There’s no finger-pointing going on inside the TCU football complex, no matter how many are aimed in the direction of the Horned Frogs’ struggling offense.
Hard-core fans and casual observers can clearly detect what has led to TCU’s slow start with an offense ranked 113th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Getting lost in the glare of the white-hot scrutiny shined on the Frogs’ anemic offense is the stout defense TCU is playing. That’s no surprise at first glance because most of the personnel that helped the Frogs lead the Big 12 in total defense a year ago is back.
But TCU has been doing much of it without Devonte Fields, the 2012 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, who is not fully recovered from a foot injury and missed time because of a team-issued suspension. Even his replacement, Matt Anderson, was injured against SMU and might not return this season.
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Although the stats don’t necessarily tout the Frogs’ defensive prowess — they’re in the middle of the Big 12 pack in scoring and total defense — the schedule ahead offers plenty of opportunities to bring down those averages and again lead the league. TCU’s three losses are to teams with offenses that rank among the top 41 in the country. The Sooners, which rank 41st, are likely to continue to improve offensively with quarterback Blake Bell playing full time.
Of course, TCU coach Gary Patterson isn’t looking for any sympathy for his defense. He’ll quickly retort — and it’s a salient point — that the defense has allowed big scoring plays late in all three losses with the game on the line. Besides, Patterson pointed out during his Tuesday media luncheon, there is no division between the two sides.
“Especially when one side is having more success than the other side,” he said. “That’s when you’ve got to have great chemistry because you can’t point fingers. That’s not how teams do it.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Robert Griffin III and Baylor scored 50 points on TCU’s defense, something Patterson alluded to as he deflected heat away from the offense. His players did the same.
“We let them score,” TCU defensive tackle Chucky Hunter said. “If we had shut them out it would have been 0-0. We win as one team and we lose as one team. It’s more of a family. When we lose, we all hurt. When we win, we’re all happy.”
TCU’s defense should keep the Frogs (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) in their final seven games, including against Kansas (2-2, 0-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
All-American cornerback Jason Verrett, who is tied for the Big 12 lead with nine pass breakups, leads a TCU secondary that is playing like one of the best in Patterson’s 16-year tenure.
“As a whole [this secondary] group is probably as good as we’ve ever played,” he said. “We lead the league in sacks, and I’d probably tell you at least 50 percent of them have been coverage sacks.”
For much of Patterson’s tenure, he has usually credited a talented defensive line for helping the secondary look better. In 2013, it might be the coverage that has helped the line.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever been as good against the level of competition we’ve played,” he said, before defending his line that has 12 of the team’s Big 12-leading 18 sacks. “I don’t think our front is getting enough credit. To be able to play five in the box and be able to stop the run” without Stansly Maponga and Fields. “We’ve been plugging guys in. Nobody even knows who Mike Tuaua is and he had a sack against an [Oklahoma] tackle that last year Stansly couldn’t get a sack against. Terrell Lathan, too. Maybe because we made them hold the ball longer.”
Injuries at defensive end have forced a rotation of guys seeing a lot of playing time, allowing players such as Tuaua and Lathan to make plays.
“Everybody practices to be first team because everybody is one play out,” Hunter said. “The next person steps up and it’s their turn to shine.”