TCU is down to a single player that started for them a season ago after losing sophomore Ranthony Texada for the season with a torn ACL against SMU. Alongside Derrick Kindred is a mixed bag of inexperienced players and walk-ons, as even the guys expected to compete for starting roles - or at least to be contributors as rotational players - are out of the fold due to position changes mandated by injuries. Kenny Iloka is out for the season, Montrel Wilson and Travin Howard have moved from safety to the starting linebacker spots, and other than Nick Orr - who has bounced from safety to corner so far - and Denzel Johnson, there haven't been a lot of bright spots on the back end. Let's take a look at what is going wrong for TCU when the ball is in the air.
TCU safeties don't backpedal, they shuffle. Patterson is essentially willing to trade percentages on the deep ball for opportunities to be aggressive and attacking on the shorter routes, which he trains his safeties to recognize through a pattern based system. Watch how former TCU safety Chris Hackett shuffles in place, reading former Tech QB Baker Mayfield's eyes, and basically luring him in to throwing a ball across the middle that Hackett breaks on for the pick:
On this one, Sam Carter reads the route and breaks to the inside of the out pattern, reading the Kansas QB and knowing he will have an angle on the ball. He is able to tip it to himself and corral it, making the interception along the sideline.
Now that works well when you have smart, fast, and instinctual players that have a lot of snaps under their belt, but when you have young, overmatched guys who are either playing their first collegiate snaps or have changed positions to fill a need, it's less successful: see, Saturday night.
For the most part, gambling on the percentages has been an effective philosophy for Gary Patterson and TCU, with few teams able to consistently hit on the deep passes against the Frogs' usually stout D. There has, of course, been one notable exception, but even against that team, the Frogs are 2-3, with the three Bear victories being by a single score, against the two blowouts GP's squad has leveled against them.
Well, it has been effective... until now. When you are lining up smart, experienced guys like Sam Carter, Kevin White, and Derrick Kindred, you can bet they will guess right most of the time and play in sync enough the rest to limit the damage. That's how a true freshman, and an undersized one at that, could be successful a season ago - Texada benefited from a lot of back up and surely a lot of extra study time from the older guys in the locker room. Circle around to 2015, and replacing White, Carter, and Hackett with
Iloka, Howard, Wilson, Johnson, Orr... well, Mosley, Downing, O'Meally... well, you see the problem now, don't you? For the most part, the corners that GP is now lining up have solid technique off the line, but have struggled with the ball in the air. That reared it's ugly head Saturday night, with multiple Frogs flagged for multiple PIs, as they were unable to get their head around to play the ball. Patterson, as you can imagine, was less than pleased:
Patterson: ‘Our backup corners, got nine games left. You better play the ball in the air, you better not panic, you better get ready to go.’
— Carlos A. Mendez (@calexmendez) September 20, 2015
The good news is, guys that were backups a week ago, pressed in to service, will get first team reps this week. Additionally, Patterson's 4-2-5, which is so hard to get a read on by opposing offenses, isn't necessarily complicated to learn for the guys playing in it. Outside of Downing (who has excellent technique and a great football brain - but runs about a five flat forty), there is a ton of speed in the secondary, and if they can get in the film room and get their reads down pat, that speed can make up for a lot. The bad news is, they are going to have their feet dropped plainly in the fire by one of the most explosive offenses in the country, led by a QB who can flat out sling it, in one of the flat out weirdest places to play in the conference. The secondary is going to have to be better, plain and simple. But with a QB who is less prone to run than Davis in Pat Mahomes, Patterson can afford to do more in game work with his young corners and safeties. He also will expect a better pass rush from his line and backers against Texas Tech, for that same reason. The possible return of Davion Pierson would also help with that in a big way.
Obviously, going forward, the combination of coaching and repetitions will be key to the Frogs having the opportunity to reach their goals. That will be evident Saturday, when the secondary faces one of the most high powered offenses in the country, that of the Red Raiders.