TCU's Recipe for Success in San Diego

Last season, TCU had to come-from-behind to beat SDSU. What does Coach Patterson need to do to ensure TCU (Horned Frog schedule, roster, stats) leads the entire way this Saturday in San Diego?

Let's cut to the crap, shall we? TCU’s woes this season have been almost entirely defensive—which has prompted something of an identity crisis in greater Frogdom. Hadn’t we made it to the "we reload, not rebuild" stratus? (What’s that? Ohio State, Florida State, and USC are wondering the same thing? Geez; maybe there is no such things as "re-load status" after all...) College football is a cruel universe, when it decides to be.

Part of the cruelty is how narrow TCU’s losses have been, despite the Frogs’ shamefully porous secondary. If you reverse just one bad play, or bad call (see: half the calls in the SMU game), or element of bad luck in each of TCU’s losses, and TCU is 5-0. But while you could say the Frogs are one missed field goal and one missed two-point conversion from perfect, that would be misleading. The truer statement is that TCU’s defense has played so badly that it couldn’t keep its opponents further than a missed field goal, bad call, or missed extra point away from beating the Frogs twice.

The rot in TCU’s defense is not limited to one particular position, or player. Rather, it’s been all about poor man coverage in the secondary, and poor tackling, and poor pass rush. But if there’s any single thing that TCU could correct to reverse its fortunes it would be the poor man coverage in the secondary.

There’s enough blame to cover all of the back five, and all of their backups. Greg McCoy, who was supposed to be a senior stud at corner, has become easy pickings for receivers looking to get behind the defense. Senior Johnny Fobbs just falls down as the ball floats over his head towards outstretched arms that are speeding away, headed for six points. Junior Devin Johnson, a walk-on and backup who turns heads for a couple years in practice and played much of the SMU game, let the Ponies’ go-to receiver get behind him in the endzone for six big ones. Safeties Tek Cuba, Trent Thomas, Sam Carter, and Jonathan Anderson, and corners Jason Verrett and Kevin White all have let ‘em go by at least once this season.

In a way, this makes Gary Patterson's job easier when preparing for San Diego State this week. (Did San Diego State have a bye-week watching party to see TCU hand SMU points, and then more points, and then more points on Saturday?) All TCU's coaches have to do is teach their safeties and corners how to play good coverage. They've clearly made progress with one of them-- JUCO transfer Jason Verrett has been much improved, after being embarrassed by Robert Griffin III in Waco to open the season. But the rest of the crew has shown only regression.

But by now Frog fans are beginning to ask: how has this coaching staff, which pretty regularly fields the nation's leading defense, assembled a secondary that is this bad at covering receivers? Maybe you give them a pass for Baylor, which has very good receivers and a freakishly accurate passer throwing to them. But J. J. McDermott is not that; he overthrew open receivers as often as not last weekend. Does TCU miss Chad Glasgow, the safeties coach who is now running the defense at Texas Tech? Judging by Kansas's success against the Raiders, I'm guessing the answer is no, but I'm not going to bet the farm on that.

Maybe the solution this week is simpler than improving TCU's man coverage. Any improvement in the pass rush would help the Frogs keep Ryan Lindley off his rhythm. He's working with perhaps the worst set of receivers to test TCU all season, so some QB hurries might be all TCU needs to upset the tenuous rapport Lindley has developed with his receivers. If the Frogs could discover their old defensive mojo and force SDSU to be one dimensional, likely the Frogs could fly home from the coast quite happy.

Solid tackling might do the trick, also. Because SDSU doesn't have real vertical threats like it had last season, TCU probably could keep the Aztecs out of the game by tackling Ronnie Hillman with real authority. Hillman had a very pedestrian game in Fort Worth last season, but he's shouldering more of the load this season.

But for my money, the single improvement TCU could make that would most improve its fortunes this week, and for the remainder of the 2011, it would be tightening its coverage in the secondary, and not giving up the deep ball.

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