One of the hallmarks of Gary Patterson's tenure at TCU has been that his teams finish strong. Since 2005, the Horned Frogs are 31-4 in games in November or later, including 2-1 this month.
A big reason for that late-season dominance has been the Frogs' defense. The early mistakes become less frequent, the right personnel finally find the right fit in the lineup and younger players no longer are considered inexperienced.
TCU's 2012 defense has improved steadily to lead the Big 12 and rank 17th nationally, allowing 323.9 yards per game. The Frogs rank second in the conference behind Kansas State in scoring defense, but two overtime games, including a 56-53 triple-overtime loss to Texas Tech in October, helped inflate those numbers.
The fact is that Patterson, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas and the entire defensive staff have put together an every bit as impressive squad in the new conference, especially considering the personnel losses TCU had to overcome.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
"We still have a long way to go to play at the level I think we can, and that's a good thing because we're one of the better statistic defenses in the league," Patterson said during his Tuesday media luncheon. "And we still have a chance to improve quite a bit, to be honest with you."
The Frogs have held all but one of their Big 12 opponents -- Kansas on Sept. 15 -- below their season average in yards. Texas became the fourth Big 12 opponent to be held to its fewest or second-fewest yards of the season last week. TCU also has held all but two of its league opponents to fewer points than their season average.
The defense will get one of its toughest tests yet when No. 11 Oklahoma (9-2, 7-1 in the Big 12) brings its ninth-ranked offense to Fort Worth for an 11 a.m. Saturday game at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
"I know for sure they're going to be the fastest [we've played] with the up-tempo [offense]," TCU cornerback Jason Verrett said. "Of course, they probably have one of the best receiving corps in this conference. So we're going to take it like any other game and prepare for it."
Verrett, who leads the conference with six interceptions, said he'll be covering Kenny Stills, Oklahoma's speedy leading receiver who has 876 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"That's part of football," said Verrett, who leads the Big 12 in passes defended. "That's the challenge you want, to go against the best receiver. Justin Brown is also good. Kevin White will be guarding him, and we're up for the challenge."
But the Frogs' impressive secondary play this season -- which has accounted for 17 of TCU's league-high 20 interceptions -- starts with the defensive line. Left defensive end Stansly Maponga is healthier now after missing two games and seeing only limited action in two others. Maponga's return has helped right defensive end Devonte Fields to continue to make hay as a freshman.
"Up front, I think we've really developed," Patterson said. "Obviously, Devonte Fields' emergence has really helped us. Stansly Maponga coming off injury has really helped us. He gives us another guy on the other side that can really pass rush, and you have to be careful of it."
Plus, Patterson said, the defense has found a "purpose."
"They've been playing hard all year, but it's just purpose [now]," he said. "Getting guys to do what we need them to do when they need to do it."
In the last three games, TCU's front has tallied seven sacks, and the secondary has snagged five interceptions.
"Preparation has been the key for us," Verrett said. "These last few weeks I just give all the credit to the defensive line. They're playing tremendously and making it a lot easier for our secondary to make plays."