Earlier this week, TCU had two of its best practices since the 2010 team prepared for the Rose Bowl, coach Gary Patterson said.
Whether it was a result of a renewed focus after the resolution of the five-day Casey Pachall saga earlier on Tuesday, or the fact that Patterson had the Horned Frogs finish Tuesday and Wednesday's workouts with an intense, rapid-fire drill usually reserved for earlier in the practice, is probably not important.
What Patterson and the Horned Frogs (4-1, 1-1 in the Big 12) hope for is to see that carry over against Baylor (3-1, 0-1) at 6 tonight at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco.
Although the conference season has just begun, Patterson, who has already played 15 true freshmen this season, has compared the Frogs' tumultuous year to 2004, when his team went 5-6 and failed to earn a bowl berth.
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"We went back to the spring and got tough, we were young and then we grew up and had an 11-1 season," Patterson said about the aftermath of the '04 team, which had player losses similar to this season's team. "Down the road I think it pays dividends. At the time it doesn't seem like a whole lot of fun because it's not. But you have to do the right things and put things in place that are going to make a difference, and that's what we're trying to do right now. It's not going to be fun this year, either."
But Patterson has said several times that he's having as much fun as he's ever had coaching because the Frogs have been forced to use so many young players in starting or crucial roles. The inexperience has made for some inconsistent play in every area.
"Our ballgames now with young guys are a thrill a minute because you never know," he said. "You don't know what you're getting day to day."
Older players, such as receiver Josh Boyce, said they have complete confidence in players such as quarterback Trevone Boykin, who has replaced Pachall, and running back B.J. Catalon, who filled in for the injured Matthew Tucker last week against Iowa State. Boykin and Catalon, both freshmen, are natural leaders, and are more mature than typical freshmen, Boyce said.
"You can just tell, the way they carry themselves on and off the field," Boyce said. "You can tell they don't try to be, it's just natural. They get along with anybody. They're fun people, but when it comes to football they get serious. We're fine. We're not panicking. We still have a full season ahead of us."
Boyce said TCU's offense shouldn't worry about keeping up with Baylor's offense, which has scored a nation-leading 45 or more points for eight straight games, including 63 in a loss at West Virginia two weeks ago.
"We just have to play the best offensive game we can play," he said. "Don't try to do anything extra special; just play our game."
Boykin and Catalon helped the Frogs gain 455 yards in the loss against Iowa State last week, a fact that Patterson reminded got lost in the maelstrom of five TCU turnovers: three Boykin interceptions and two Catalon fumbles. Also, the game was played in the shadow of Pachall's suspension, which put the entire offense in flux.
"The mental thing that all of our kids went through from Thursday all the way to Saturday you can't even put a perspective on how that affects your football team as far as focusing in and getting ready to play," Patterson said on his Thursday radio show. "They have to take ownership. It's got to be more important for you than it is for me. Older teams have a lot more invested. When they do that, then good things happen to you."
Patterson hopes the intense practices help his young team grow up faster and the team regains its focus with the Pachall ordeal in the rearview mirror.
"We're kind of getting everything else out of the way so we can kind of get back to what we're supposed to be doing here the next seven weeks," he said. "We have to grow up. We knew we were thin at a lot of positions but our kids have practiced hard. I think we're getting better. Do we want to get to bowl eligibility? Yes. Do we want to win more than we lose? Yes, but not to compromise [our future]. I hope it turns out well and we play well [Saturday] because then it was a learning moment and they'll see we have to do that every Tuesday and Wednesday."