By Lew Patton
So I have this assignment to write about TCU football, and the task seemed so large, I almost geeked myself out over it. I mean, it almost seemed too big to write about. Think about it. TCU is ranked #2 in the entire country! TCU has a chance, to do something so special, it’s almost unthinkable. After getting the cold shoulder last season, and getting left out of the College Football Playoff, TCU can shove the entire playoff picture back in the faces of the people who vote on such things this year. It’s almost too much to dream of. Let’s see how this might could shake out.
Just in case you don’t know or aren’t aware, TCU coach Gary Patterson changed the offensive philosophy last year and hire two coaches to run the offense. They are coaches Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. Meacham had spent ’13 running an up-tempo offense at Houston. Cumbie was a co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, but everyone knew Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury controlled his own version of the Air Raid, which Kingsbury and Cumbie each ran for Leach as Texas Tech quarterbacks. So 19 months later, after the new offense pumped out 6.7 yards per play and helped the Horned Frogs go from 88th in the nation in scoring in 2013 (25.1 points a game) to second in ’14 (46.5), the men who crafted the scheme remain stunned. “I still am,” Meacham cracks. “Every day I walk in like, ‘Did this really happen?’”
So if you add this new offense with a potential Heisman trophy quarterback like Trevone Boykin, and you can’t help but be excited about this season and TCU. The Horned Frogs seem to have a huge opportunity to play with a chip on their shoulder for a couple of reasons. Being leaped-frogged (no pun intended) in the rankings at the very last minute last season by Ohio State, being crowned “co-champions” of the Big 12 because of their close loss to Baylor, they can put all of that misery to bed this year and be redeemed with an even better 2015 season. And know this, TCU has a chance to possibly run the table this year. They may not even lose a game. They are that good.
So with all of that, what could be the Achilles heel for TCU? The defense. The Horned Frogs have lost many great players to graduation. There are many replacements that need to come in and do their jobs.
For Patterson, his defense boils down to creating confusion at the line of scrimmage, playing with great leverage, establishing an eight-man front, and establishing a pressure package. Pretty basic stuff for any defense, but Patterson goes about it differently than most because of those separate calls for the front and the secondary.
The leverage is an important part of what makes the defense work. Though the Horned Frogs don’t necessarily pack the box in the way that other teams do, the alignment of the weak safety and the strong safety just outside the box allows the safeties the proximity to the line of scrimmage to make plays against the run, but not give up anything in coverage while doing it.
In fact, the goal of the front six is to direct everything outside to the safeties, who are taught independently of the cornerbacks with a heavy focus on leverage and angles. Patterson stresses playing “inside and in front” — the safeties are taught that once a ball carrier declares their intention, they are not to allow them to cross their face. As a result, TCU defenses are known for their ability to flow hard and quickly to the ball and arrive there with numbers.
The eight-man front helps fulfill one of Patterson’s central tenets, which is stopping the run first and foremost by outnumbering the offense at the point of attack. And since the front is disconnected from the secondary, but focused on pushing the ball to the safeties, the TCU front six will often slant or stunt to create confusion in opposing blocking schemes. In fact, there are 15 stunts and 15 twists in the Horned Frog playbook — the front wreaks havoc and the safeties are there to clean everything up.
It’s going to be a truly special season for TCU. I can feel it. Better jump on board, the train is leaving soon!