It took Gary Patterson a long time to make it to the podium Saturday afternoon. As the small throng of reporters waited... and waited... and waited on the Horned Frog coach’s appearance for the post game press conference, it became apparent that a long day was going to make for a long night.
I don’t think many realists expected TCU to win in Ames against an up-and-coming Iowa State team still stinging from a loss at Baylor a week ago. Brock Purdy was the more seasoned QB on the field and the Cyclones game plan was frankly better in all aspects.
Gary Patterson has never been okay with being average. His steadfast commitment to maximizing every resource at his disposal is what has brought TCU Football to this point — winners of New Year’s Six Bowl Games, members of the Big 12 Conference, residents of one of the most picturesque and perfect stadiums in all of college football (I have been to a lot of them - Amon G Carter is a gem).
But that’s also what should be concerning to TCU fans: if ever GP were to worry he had lost his fastball, well... I don’t want to think about that.
As he sat down at the folding table in front of a purple banner adorned with TCU and Texas Farm Bureau Insurance logos, he said simply “as I told Coach Campbell, they kicked our butts. Every phase.” Now a veteran figure amongst the coaches in the Big 12 conference, Patterson has to feel a mix of pride and — not fear, maybe reluctant acceptance. Young, talented, up-and-coming coaches litter the league’s coaching staffs, guys Patterson has been a willing mentor to, guys like Campbell, Matt Rhule, and Chris Klieman. Guys at programs trying mightily to pass TCU’s.
Saturday wasn’t the lowest point for TCU Football; those of us who have been around for a while have seen much worse. And it doesn’t feel like this season is completely over, either. But watching two of the Frogs’ main rivals jump out to a combined 11-0 start (Baylor and SMU) only serves to further aggravate a fan base that was hoping this would be another patented Patterson bounce back year.
And it appears that isn’t going to be the case.
Heading into TCU’s second and final bye week of the season, Patterson’s message was clear: “If you want to be average, then you’re okay with it. If you want to be great, you’re not okay with it.” Patterson is certainly not okay with it, and neither are his veteran leaders. But being not okay and being able to do something about it are two very different things. It’s hard to determine who this team is - their two wins over Power Five opponents came against Purdue (1-4) and Kansas (2-4), and the two good teams they have played have controlled the game from start to finish. The mix of veterans and young players has made for inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, and while the growth and progress of young players like Max Duggan, Trevon Moehrig, and Te’Vailance Hunt is exciting, having patience with them as they develop - while knowing that this is the last season of Darius Anderson and Jeff Gladney — and probably Jalen Reagor and Ross Blacklock — is difficult. It’s also weird, frankly, to watch a Gary Patterson defense struggle so mightily on the defensive side of the ball. There’s too much talent there for them not to get stops when they need them, and yet, as the offense finally got rolling, they allowed Purdy to march the Cyclones 75 down the field for a score — TWICE — that sucked all of the life out of the Horned Frogs. Wallow put a lot of the loss on his unit. “For TCU’s defense, we know it’s unacceptable to play like that. We’ve just got to play at a higher level. There’s nothing around it.” Patterson agreed, saying “I’m also not OK with 49 points and not tackling and not playing leverage.”
The offensive issues have certainly exasperated the defensive; turnovers, lack of time of possession, field position… GP has been more invested in why the other room is doing this season, and thus has to be less invested in where he’s at his best. Something has to give, and I would be surprised to not see more staff reorganization after this season, no matter how it ends.
So what do we take away from what happened Saturday in Ames?
I think, above all else, it’s the understanding that this team is a work in progress, and likely a bit behind the development of some of the other young teams in the conference who had a bit of a head start in rebuilding. But I still assert that the future is bright in Funky Town and that Patterson is the person to bring them there.