The Friday before the Kansas State game, TCU coach Gary Patterson did something unusual that close to kickoff.
He changed the game plan.
He wanted his linebackers to defend the read option from the new K-State quarterback rather than the defensive ends. As Patterson had watched more and more film that week, the hunch became an itch, and he altered the approach. Alex Delton, who had rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns a week earlier against Texas, was sacked twice and held to 39 yards and no touchdowns in TCU’s 26-6 victory.
“Sometimes you can’t change those kind of things without practicing a lot,” Patterson said.
But this year, he can.
With 228 starts combined among the 11 defensive starters, the Frogs offer their de facto defensive coordinator the flexibility to change midweek or mid-game. That’s not a luxury available every year.
But this season, it’s part of what has produced the sixth-ranked defense in the country, which the Horned Frogs will take into Saturday night’s game at Oklahoma with the Big 12 lead and College Football Playoff hopes on the line.
“Sometimes when you have a younger group, whatever your game plan is, you better not change it after Wednesday,” Patterson said. “You better not tweak it because they’re not going to get it.”
Coaches and players like to say they are creatures of habit, so late changes come with a risk.
But trust is another luxury Patterson enjoys.
“Like a Travin Howard that has played a lot of football, he knows that I won’t put him in harm’s way,” Patterson said about his leading tackler, who has 33 starts behind him. “So they listen and understand what you’re trying to accomplish.”
After 20 years running TCU defenses, Patterson has boundless credibility. But it is reinforced from time to time.
Against Texas last week, between series, he told his players what was coming next after he saw a particular play.
“As soon as the fly sweep came against Texas last week, for example, I went to the sideline and said, ‘OK, here’s the setup — they’re going to run the fly sweep, but the next time it’s going to be a fake and they’re going to run a wheel with a vertical by the tight end,” Patterson said. “Sure enough.”
Patterson’s years of experience are now layering on his own players’ experience. He is teaching them to ask, “What if?”
“If you think you’re going to make adjustments against Oklahoma or anybody else and you’re just going to wait until it happens, you better have thought about it before it happens,” he said. “The way I watch film is, ‘If I was them, this is what I would do.’ ”
The Frogs have no doubt been asking themselves that a lot this week preparing for Oklahoma, the nation’s No. 1 offense at more than 600 yards a game. But whatever they have prepared for, they expect something else.
“Oklahoma the last couple of years, it doesn’t matter what we study,” Patterson said. “They will completely change it. We expect them to completely change when they line up this year and the plays that they run. You take that as a compliment.”
Iowa State did the same, Patterson said.
The Cyclones hit the Frogs for two touchdown passes in the first half but were scoreless with only 40 yards in the second half.
“If we all do our job, Coach P most of the time is going to have the play for us to stop whatever they have,” safety Niko Small said.
The Frogs will have to think on their feet Saturday. But they are well-equipped with experience and coaching. It has shown all season.
“Some years, it seems like you’re always a half-step behind,” Patterson said. “This group this year, we’ve always seemed like we were a half-step ahead. And you have better players up front this year that make you look smarter, to be honest with you. Last year I wasn’t very smart. People think I’m a little smarter this year.”
Let’s say more experienced. Coach and defense alike.
No. 6 TCU at No. 5 Oklahoma
7 Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4
Head to head
TCU (8-1, 5-1)
Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1)