There aren’t many speedsters in the plodding Big Ten. Perhaps that’s why Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones was so impressed with TCU’s athleticism last week at AT&T Stadium.
“They’re a very fast team, probably the fastest team I’ve played since I’ve been in college,” Jones told reporters after the Buckeyes’ 40-28 win.
TCU’s purple-cladded warhorse Gary Patterson probably chuckled.
“I think we’re the same,” Patterson said. “As a general rule, we’ve always been fast.”
For eight years, Chris Del Conte saw that speed up close as TCU’s athletic director. Now in the same role at Texas, he’s dreaming up ways to help the Longhorns end their four-game losing streak against the 17th-ranked Horned Frogs.
“I was thinking about ripping out the turf right now and going straight mud,” Del Conte said. “Fans come in and say, ‘What happened?’ Who knows!?”
This used to be an easy win for Texas. Back in the Southwest Conference days, the Longhorns could go decades without losing to the Frogs. All that changed once TCU joined the Big 12. Now, TCU holds a 5-1 record over Texas since 2012. Patterson has beaten three UT head coaches — Mack Brown, Charlie Strong and Tom Herman.
“He’s won four straight against the University of Texas,” Herman said of Patterson, “so a ton of respect for him.”
Both teams are 2-1 heading into Saturday’s Big 12 opener. But the programs have flipped positions. While the Horns were stuck in the mud, the Frogs literally ran right on by. The last four games weren’t even close.
In 2014, TCU ruined Thanksgiving with a 48-10 demolition at Royal-Memorial Stadium. In 2015, TCU had a 30-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Horns limped back home with a 50-7 loss.
Former coach Charlie Strong had a chance to make a bowl game and save his job with a win over TCU in 2016. But when TCU’s Darius Anderson scored on a 70-yard touchdown run to finish off a 31-9 victory, the Strong era was indeed over.
Herman knew Texas needed to change that trend last year. Alas, same song, different coach. Only Anderson had to run 31 yards this time to polish off a 24-7 victory.
Oklahoma legend Barry Switzer pulled off that rare trifecta when he defeated Darrell Royal, Fred Akers and David McWilliams at various points from 1973-1988. Patterson’s in rare company.
Well, maybe that’s not so impressive. Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy has also beaten Brown, Strong and Herman. Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen can join that group at some point, although Herman prefers they don’t.
“This is the third head coach I’ve been against in this process,” Patterson said. “I thought Mack Brown was unbelievable in his tenure at Texas. He’s the one that’s beaten me twice.”
The current Texas coaching staff knows full well that beating TCU has been a problem.
“I don’t comment on the stuff that happened here beforehand, but I’m aware of what you’re saying,” UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “Last year, going up there was kind of a test for us. They pride themselves on being physical and tough and well coached. That’s what we’re working to get here.”
So here come the Frogs again, hustling down Interstate 35 with the goal of running straight through the Longhorns.
“We know they’re going to come in with the will to beat us,” UT linebacker Gary Johnson said. “They know they can beat us because they’ve beaten us before. We’ve just got to do what we do and execute.”
When you X-ray this particular TCU bunch, it almost looks like Texas.
TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson is blossoming in his second year. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie wants the sophomore to stay in the pocket more but not be afraid to run if the situation warrants. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take on so many tacklers. Get out of bounds.
The same thing could be written about Texas sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Robinson is averaging 6.6 yards per rushing attempt and has thrown five touchdowns with three interceptions. He had a career-high 315 total yards against Ohio State. Ehlinger has thrown for two touchdowns in all three of UT’s games thus far.
Anderson, a junior, currently ranks first in TCU history with 6.8 rushing yards per attempt. He’s healthy again after a November knee injury short-circuited his sophomore season.
Texas has a standout running back trying to recover from a knee injury, too. Freshman Keaontay Ingram missed the USC game and was running in a straight line the day after. UT coaches have been coy about his availability this week.
Both teams feel good about their offensive lines, although Texas would still love to have a healthy Zach Shackelford (foot) back in the lineup.
“They’re starting to get some consistency in those guys,” UT offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “This will be a big challenge for them. They know it. This is gonna be rated R, now.”
Both teams like their secondary units. Don’t be surprised if TCU goes with redshirt freshman Noah Daniels at corner. Texas receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (17 receptions, 275 yards, two touchdowns) has been all over the field in three games. How will Patterson, who calls all the TCU’s defensive plays, account for him?
Texas safeties Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns can’t let anyone get behind them, or their orange could get more burnt. See any of the previous four games to find out why.
Texas will be without linebacker Malcolm Roach, who is out 6-8 weeks with a fractured foot.
“He was a leader on our defense,” Johnson said. “He’ll talk to you no matter what. He’s always talking, making sure you’re locked into the game and having fun with it and not moping around.”
Moping was not allowed around Austin this week. Texas thumped USC 37-14 last Saturday in front of a record crowd of 103,507. Everyone inside the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center needed that. Now, Texas must take another step forward.
Beating TCU, a legitimate Big 12 title contender, would truly indicate that Herman’s team has turned some corner. If nothing else, it would get that giant Frog off the Horns’ backs.
“You’ve got to understand that you win one game doesn’t mean you blow the next,” defensive tackle Charles Omenihu said. “Whatever you did in that one game, you’ve got to double up in the next. We’ve got to flush this game and get prepared for TCU.
“They’re a good team, you feel me? They’re a very good team,” he added. “We’ve got to prepare twice as hard.”
Maybe four times as hard.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.