Spread offenses. Empty backfields. Quarterbacks who scramble on third down. The 70-yard post pattern.
Welcome to Gary Patterson’s new world, which is also his worst nightmare.
“The worst job in college football right now is defensive coordinator,” the TCU coach and resident defensive genius said at his Tuesday press conference.
“So I’m trying to figure out why I’m still doing it, why I shouldn’t be just helping with the game plan and blaming somebody else.
“I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.”
The coach of the Horned Frogs was joking, of course. But as TCU prepares to host West Virginia on Thursday, Patterson’s pain is real.
You should hear my friends and media associates who live in Southeastern Conference country, long seen as a stubborn bastion of defense-first football. But now quarterbacks are daring to throw the ball over defensive backs’ heads in places like Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge.
Western Kentucky threw 61 passes against LSU on Saturday night. Ole Miss scored 43 points, including a 73-yard passing touchdown, while beating Alabama earlier in the year.
Patterson gave a good and simple layman’s answer Tuesday to my question about the whereabouts of old-fashioned college football defense.
That’s one of the reasons I went to a five-defensive back system. Somewhere on the field I can play man coverage and add a guy to the box and in other places I could play zone.
Gary Patterson explaining his 4-2-5 defense
“It used to be you would see if you could beat people with seven in the box against a two-back team,” Patterson said. “Now people are willing to add more in the box to stop the run, so now you have more susceptibility to getting the ball thrown over your head.
“That’s one of the reasons I went to a five-defensive-back system. Somewhere on the field I can play man coverage and add a guy to the box, and in other places I could play zone.”
But when offenses are spreading defenses 60 yards, from sideline to sideline, secondaries are being forced to play zip code defense, not zone.
Patterson has had to adjust his standards. For one thing, defenses are finding themselves on the field for 20 or 30 more plays per game.
“When we had the No. 1 defense in the nation — all of the times we’ve been up there in my years here — we averaged about 55 plays a game,” Patterson said. “That’s how many plays we played on defense. Obviously, yardage wise, you’re not going to be as good when you’re playing 80 plays.”
If we get up, and they're moving the football, that's what I try to do on defense. Make them take nine to 12 plays and 6-8 minutes off the clock.
Patterson on his defense
Patterson admitted that in today’s quick-strike college game, he’s had to alter his definition of efficient defense. A wise defensive coach, he explained, doesn’t just work against the scoreboard, but also the clock.
“If we get up, and they’re moving the football,” Patterson said, “that’s what I try to do on defense. Make them take nine to 12 plays and 6-8 minutes off the clock.
“You look at the Kansas State game last year. They scored the first time in the second half, but it took 8-9 minutes, and by then the third quarter it was over.
“You can slow-death people either way.”
The Frogs are allowing 26.6 points per game, fourth in the Big 12 and 65th in the national statistics, and 397.4 yards per game, but Patterson likes the way his young, injury-depleted defense has improved.
“I wouldn’t put them on the field if I didn’t have confidence in them,” Patterson said Tuesday.
“Are they further along than they were after the first game of the season? Yes.
“What does that mean? I don’t know.”
He laughed when he said it. But Gary Patterson is a defensive guy.
And to anyone who’s trying to coach defense these days, college football hurts.
West Virginia at No. 5 TCU
6:30 p.m. Thursday, FS1