TCU rolls, but loses another defensive starter along the way

Another game for TCU. Another defensive starter lost to injury.

Maybe it’s better to laugh than to cry.

“It’ll be a wild 10 games,” coach Gary Patterson said with a smile, a shrug and then a small chuckle. “But who would want it any different?”

Can it be any different for the Horned Frogs?

Safety Kenny Iloka left in the first quarter of the 70-7 victory against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday with what looked like a knee injury, and it apparently is long term.

Patterson was already talking about how the senior has a redshirt year available.

Already, third-ranked TCU is without starting linebacker Sammy Douglas, lost in the season opener last week. Defensive end James McFarland (broken toe) and defensive tackle Davion Pierson (undisclosed) have not played this year.

And Week 1 starting linebacker Mike Freeze has taken a leave from the team.

Now it’s Iloka, a first-year starter at weak safety and a contributor on special teams. He was hurt on kickoff coverage after the Frogs went up 14-0 on Aaron Green’s second touchdown run of the first quarter.

“Why couldn’t it be just some ho-hum deal? I mean, why not make it exciting?” Patterson joked.

But it was still a somber note to the game for the Horned Frogs (2-0), who got four touchdown passes from Trevone Boykin and 142 yards receiving and a touchdown from Kolby Listenbee.

The Frogs limited SFA (0-2) to 167 yards, their lone disappointment a 75-yard touchdown run given up in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

“I’d rather give up one long run than have my No. 1 defense in the game and somebody get hurt on a chop block and lose a D-tackle in the fourth quarter,” Patterson said.

“Some years you try to be yardage-wise the best defense in the nation. Some years you just try to win by one point and try to hold the other team to one less, and that’s probably, with the numbers we have, that’s going to be our job this year.”

In Iloka’s place, the Horned Frogs turned to Michael Downing, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound sophomore who got into one game, and only one game, last year, the 82-27 blowout of Texas Tech.

“I think he played well,” junior safety Denzel Johnson, who had an interception return for a touchdown, said with a smile as he spoke about Downing. “He did his job. He read his keys. So I think he played well.”

Patterson was less effusive, but seemed satisfied. For now.

“He got ran by a couple times,” Patterson said. “He learned some things that I told him that he was doing, and now he understands.”

The name that made Patterson’s eyes light up was Travin Howard, who had three tackles for loss. He was moved from safety to linebacker last week because of the Douglas injury and the Freeze departure. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he’s closer to linebacker size but retains the speed that Patterson wants.

“He made an unbelievable play on a jailbreak screen. Unbelievable play on two run plays,” Patterson said. “I mean, unbelievable. Those guys last year would not have made any better a play than he made today. He played great. We knew that if we had a chance, that’s what was going to happen. We were going to put him in. We put him in the fire, and he did unbelievable.”

Howard shared the team lead in tackles with linebacker Montrel Wilson. They each had nine. They each moved from safety to linebacker last week. They could be the starters next week.

Patterson must have beamed like a proud papa.

“I mean, I saw watching ESPN this morning, our linebackers and our safeties suck,” he said. “So we’ll see if they suck.”

It may be a wild 10 games indeed.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @calexmendez

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