The TCU defense has had its share of downs this season, but the unit has recently had way more high points.
After giving up 40-plus points twice in their first five games, the Horned Frogs have settled down and looked more like their old selves as they head into an important Mountain West game at Wyoming (5-2, 2-0) on Saturday.
TCU (6-2, 3-0) has won three three games since losing to SMU 40-33 in overtime. That includes a shutout against woefully bad New Mexico. In those three games, TCU has 10 takeaways after totaling just six in the opening five games. The Horned Frogs have not committed a turnover in their last two games and were a season-best plus-3 against both New Mexico and BYU.
When asked what was the biggest difference in his team's play on defense the last three weeks, coach Gary Patterson said Tuesday, "It's been our legs," he said. "[Against] New Mexico, watching us run to the football, we looked like the team of old. We were able to run around, be more physical. Fresher teams get more turnovers and tackle better and hopefully that continues for the next four games."
TCU had a bye before the New Mexico game, and Patterson said that was sorely needed for his team to rest, especially after playing up-tempo teams like Baylor and SMU. Those teams gave the pass defense particular fits, and TCU allowed 40 or more points twice in a season for the first time since 2004.
That year, TCU went 5-6 and finished with the No. 99 total defense in the country. The Horned Frogs were ranked No. 103 in total defense after the first three weeks of this season, but have steadily climbed up to a very respectable No. 38 with their play of late. They have had to deal with key injuries -- including losing starting linebacker Tanner Brock for the season -- as well as inexperienced players at several difference positions.
Consider that TCU just started the same 11 players on defense in back-to-back contests for the first time this season.
What also has helped has been an increased pass rush. After getting one sack in the first two games, TCU has 17 in the last six. You can bet the Horned Frogs are going to try and be sure they get plenty of pressure on Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, a true freshman who has been able to hold his own this season.
While the defense has struggled with consistency, first-year starter Casey Pachall has done a nice job directing the offense. Pachall ranks ninth in the nation in pass efficiency rating (162.4), and is on pace to set TCU single-season records for completions, completion percentage and touchdown passes. He has thrown for 19 scores with just four interceptions. TCU also has gotten backup quarterback Matt Brown involved as a change of pace, as he has scored two touchdowns in each of the last two games.
Meanwhile, receiver Josh Boyce is on pace for TCU single-season marks in both receptions (42) and receiving yards (653), and the running game has averaged more than 200 yards a game.
So TCU is not out of anything just yet -- especially with a huge showdown against No. 5 Boise State looming next week.