Don’t be surprised if TCU coach Gary Patterson adds baby aspirin to his Christmas wish list this holiday season.
“When you get to my age, you have got to take a lot of baby aspirin when you do that,” Patterson said, chuckling.
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In an era where high-powered, high-scoring offenses are the norm in college football, TCU and Cal are throwbacks. Each program has prided itself on defense this season.
TCU has always been known for its defense in Patterson’s 18 seasons at the helm. The Frogs’ 4-2-5 scheme has been consistently effective in containing – for the most part – the Big 12’s air-it-out attacks.
TCU boasted the league’s top-ranked defense once again this season. The Frogs held opponents to an average of 344.4 yards a game, including the top-ranked pass defense (202.6 yards a game).
“Just from being a football guy, especially a defensive guy, I’ve always had a lot of respect and enjoyed watching his teams play,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said of Patterson.
Patterson echoed similar thoughts about Wilcox and how Cal’s transformed into a defensive-minded program in two seasons.
Patterson is familiar with Wilcox’s defensive coordinator, Tim DeRuyter, the former Texas A&M assistant (2010-11) who coached Fresno State (2012-16) before joining Wilcox at Cal.
Cal implements different defensive philosophies – running a 3-4 base defense – but has had similar success.
The Bears had the Pac-12’s best passing defense, holding opponents to 187.1 yards a game. They also led the conference and ranked tied for fifth in the country with 17 interceptions.
Cal finished the season with the third-best total defense in the Pac-12 (319.4 yards a game).
“A lot of respect for what they do and how they do it,” Patterson said. “Coach DeRuyter is a guy who’s always done a great job. So they have a lot of experience, and they’ve done a really good job of slowing people down and stopping people and winning ball games.”
Cal’s signature wins this season were a 12-10 victory over Washington, and a 15-14 victory at USC.
TCU, similarly, won three games scoring 17 points or less (Iowa State, K-State and Baylor), and lost another game in which it held Texas Tech to 17 points.
This has the makings of being a low-scoring affair between two defensive powers with offenses that have struggled at times.
Cal had the worst passing offense in the Pac-12, averaging just 188 yards a game.
TCU, which saw its starting quarterback (Shawn Robinson) and backup quarterback (Mike Collins) go down with injuries, wasn’t much better. The Frogs finished seventh out of 10 Big 12 teams in pass offense (226.8).
So the stars of this bowl should come from the defensive side.
TCU has two of the top defensive ends in the country in Ben Banogu and L.J. Collier, and cornerback Jeff Gladney has shined late in the season.
Cal, meanwhile, has two standout linebackers that registered plenty of tackles throughout the season in Evan Weaver (142 tackles) and Jordan Kunaszyk (133).
“Any time you get into a ballgame where it’s going to be hard-hitting and it is going to be a close ballgame, everybody gets excited about it,” Patterson said. “Whether it’s high scoring or low scoring, it makes no difference. What both sides are going to try to do is win by one point.”