The challenge for TCU coach Gary Patterson and his staff the final month of a season filled with negatives is to keep it positive for his young team.
The task at hand for the Horned Frogs is to win three of their final four games to earn a ninth consecutive bowl berth. Since Patterson became defensive coordinator in 1998 and then head coach before the 2001 season, TCU (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) only failed to earn a bowl in 2004.
“When you’re not winning ballgames the same answers come out,” Patterson said. “I’ve been on both sides of the street, giving the same answers to everybody. The best thing I’ve found is you don’t make excuses, you don’t talk about it, you go find ways to get it done.
“And it was easier to do in 2004 when it didn’t go as well and you could change over because not many people talked about it. You stayed underneath the surface. Now, everybody wants to know a reason. I don’t know.”
Despite the losing record and offensive woes, there’s plenty of positive points of interest, not only the return of quarterback Casey Pachall, but with young players expected play large roles in the future.
“If you look at some of our young players, there’s a lot of guys doing a lot of good things,” Patterson said. “I think that’s the thing you have to be able to do. You have to keep the team growing emotionally. Because if you don’t keep growing then it carries over to next year.
“Win, lose, whatever, you have to get them to understand you have to find a way to keep improving as a team so you can go win ballgames.”
He’s not only talking about Saturday’s game against West Virginia (3-5, 1-4), a team with an identical record as the Frogs and one Patterson said has had similar issues, but also the next three to finish the regular season.
“They’ve been ahead and had opportunities at 3-5 but haven’t been able to find a way in the end to finish ballgames,” he said.
The final four weeks of the season could take on the air of pre-bowl practices where an emphasis is put on the younger players in the program with an eye toward next spring.
Patterson said there’s been a mix of “good and bad” reactions from his players dealing with a tough season.
“I think the next four weeks will be interesting to see how we handle all of it,” he said. “We have a lot of guys playing hard. Obviously we’re not playing well enough to do the things we need to do to be successful. You have to stay positive and you have to move forward and have to get the guys to grow up.”
With the season finale against undefeated No. 6 Baylor on Nov. 30 looking like a long shot win at the moment, TCU needs to win its next three games, including at Iowa State and Kansas State, to get those three wins it covets.
Pachall’s presence provides some hope that the offense might show something it rarely has in 2013. The defense is still playing at a high level, Patterson believes, and will keep games close.
“It’s four one-day seasons,” he said. “You have to win three out of four to get to six. That’s what the goal is.”
During his Tuesday media luncheon, Patterson said coaches have to be careful how they use the bowl berth as a rallying cry with their players.
Safety Chris Hackett said there’s been no quit in the players. He’s only thinking about beating West Virginia, not winning three of the last four.
“I haven’t thought about it that much. I’ve just thought about getting a win against West Virginia,” he said. “This team is a very strong team. We love each other as a whole and we play together and we are going to fight to the end. We’re going to continue to keep working hard. It’s going to be a long journey. Just keep pushing.”
Said Patterson: “It can’t be a last-gasp situation. Kids sense that. They’ll sense whether you think whether they have a chance. You just have to be straight up. Here’s what it is. You have to get to 4-5. Right now, we just have to win one. If we win one, then we have to win two.”