Is the TCU defense back? After two games, there are reasons to think so

When he talks about the best defenses, TCU coach Gary Patterson usually points to three ingredients.

Toughness, smarts and speed.

For him, all three have been in abundant display in the Horned Frogs’ 2-0 start, which includes a shutout of Jackson State, an FCS school, and a smothering of SEC member Arkansas on the road.

“We’ve got some guys in our intelligence positions that are making good checks and doing things,” Patterson said. “Any time you get a defense to play hard and have a little smarts to it, then you’re going to have an opportunity to stop people.”

The opportunities are going to keep coming, and they’re going to get tougher, starting Saturday with SMU and the nation’s fifth-highest scoring offense.

After that, it’s one of the Big 12 favorites, Oklahoma State, plus the rest of the league schedule, including No. 2 Oklahoma.

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But so far, the Frogs have checked all the boxes in getting their defense ready.

“You’re trusting in coach Gary Patterson’s way,” linebacker Travin Howard said. “He’s going to come up with a great game plan, and you just practice throughout the week, and we’ll be just fine. His résumé speaks for itself. That’s all I have to say. Check his résumé.”

So is the TCU defense back? Here are six reasons to think so:

1. “Speed, baby,” as Patterson famously said after a 12-3 victory against Texas Tech in 2006. Patterson loves players who can get from Point A to Point B in a flash, and he believes the Frogs have assembled one of their fastest defenses in years. “Definitely is one of the fastest ones,” he said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “But fast doesn’t matter if you’re not physical.”

2. Speaking of physical, then, the Frogs have shown that, too. Strong safety Innis Gaines put a hit on Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen that Patterson hasn’t forgotten. “I like Innis Gaines, especially on special teams,” he said. On the defensive line, an eight-player rotation allowed TCU to remain physical against the Arkansas line, Patterson said. The Frogs did not wear down. By game’s end, both the TCU defensive and offensive lines were dominant.

3. The Frogs are wrapping up. Asked to describe the tackling by TCU last week, Patterson said, “We were pretty happy.” Which is high praise. Patterson explained: “Healthy guys, fresh guys, guys that aren’t banged up are going to tackle better than guys that are. Guys that have fresh legs are going to run through things better.” Thanks to an offense that converted 10 of 14 third downs, the TCU defense faced only 54 snaps. The week before, it was 56.

4. The football IQ is up. “We’re older, a lot of guys with experience,” Howard said. “Guys that can play multiple positions.” Patterson has been able to move two linebackers to defensive end, including Ty Summers, the second-leading tackler a year ago. A defensive tackle has also been used at end. Howard can play linebacker and safety. There is much to learn, but by now, it has sunk in for many of the Frogs. “Coming out of high school, you’re not asked to do as much as you’re doing here,” Howard said. “Your IQ of football goes up, like skyrockets.”

5. Red-zone defense. TCU has not allowed a point on any trips inside the red zone. Jackson State’s opening drive reached the 5-yard line and was turned away on downs. Arkansas got to the 4 and 2 and had to try field goals, which missed each time. “That’s probably the thing I’ve been most impressed with about the defense,” Patterson said. “For us, that’s a big deal to be able to play down there. You’ve got to be able to play red-zone defense. It’s definitely something we pinpoint.”

6. More strength, more size. It’s most evident along the defensive line, with tackles Ross Blacklock and Corey Bethley playing at over 300 pounds. Under Patterson, TCU tackles traditionally have been much lighter for the sake of quickness. But Blacklock, a four-star recruit from Fort Bend Elkins in 2016, and Bethley, a three-star recruit from state power Katy, are not slow. As part of the defensive line rotation, they made a difference in Fayetteville. Bethley had a fourth-quarter sack to help TCU keep a 14-7 lead last week. “He’ll keep playing more as we go on,” Patterson said. “To be honest, he should have played more.”

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

No. 20 TCU vs. SMU

2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU

Head to head


TCU (2-0)

SMU (2-0)

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