Gary Patterson knows every line of his résumé. He’s proud of every bullet point in an 18-year career at TCU.
Maybe one day, his work in the opening weeks of 2015 will be the top line on the sheet. In big, bold type:
Rescued a defense that lost seven starters to injury or surprise absence; converted two safeties to linebacker; used walk-ons at safety and defensive end; developed other down-the-roster contributors; met expectations created by a top-two debut in the AP and coaches polls.
If No. 3 TCU can get past Texas Tech on Saturday (3:45 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4), and keep winning after that, and continue to stay in contention for the College Football Playoff, then 2015 might fairly go down as Patterson’s biggest accomplishment.
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The set of circumstances that landed on his desk — a sprinkler head that broke the toe of his returning sack leader before he played a game, a preseason concussion to his most experienced player, three season-ending in-game knee injuries, a linebacker who asked for a personal leave, an arrest that led to the suspension of a veteran defensive end — has resulted in apparently his most challenging assignment in Fort Worth.
“Oh, no,” Patterson said. “It’s not our first rodeo. Two years ago, we were looking at having 50 guys, the year we went 4-8. It’s not the worst thing. With the numbers we have in specific places, it’s tough. But I’m not going to make this about, ‘We’ve got people hurt.’ It’s not what this program is built on.”
You think this is the worst I’ve ever dealt with? No.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
What it’s built on is Patterson’s determined doggedness. He thinks one way — get ready to play. Whoever’s available — get them ready to play.
Even if you haven’t played a snap all year — get ready to play.
“How do you think I’ve stayed here 18 years?” he said after last week’s victory against SMU, in which starting defensive end Terrell Lathan and starting cornerback Ranthony Texada went out with injuries, one game after starting safety Kenny Iloka was lost for the season, which was one game after starting linebacker Sammy Douglas was lost for the season. “You think this is the worst I’ve ever dealt with? No.”
“No. You don’t like the fire? Get out of the pan.”
TCU leads the Big 12 in third-down defense, allowing a 23.9-percent conversion rate. The figure is 13.8 percent in the fourth quarter.
Patterson isn’t getting out of the pan. He likes the heat. It’s possible he even relishes the challenge of finding new ways to fit the personnel pieces he has left. He’s talked about how it’s a little like writing a song.
But he shakes his head. No, thanks. He’d rather have the players he expected to have. He’d rather use his original plan.
He doesn’t need another résumé line.
“Last year, we had luck; things bounced our way,” Patterson said. “This year, things haven’t gone like that. If we’re going to be the kind of program, the kind of team we want to be, we’re not going to make excuses. We’re not going to do those kind of things. We’re going to get ready to play. We’re going to go forward.”
11 TCU defensive players who have made their first career starts this year: Chris Bradley, Aaron Curry, Sammy Douglas, Mike Freeze, Travin Howard, Kenny Iloka, Denzel Johnson, Torrance Mosley, Nick Orr, Ty Summers, Montrel Wilson.
So how does that happen?
First, it helps that one of the missing pieces might be available. Defensive tackle Davion Pierson, the Frogs’ most experienced starter, is expected to see his first action Saturday after missing the first three games with a concussion. Patterson said he brings energy and leadership to the field.
Second, Patterson has to find a pass rush. Defensive end Josh Carraway is coming off a breakout game, recording a career-high 2.5 sacks and a career-high six tackles against SMU.
Without Lathan, Pierson, James McFarland (toe) or Mike Tuaua (suspension), Carraway defaulted to the veteran and most accomplished rusher on the defense. But he had only 4.5 sacks for his career coming in.
Third, the cornerbacks have to cover. Last week, the Frogs committed three pass interference penalties. Torrance Mosley was called for two. SMU threw for 334 yards. Nick Orr bounced between safety and cornerback to help make up for the loss of Texada. Patterson said freshman Julius Lewis will be part of the corner rotation this week, along with veteran Corry O’Meally.
Finally, new linebackers Montrel Wilson and Travin Howard must continue to recognize formations and make plays. They tied for the team lead in tackles against Stephen F. Austin, and they were among the top three in tackles against SMU. But they must also contribute on special teams. The Frogs are asking a lot of the freshman Wilson and sophomore Howard.
Managing it all is Patterson, in his 15th season as head coach and 18th at TCU, where he has produced the nation’s top defense five times.
I still think we’ll play better than what we did tonight. We still have some speed, we still have some guys who will play.
Patterson, after the SMU game
Dealing with injuries alone would be enough. But this week brought news of the arrests of Tuaua and receiver Andres Petties-Wilson, which meant a late start to the work week and only three hours of sleep Monday night because he was “putting out all the other fires,” Patterson said.
Plus, this year Patterson is coaching without longtime defensive assistant Dick Bumpas, who could translate many of Patterson’s ideas into action as quickly as the head coach.
After forcing eight three-and-outs against Minnesota and Stephen F. Austin, the Horned Frogs forced only two against SMU.
But by midweek, Patterson appeared energized. Maybe he had caught up on his sleep. Maybe the challenge does invigorate him.
“I still think we’ll play better than what we did tonight,” he said after the SMU game. “We still have some speed, we still have some guys who will play.”
And as he says, it isn’t his first rodeo.
“Some guys are going to step up,” he said Tuesday. “Either we’ll learn for next year or we’ll learn this year and win enough ballgames to get to a bowl game, play for a championship — that’s what the goal is. Right now, we’re 3-0, we play our first Big 12 road game out in Lubbock.”
“Got to get ready to go.”
On second thought, make that the top line.
What to watch for
Caring for the ball. Tech has eight takeaways, tied for most in the Big 12. TCU’s Trevone Boykin has been intercepted in every game this season. The Frogs are plus-1 in turnover ratio; Tech is plus-5.
Caring for the quarterback. The Frogs must take care of Boykin, and he must have time to throw. TCU coach Gary Patterson did not like the number of hits Boykin took last week.
Return to sender. TCU has KaVontae Turpin. Tech has Jakeem Grant. Both are superior kick returners who can change field position in a hurry. One play from them could swing the game.
TCU at Texas Tech
3:45 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4
Head to head
Texas Tech (3-0)
3rd down conv. %
Def. 3rd down conv. %