It’s no secret Gary Patterson has a pretty high standard for defense at TCU.
Like, really high.
“If you’re making more than a yard running the ball, that’s a problem,” defensive end James McFarland said.
More than a yard?
He smiled. Apparently, he wasn’t kidding.
“That’s the type of emphasis we have. Being average is not good enough for us, and it’s never been good enough around here.”
It certainly hasn’t been good enough this year, to put it plainly.
TCU is giving up 414.6 yards per game going into Saturday’s game at Kansas. If that number doesn’t come down, it would be the second highest at TCU since Patterson’s arrival as defensive coordinator for the 1998 season. The 2004 team that went 5-6 allowed 426.0 yards per game.
“By my standards, that’s terrible,” Patterson said.
And while one-yard-per-carry is unrealistic — only Patterson’s 2008 defense allowed under 2.0 yards per carry — TCU hasn’t put up dominating statistics in run defense in a while.
It’s been since 2010 that the Frogs held opponents under 100 yards rushing per game for a season. In fact, last season’s 182.9 rush yards per game was the highest ever against a Patterson defense. This season’s 156.4 would be the second highest.
What’s going on?
The Big 12 and spread offenses that don’t even wait for the chains to reset, Patterson said.
“The five times we were No. 1 in the nation in total defense, we averaged 55 plays a game,” Patterson said. “Now you’re averaging 75 and 80.”
The more experienced a defense, the better it can handle the pace. But it’s become a problem for TCU.
“No. 1, we have to be a higher quality of defensive player,” Patterson said. “You’ll find the better they are, the better defense you’re going to play. Because right now, it’s really hard to get lined up. ... It’s how fast you can get lined up and can you play and how good a shape you’re in defensively.”
And yet for all its troubles, TCU ranks third in the Big 12 in total defense. Only Kansas State (239.8) and Baylor (341.0) allow under 400 yards a game, and each has played one fewer league game.
“Offenses are evolving,” McFarland said. “It’s always something new, different schemes. We knew what we were getting into when we entered the Big 12, so it’s nothing too surprising.”
In five seasons in the Big 12, TCU has faced more than 70 plays per game every season except the first. Before entering the Big 12, it was just three times since Patterson became head coach.
The Big 12 simply moves fast, and numbers skew. Standards that were attainable in the Mountain West or Conference USA or WAC aren’t realistic here.
“What you have to do is change your perspective,” Patterson said. “I’m one of those guys, to be honest with you, it still comes down to winning. If I knew in all four quarters, we’d move the football, then I’d be bend-but-don’t-break. It doesn’t matter to me — yardage, ego, all of the above.”
And five years in, pace is still a challenge.
“I think the worst job maybe in America right now is a defensive coordinator,” Patterson said. “Especially in the Big 12, wherever they’re going fast. ... You’re going to be evaluated every seven days whether you did a very good job or not.”
But Patterson has seen his defenses get out of the gate slowly before. He’s optimistic. As the season goes on, he believes the defense will get better.
“The game every week is getting slower for us,” he said. “It’s really the guys in the communication areas and getting lined up and doing the things we need to do. I tried to do too much in the South Dakota State game. I’ve cut way back, and since I cut way back, we’ve played a lot better.”
Against Kansas, TCU will face the ninth-ranked offense in the league and 101st in the country. It’s the worst statistical offense the Frogs have seen this year. Oklahoma ranks 25th, Arkansas 52nd, SMU 70th and Iowa State 86th. South Dakota State is 25th in FCS.
It was just two weeks ago the Frogs held SMU to only a field goal.
“We pride ourselves on defense, and that’s something we’re going to continue to do,” McFarland said. “And we’re going to continue to get better and see if we can pull out the rest of the season better.”
TCU at Kansas, 11 a.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Head to head
TCU (3-2, 1-1)
Kansas (1-3, 0-1)
3rd down %
3rd down def. %
More plays, more yards
The number of plays TCU has faced and the yards the Horned Frogs have allowed per game.