Young TCU defense grows, thrives again under Gary Patterson

Arizona Sports News online

TCU head coach Gary Patterson is a man of superstition.

A man who plays a mean guitar.

A man who goes snorkeling and skydiving in the off-season.

But most importantly for Horned-Frog fans, he’s a man who knows defense.

Even after making the jump from the Mountain West to the pass-happy Big 12, TCU (7-5) led the conference in rushing and total defense and finished second behind only Kansas State in scoring defense at 23.1 points per game. What’s even more impressive is Patterson’s defense starts only one senior, linebacker Kenny Cain.

“It’s a different style but we have a lot of great skill players,” Patterson explained Monday. “We’ve got a bunch of kids who have really developed.”

One of those is true freshman defensive end Devonte Fields after a pair of upperclassmen’s seasons were cut short due to the injury. The 6’4, 240-pounder from nearby Arlington, Texas finished the regular season with a team-high 17.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

“Obviously he is very athletic,” Patterson said. “He was a Freshman All-American…and was First Team All-Big 12. He stayed close to home [to attend TCU]. He could have gone anywhere in the country and he’s really stepped in. We’re very fortunate.”

Fields and the rest of the Frogs will need to be at the top of their game when they face Michigan State (6-6) and talented running back La’Veon Bell in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe Saturday night. The 6’2, 237-pound wrecking ball has rushed for over 3,200 yards and 32 touchdowns through three seasons.

The matchup presents an interesting contrast of styles as the Frogs have allowed only 103.9 yards per game on the ground this season.

Cain, the Horned Frogs leading tackler for the second straight season, anchors the middle of the defense, while lockdown junior cornerback and SI.com First-Team All American Jason Verrett patrols the secondary. Verrett’s six interceptions and 14 passes defended led the Big 12.

Patterson, who is 7-4 in career bowl games at TCU (116-35 overall), said the Horned Frogs are taking a businesslike approach to this weekend.

“We make bowl games important,” he told the assembled media. “A lot of people say bowl games are fun and they are fun, but I spell fun W-I-N. I don’t believe that you go to a bowl and it’s a good experience when you leave it you don’t win. The great experiences happen for about five or six days, but you always have something missing when you leave without winning the ballgame.”

Kickoff is set for 8:15 from Sun Devil Stadium with ESPN providing television coverage.

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.