TCU coach Gary Patterson got a text from a friend after the Horned Frogs defeated Air Force three weeks ago. It was a big win on the road after a stomach-turning loss at Baylor to open the season. Missed field goals, blown coverage assignments and trick plays helped the Bears burn the Horned Frogs 50-48.
"The Frogs are back!" the message read.
"No, we won," Patterson replied, with the rest of the sentiment left to the imagination. But there is no denying what Patterson meant.
One win, even a conference win against a respected opponent on the road, wasn't going to get the bad taste of the Baylor loss out of his mouth. Especially considering the way his defense was embarrassed for 564 yards and six touchdown passes by the Bears.
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Four weeks later, No. 20 TCU (3-1) gets another pop exam, this time against SMU's prolific pass offense at 2:30 p.m. today at Amon G. Carter Stadium. While the secondary has shown improvements in the weeks since the debacle in Waco, TCU hasn't faced a quarterback or collection of receivers as good as the Mustangs in the interim.
"Every game after the first game we've felt like we had to go out and prove something, and that's the way it's going to be the rest of the season," senior cornerback Greg McCoy said.
Last year, with perhaps one of the Frogs' all-time best defenses assembled, SMU gained 361 yards and played TCU tight late into the third quarter before the Frogs pulled away with a 41-24 win on ESPN. It was the most yards allowed by TCU during the regular season, eclipsed only by Wisconsin's 385 yards in the Rose Bowl. Next week's opponent, San Diego State, had 300 yards, the third most against the Frogs last year.
"We know we have to play better," Patterson said. "Offensively, they always come at you, so you better get ready to play."
Cornerback Jason Verrett will start for the second consecutive week after struggling against Baylor and losing the starting job to Kevin White. Verrett, who looked great last spring and in August, was beaten on several touchdown passes against Baylor, including a double-pass trick play that left his receiver wide open for a score.
But Verrett hasn't been beaten for a score since and worked himself back into the starting lineup.
"Both of them have played well," Patterson said. "That's why he's been playing. The corners play on an island, so every day is a new day. We'll see what Game 5 is like. We keep getting better, but we'll find out Saturday."
Holding down the Mustangs' offense would go a long way in recovering some of the wavering confidence since the Baylor loss. McCoy says his teammates have done a good job of picking each other up after not only the collapse in Baylor, but after defensive lapses at Air Force and the last few weeks.
"The confidence will continue to grow," he said. "You learn from your mistakes, and that's not only just Jason, that's me as well. We have a standard here. It's always going to be a tough one to swallow, just looking how defense has been played here for years, and how we played that game."
It hasn't just been Verrett and McCoy who struggled early. The linebackers, hobbled by injuries, haven't been the dynamic unit they were expected to be the first month. The strong safety position, with sophomore Trent Thomas and freshman Sam Carter, has been hit and miss.
The delicate task of finding replacements while also trying to help those in need regain their confidence is always a tricky proposition, Patterson said.
"You have to be careful not to be breaking the sword of a freshman," he said. "So we kept those guys a little bit away from it. Now we're working them back in. But it's only OK to play well, not just to go in and play. That's not the rule at TCU.
"Someday, we're going to grow up to be a really great defense again."
For TCU news and game updates follow Stefan Stevenson on Twitter @FollowtheFrogs