FORT WORTH, Texas — All-Big 12 linebacker Travin Howard and the rest of the TCU defenders don't worry about going from stifling a grind-it-on-the-ground offense one week to having to face a big-passing team the next.
The 20th-ranked Horned Frogs just do what their coach tells them to do.
"You're just trusting in coach Gary Patterson's way. He's going to come up with a great game plan and you just practice throughout the week, and we'll be just fine," said Howard, TCU's leading tackler for the third year in a row. "All I have to say: Check his resume."
After holding FCS team Jackson State to 65 total yards in a season-opening shutout, TCU limited ball-hogging Arkansas to 267 total yards and only 54 offensive snaps in a 28-7 victory. Next up is Saturday's non-conference finale at home against SMU, which is averaging 56 points and 479 yards per game.
"They play hard and we've got some guys in our intelligent positions that are making good checks and doing things," Patterson said of his defense. "Anytime you get a defense to play hard, and have a little smarts to it, then you're going to have an opportunity to stop people."This is Patterson's 17th season as head coach of the Frogs, the second-longest active tenure by an FBS coach. But like for three years before that as their defensive coordinator, he still oversees that side of the ball.
TCU led the nation in total defense five times from 2000 to 2010. With Patterson's 4-2-5 schemes, the Frogs quickly established themselves as one of the top defenses in the Big 12 after moving to the spread-out offensive league in 2012.
Now Patterson says he has one of his fastest defenses, though he quickly points out that speed doesn't matter without being physical like it was against the SEC team last weekend.
"I was very proud that we were more physical," he said.
Another big factor for defensive success under Patterson is having depth with second-teamers able to step in and do the same thing as the starters.
"For us to play in this league as fast as everybody goes, you're going to have to able to rotate, and we tried to get that done," he said.
These Frogs have so much depth at linebacker that Ty Summers was moved to defensive end after his 121 tackles last season were second in the Big 12 only to Howard's 130. Summers is among eight or nine players who have already seen action on the front four.
"We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience, a lot of guys that you can count on," Howard said. "A lot of guys can play multiple positions. If one goes out, then the next person comes in and does just as well as the first guy."
That formula has worked well for Patterson, who often converts offensive skill guys into standout defenders, such as former prep quarterback-turned-cornerback Ridwan Issahaku. Howard and Montrel Wilson were high school safeties, but now they are linebackers.
In the five seasons under Patterson that the Frogs led the nation in total defense, opposing offenses averaged about 61 snaps per game.
That increased to about 73 1/2 plays per game in their first five seasons in the Big 12. TCU has finished outside the top two in the league in total defense only once, and its 166 yards-against average early this season is 92 yards a game less than second-ranked Oklahoma has allowed.
"Everybody says well, offense is doing this. Well, it's the defense's job to get themselves off the field," Patterson said. "That's what we've always felt like here, and we'll continue to do that."