To TCU coach Gary Patterson, Elisha Olabode's first-quarter interception against SMU was more than just another big play.
SMU was lined up in a pistol formation and ran a bootleg out of the set, a play the Mustangs hadn't run all year, Patterson said. But Olabode, a junior who played free safety and cornerback at Cedar Hill High School, stayed home, didn't bite, and was there to make the interception, which he returned 51 yards to set up the Horned Frogs' second touchdown.
"He's really progressed a long way," said Patterson, who moved Olabode from cornerback to free safety after he played 11 games as a true freshman at cornerback. "Cornerbacks know how to communicate. Smarter players, more veteran players, know how to get there. He followed his rules and he was in the right position to do the things he needed to do. That's what a veteran team does. Or, I should say, a team that's grown up more."
Patterson caught himself on the last point because his defense is hardly a veteran squad. Olabode, a junior, has experience but is a first-year starter. Besides cornerback Jason Verrett, the rest of the secondary is filled with first-year starters.
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But, in Patterson's defense, the unit through four games has played like an older, wiser group. TCU is second in the nation in scoring defense at 7.3 per game and seventh in overall defense, allowing 255.8 yards a game.
While the offense has at times sputtered -- whether fumbling away sure points, or struggling to find a steady run game since Waymon James' injury -- the defense has continued to hold its own, including keeping SMU 161 yards below its season average last week.
"I think the defense has really stepped it up," guard Blaize Foltz said. "The young guys have really bought into the way we do things. I feel like the defense won us the game for sure. They played above and beyond."
The 15th-ranked Frogs' five interceptions, including Olabode's second of the season, put TCU's offense in scoring position twice. When SMU recovered a muffed punt at TCU's 1, the defense prevented a score and preserved a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"We're building a lot of confidence," said Olabode, who is third on the team with 18 tackles. "The turnovers, all the takeaways, the goal-line stand, they are all helping us get better and have better confidence in ourselves."
Patterson echoed the sentiments of Paul Rhoads, Iowa State's coach, who said during Big 12 media days that coaches have to be able to recruit their own team. The Frogs (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) resume league play against the Cyclones (3-1, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"You're a salesman," Patterson said. "You have to sell your program -- not just to your constituents, your boosters and your alumni -- you've got to sell it to your own team that what you do is the best in the business. They have to get where they trust you. It's not just a one-way street. They have to trust [that] the calls you make will give them the best opportunity to be successful. Every time we have a game like [SMU] where you have success, kids trust you more."
Olabode said learning TCU's 4-2-5 scheme was intense.
"Coming from high school to college it was kind of different how Coach P coaches," he said. "The hardest thing to learn is knowing you have to do your own job. You doing your own job can make the whole defense a lot better. If one messes up, the whole defense is looking sloppy."
So far in 2012, the defense has seldom looked sloppy. Olabode, like his coach, sees plenty of room for improvement.
"No, of course we're not where we should be. It's only four games, but we're trying our best to get there. We're taking it step by step and game by game," Olabode said. "That's how it is on defense. You take pride in not letting the other team in the end zone; put your foot down and stand up to them. Every time we're on the field we try to make it personal that they don't score. Either they don't come down with it or we come down with it. The secondary doesn't want to do be the problem on the defense. No one wants to be the problem. We all want to come together where everybody is doing their job."
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760