Time for another four-game season at TCU.
The first one went pretty well.
The Horned Frogs went into the first four games of 2017 aiming to win at least three against Jackson State, Arkansas, SMU and Oklahoma State. Gary Patterson would have been happy with that.
Instead, the Frogs exceeded their head coach’s expectations and went 4-0.
The last of the four wins, at then-No. 6 Oklahoma State, got the Frogs into the AP Top 10 and back on the national map. Instantly, they became contenders for the Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff.
Now, the same challenge is on the table for the finishing kick of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Baylor. It began Saturday night with a 24-7 victory over the Longhorns, in which the TCU defense starred again and became the nation’s No. 1 unit against the run and sixth overall.
“This is a four-game season, so we’re 1-0 right now,” Patterson said.
Good start. Except this time, the goal is not 3-1. It’s another 4-0.
“You break it down like that, you see it like, ‘All right, we got this first one,’ and if we get the second one, you say, ‘All right, we got that second one,’ ” quarterback Kenny Hill said. “Instead of looking at the big picture, let’s just take it week by week.”
And this time, the reward for a perfect four-game season would be greater — the No. 1 seed and clear-cut favorite status in the Big 12 championship game, where a win would make a College Football Playoff berth a near slam dunk.
“It’s a tough four games,” Patterson said.
So were the first four. And the Frogs proved worthy.
Other observations from TCU 24, Texas 7:
1. TCU played the best defenses in the league the last two weeks — besides its own — and paid for it. In the two games, the Frogs were 9-for-31 combined on third down, scored 31 points and went 1-1. They’re no longer the nation’s best third-down offense; in fact, they’re No. 6 at an even 50 percent, though that’s still outstanding. But the offense’s struggles were clear against Iowa State, 40th nationally in defense, and Texas, 43rd. Next up for the Frogs: the 87th-, 108th- and 121st-ranked defenses in the country, in that order.
2. Ascending to No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense has to warm Patterson’s heart. The Frogs’ 17th-year head coach loves little more than stopping the run. It’s a test of strength and will. For weeks, the Frogs have been acing it. In the last four games, TCU has allowed 70, negative-25, 53 and 9 yards on the ground. And not because teams aren’t trying. K-State, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas averaged 29.8 attempts.
3. Clearly, the last four offenses that TCU has faced are not in the league of Oklahoma or any of the nation’s best. And one was led by a quarterback making his first start. But good defenses don’t let bad offenses look good. The Frogs allowed those four opponents to score three total touchdowns and average less than 200 yards a game. And not by some fluke. There were only two takeaways in that stretch. Instead, 15 sacks among 34 tackles for loss tell the story. TCU simply overpowered four blah offenses.
4. Everybody knows TCU spreads the ball around on offense. Twenty players have caught a pass, and 12 have a carry. Something similar is starting to apply on defense. Linebacker Ty Summers and defensive tackle Joseph Broadnax recorded their first sacks Saturday night against Texas, making it 13 players with a sack for the TCU defense. Every defensive end and defensive tackle in the eight-man rotation has a sack.
5. It was another high-penalty game for TCU. A week after committing 11 infractions against Iowa State, the Frogs had nine against Texas. That’s the most in a two-game stretch for TCU this season. Interestingly, none of the TCU penalties against Texas were for holding. That’s one week after drawing five offensive holding calls against Iowa State, a single-game high for TCU this season. In the seven games before that, TCU had four offensive holding calls total and two defensive. So add it up: For the season, TCU has been called for holding 11 times — nine on offense, two on defense, five in one game.