‘Really bad or really good.’ TCU’s defense searching for consistency during bye

TCU has the top-ranked defense in the Big 12, the only team allowing less than 300 yards of total offense in a game.

But those numbers are a little misleading through five games. TCU ranks as the league’s middle team in scoring defense at fifth (24.8 points), and ranks eighth in sacks and red zone defense.

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As coach Gary Patterson put it on Monday, the Frogs have either been “really good” or “really bad” on the defensive end.

They were “really good” in their three wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Purdue and Kansas. UAPB had the most yards in that group with 215.

In losses to SMU and Iowa State, though, TCU carried the “really bad” label. SMU and Iowa State each put up more than 40 points and 400 yards.

“They have the potential to be really good all the time,” Patterson said on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “But when they’re really bad, we’ve been really bad.

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“We need to get to where we play either really good or pretty good, not bad.”

TCU will use this bye week to try and find some consistency on the defensive end before it takes on Kansas State on Oct. 19.

In particular, Patterson would like to see improved play by his safeties. He named senior Vernon Scott as a player who did not play well in the Iowa State game, and went on to say the entire group, including free safety Trevon Moehrig and strong safety Innis Gaines, struggled.

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy had success through the air (247 yards and two touchdowns) and on the ground (102 yards and two TDs on 12 carries).

“Really all three of them didn’t play very well Saturday,” Patterson said. “We have to play a lot better. In this defense, you have to play a lot better if we want to be really good, but we did not play very well Saturday.”

There were missed tackles and missed assignments throughout the day, and Patterson said experience is not an excuse for the secondary. Scott and Gaines are seniors, as are cornerbacks Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis.

The top backups pushing the safeties are all freshmen in some capacity, including Nook Bradford, Ar’Darius Washington, Atanza Vongor and Josh Foster.

Along with the safety group, Patterson mentioned the linebacker position as a position that must improve. Garret Wallow is having a successful junior season, but the Frogs continue to search for answers opposite him.

Sophomore La’Kendrick Van Zandt has started three of the five games, including the first two Big 12 games, but is still new to the position after spending much of the offseason working at safety.

True freshman Dee Winters has also seen significant time at linebacker.

“We didn’t get anything in the ballgame that we didn’t work on and practice,” said Patterson, referring to the Iowa State game. “We just didn’t do it. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

That’s a similar message echoed by Wallow after the game.

“For TCU’s defense, we know it’s unacceptable to play like that,” Wallow said. “We just got to play at a higher level. There’s nothing around it.

“I feel like this bye week will be a challenge, but it will be good for us to take the next step and find out how we respond for the next seven games.”

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This story was originally published October 8, 2019 5:00 AM.

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