Two TCU linebackers getting the first starts of their careers gave coach Gary Patterson some reassurance Saturday against Stephen F. Austin.
After freshman Mike Freeze — who started the first game of the season — left Tuesday on a personal leave of absence, two converted safeties, sophomore Travin Howard and true freshman Montrel Wilson, slid into the linebacker spots.
They rotated with redshirt freshman Ty Summers, and gave Patterson and the defensive coaching staff a show.
Howard and Wilson were the Horned Frogs’ leading tacklers in a 70-7 win over Stephen F. Austin, combining for 14 1/2 tackles.
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Howard collected eight of those, including three in the backfield, and forced a fumble in the second quarter that led to a three-play drive and TCU’s fifth score of the game.
“[Howard] made an unbelievable play on a jailbreak screen and an unbelievable play on a double-out and an unbelievable play on two run plays,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “He played great. We kind of threw him in the fire, and he did unbelievable.”
Patterson added that Howard had played himself into starting next week against rival SMU.
The rotation of Howard, Summers and Wilson was more than effective against the Lumberjacks and will have one more nonconference test against SMU before TCU opens Big 12 play on Sept. 26 at Texas Tech.
Wilson finished with six tackles, including one stand-up hit on SFA receiver Joshawa West on a fourth-and-goal play from TCU’s 10 late in the first quarter.
Another injury on D
With seven minutes left in the first quarter, safety Kenny Iloka was one of the few veteran defenders still on the field for TCU. But the injury bug that has bitten the Horned Frogs’ defense early this season struck again when he was involved in a collision while covering a kickoff.
Team doctors worked on Iloka’s left knee for almost three minutes before he made his way to the TCU locker room with 4:09 to go in the first.
“The next guy to play is up, like always,” Patterson said. “We played 50 guys a couple years ago, so we’re used to it.”
Sophomore safety Michael Downing replaced the senior and picked off a pass on TCU’s 3-yard line as the first half wound down. SFA quarterback Zach Conque tried to throw a pass back across the defense but didn’t see Downing, who was camped in the middle of the field on the play.
“He got ran by a couple times, so he learned a couple things,” Patterson said.
Listenbee’s big day
Senior receiver Kolby Listenbee had one of his biggest games in a TCU jersey Saturday, nabbing five receptions in the first half and finishing with six catches for 142 yards and a touchdown.
The six catches tie a career high for Listenbee — matching his six-catch, 31-yard outing last year against Kansas State — and the 142 yards receiving were just four shy of his career mark of 146, which came last season in a four-catch performance at Baylor.
After one catch last week, it was the answer that Listenbee and the coaching staff expected from one of the offensive leaders.
“The coverage dictates who we throw to,” Patterson said. “Last week, Minnesota played over the top of him. Today, you saw that every time we threw deep, he was one-on-one.”
Listenbee’s first big play came after Wilson’s big hit to force the ball over on downs. Three plays later, on second-and-six, Listenbee sprinted behind the coverage for a 51-yard gainer down to SFA’s 14-yard line to set up the first score of the game, which was an Aaron Green 2-yard rushing score.
“We had to go score,” Listenbee said of the situation early in the ballgame. “The defense gave us the opportunity to have the ball back and we had to take advantage of it.”
Nixon nicked up
Tailback Shaun Nixon came out of the game in the second quarter and did not return after sustaining an injury. The redshirt freshman finished with two catches for 31 yards.
Patterson said that six running backs were used against SFA to keep players healthy, and Nixon wasn’t seen in the second half as a precaution.
Backups in action
Backup quarterback Bram Kohlhausen entered midway through the third quarter and led the Frogs on three scoring drives. He finished 7-of-9 passing for 112 yards with a 16-yard score to Jaelan Austin that made it 63-0 with 14:25 to play.
Running back Colten Christensen scored his first touchdown in his first game, running for a 3-yard score to make it 70-7 with 4:02 remaining.
The senior ran 10 times for 43 yards in the win over SFA. The extra point was kicked by true freshman Johnathan Song, out of Fort Worth All Saints, for the first extra point of his TCU career.