TCU’s youngest players on defense are starting to come out of the “fog” and are better than they were five weeks ago, coach Gary Patterson said.
“They’ve played more snaps, so obviously they understand a little bit more what’s going on,” Patterson said Monday during the Big 12 coaches conference call. “Young guys are always deep into it. It always takes them a while to get out of all the fog. I think we’re better now than we were.”
Thirteen TCU defenders have made their first collegiate starts this season, including two freshman linebackers — Mike Freeze, who left the team on a leave of absence, and Montrel Wilson, a converted safety.
Sophomore linebacker Travin Howard, also a converted safety, has started the past three games and is second on the team in tackles. Sophomore safety Michael Downing, a walk-on, started two weeks ago against Texas Tech. Nick Orr, a sophomore, made his first career starts at safety and cornerback.
Speaking after the victory against Texas on Saturday, Patterson said he could tell the previous Sunday that something had clicked for the less experienced players.
“Teaching the game plan on Sunday — for SMU and Texas Tech — it was like they were in a cloud,” Patterson said. “It’s like, ‘It’s simple, fellas.’ But this Sunday it was like, ‘Got it.’ ”
Patterson blamed himself for asking too much of Howard against Texas Tech. He said he used junior safety Denzel Johnson against Texas in the same role he asked of Howard in Lubbock.
“Some of the stuff that happened last week was my fault,” Patterson said. “If you don’t tell them that, if you don’t take blame for that, then why should he trust you next time?”
Defensive end Terrell Lathan could play this week at Kansas State, giving the Horned Frogs another senior on defense.
He tweeted Sunday that he was “back at it.”
“In this league, you’ve got to be able to rush the passer, hold up on the edges against everything everybody does,” Patterson said. “In this case, it just helps us because we’re playing with two or three really young guys that had not been in these kind of scenarios. It helps us. They’ve got experience, they’ve played, they’ve worked with it, and now they know.”
Last week, senior defensive tackle Davion Pierson played in his second game since returning from a concussion that kept him out of three games. Defensive end Mike Tuaua played in his first game since being suspended for three games.
“Having them back, you could tell there was a lot more of a calmness at practice on defense and on game day than there had been before,” Patterson said.
Patterson did not offer an update on receiver Kolby Listenbee, who missed his second game after an injury suffered against SMU when he fell in the end zone after going up for a touchdown catch.
He said receivers such as KaVontae Turpin, Desmon White and Ja’Juan Story must play well to keep defenses from rolling coverage to Josh Doctson.
“It goes hand-in-hand,” Patterson said. “The better the players across the board, the less people can overload their coverages.”
Turpin, a freshman, caught six passes for 138 yards and four touchdowns against Texas and is now the second-leading receiver on the team. White is No. 3 on the team in catches.
There will be another prime-time kickoff for TCU. The Big 12 announced a 6 p.m. start for the Horned Frogs’ game at Iowa State on Oct. 17.
That means three consecutive night games for TCU. This week, TCU has a 6:30 start at Kansas State on Saturday, and the Thursday night game against West Virginia on Oct. 29 has a 6:30 kickoff.