Patterson's success at TCU built on odd defense
There are so many touchdowns scored and yards gained in the Big 12 that the conference could open each game telecast with music from classic Western movies — it’s usually three-plus hours of shootouts and chase scenes.
Texas Christian has been one of the gang with a fast-break offensive mentality.
But since Gary Patterson became defensive coordinator under Dennis Franchione in 1998 and then coach in 2000, the Horned Frogs’ heartbeat has been a 4-2-5 defense that has driven opponents bonkers.
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In 2017, TCU had 42 sacks, forced 20 turnovers, scored 83 points off turnovers, and allowed just 3.0 yards per carry and a 31 percent completion rate on passes.
Ohio State (2-0) will face this puzzle when it plays the Horned Frogs (2-0) on Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“His ability to consistently find ways to get the extra hat on the ball in the running game and constantly changing up coverage in the passing game, it’s really impressive,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said of Patterson. “He has the ability to feel the game.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said the TCU defensive scheme has confused him to no end, but he noted that the real story is the players.
“It’s not tricky,” he said. “They are hard to block. They are relentless.”
Patterson learned the 4-2-5 as an assistant under Franchione in 1988 at Pittsburg State of NCAA Division II. By the time he took over at TCU, it became religion for him. The team led Division I in total defense in 2000, ’02, ’08, ’09 and ’10.
The defense helped TCU to seven top-10 finishes in 17 seasons and at least 11 victories in 10 of the previous 15 seasons, but it’s far from impenetrable. Last season, it gave up 36 points to SMU, 31 to Oklahoma State and 37 to Stanford in victories, and 38 and 41 to Oklahoma in losses.
What is so special about the 4-2-5?
For one thing, the front six and secondary call their pre-snap coverages separately, with two coaches giving signals on the sideline.
“We divide into attack groups,” Patterson said.
The fun — or pain, for opponents — begins before the snap. Both safeties line up just outside the tackle box so they are on the spot to stop the run. An extra defensive back means TCU is ready for a pass on every play.
There is a lot of stunting to confuse the quarterback, delay the snap and put the brakes on a no-huddle offense.
“Instead of lining up and going fast, the offense will slow down to see how we align,” Patterson said. “Their advantage of going fast and controlling the tempo is now our advantage. You must make a better call than we do.”
In practice, TCU has two scout team offenses run play after play against the defense, forcing Patterson to make a call every six seconds and the players to react rather than think.
Once the ball is snapped, three defensive backs might be covering half the field in man-to-man and the other two in a zone.
“It can deceive you,” Holgorsen said. “Sometimes I get confused if it’s man or zone because there is a lot of matching of routes that goes on that looks like man.”
Meanwhile, the front six are swarming with slants and twists, shooting and filling gaps. The priority is to stop the run first.
The 4-2-5 helps a team like the Horned Frogs match up better with the so-called big boys. They don’t get many four- and five-star recruits but have some bragging rights in the state after having defeated Texas four straight seasons.
“I think that only added chips on my shoulder,” senior defensive end Ben Banogu said of the perception TCU doesn’t have blue-chip talent. “Coach P gets guys who he wants, guys who he can mold and fit in his defense.”