Toward the end of his Tuesday news conference, TCU coach Gary Patterson insisted he was having more fun than he had in the previous three seasons when his Horned Frogs were a combined 36-3.
With his team sitting at 3-2 and out of the polls for the first time since 2008, it may be true. Patterson could be more relaxed without the pressures of maintaining a perfect regular-season record with trips to BCS bowls riding on every game.
But against host San Diego State (3-1) at 9:30 tonight at Qualcomm Stadium, the pressure to remain a Mountain West Conference title contender is on the line. The Frogs (3-2, 1-0 in the MWC) may not be headed back to a BCS bowl, as Patterson laid out during Tuesday's media luncheon, but there is still plenty to play for, beginning with the league championship.
To get there with a young team, Patterson feels the need to go back to his roots, which he has indicated a desire to do a couple times since the season began. During his radio show Thursday he expanded on his plan to return to the way "the old school Gary Patterson has always done it."
"I've tried to grow them up the nice way and I'm done with that," Patterson said, referring mainly to his defense, which has given up an uncharacteristic 410 yards and 28 points a game this season.
Patterson didn't like how the team responded to losing to archrival SMU 40-33 in overtime last week. He didn't see any tears in the postgame locker room. He doesn't want players feeling sorry for themselves, but he wants to see them care.
"It's got to hurt to lose," Patterson said, recalling the stunned and tearful TCU locker rooms after losses at Utah in 2008 and in the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. "I didn't get a great feeling. Everyone had tears in their eyes. I didn't see anybody with tears in their eyes Saturday."
Said defensive end Ross Forrest, who will start for the second time in his career tonight: "We need to let those younger guys know that this isn't all right and losing like that isn't acceptable. We have to do our best to prepare each and never take anything lightly and always play our hardest."
Even Patterson thought his defense played hard against SMU, but they didn't always play smart. That comes with experience. Five games into the season, Patterson no longer is giving young players a mulligan for inexperience.
"Until this team decides to grow up and it's not just important to play, but to play well, and it hurts to lose, then we're going to have things we have to overcome," he said. "So now we're going to start doing it my way. And they're not really going to like it that well."
The line drew applause from fans attending his radio show at Railhead, and no doubt elicited "Go get 'ems" from fans who've grown accustomed to Patterson's hard-nosed, fiery persona who drives his players to extremes on the practice field.
"They have no earthly idea how bad it can get and how tough I can get," he said. "Trust me; I spend 24 hours a day thinking about it."
That's what he wants from his players as they meet the Aztecs before a bye week.
"We need to step on the gas and finish the second half of the season," he said. "We have to decide it's really important to us."