 seniors.
That has made Patterson take his time shaping them, much as WVU has done in its secondary, and everyone knows the price that has been paid here for that.
“They have younger, inexperienced guys that play hard,” Holgorsen said. “They play with tremendous passion, and this year is no different. It is the same stuff. It is the same schemes and the same effort. They are playing some pretty good people.”
If tradition means anything, TCU’s defensive legacy is even superior to WVU’s.
Since 1937, when the NCAA began keeping statistics, TCU is tied with Alabama for the most times leading the nation in total defense at five … and all five times have come in the last 12 seasons. In fact, the Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense in 2008, 2009 and 2010, to become just the third team to ever lead in total defense in three consecutive seasons.
And this year, despite a couple of letdowns, TCU is in the top 12 in five major defensive categories – passes intercepted, third-down efficiency, turnovers gained, fewest first downs allowed and rushing.
They already have 15 interceptions and will be trying to rattle Geno Smith into a couple more now that his streak of consecutive passes without an interception has been broken.
The TCU pass defensive philosophy is different from many schools, sometimes combining both zone and man coverage on the same play and always having their cornerbacks “matching routes,” even in zone defenses.
“They put their corners out on an island a lot, but on those islands they don’t get beat a lot,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson pointed out. “They squeeze the air out of all underneath routes, so a lot of balls are hit and tipped to the next level for interceptions.
“They do a nice job of matching patterns and very seldom see guys just running wide open.”
“They are very sound in what they do,” is the way Holgorsen put it. “They don’t have a lot of busted assignment. There aren’t a lot of blown coverages. They don’t beat themselves on defense. We can’t worry about them beating themselves. We have got to execute and know what they are doing. We have to play with high energy and make our own breaks.”
Most of it comes from Patterson’s belief and dedication to his own system.
“Gary has been there for almost 15 years, and he has been doing the exact same stuff,” Holgorsen explained. “When you get a whole bunch of people believing in what you are doing, you are going to be pretty good at it. That is a huge reason why their scheme is pretty good, and they don’t have a lot of mistakes. They are all on the same page and are all coaching it the same way. That kind of coaching allows you to be a little more creative.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.