TCU Preview: Defense

TCU coach Gary Patterson has crafted 4-2-5 defense that thrives on speed and sound fundamentals … again.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson takes a particular level of pride in this side of the ball, and it shows. Patterson's patented 4-2-5 scheme gets more speed on the field and relies on sound, fundamental play as opposed to anything too blitz-happy. In fact, TCU makes its living at stopping the run — opponents average just 3.1 yards per carry against the Horned Frogs this year — and then plays pattern-matching coverages that double-teams the biggest receiving threats. When those coverages are coupled with a stout and active defensive line, passing situations become jails for opposing offenses. Overall, TCU is ranked 13th nationally in Defensive S&P+, making the Horned Frogs the second-best defense (to BYU) that the Longhorns have faced so far.

The scary thing is that TCU's defense could have been better if not for the suspension of, then season-ending injury to, Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. It's not that the defense has struggled to find sacks in Fields's absence — TCU has 24 sacks for a whopping 163 yards so far this year — but they've come from all over the football field. Replacement end Terrell Lathan (6-5 280) leads the team with four sacks, and he has 6.0 total tackles for loss. Former walk-on Jon Koontz (6-2 265) is solid opposite Lathan with three tackles for loss and another sack. And TCU might have the best pair of defensive tackles in the league in stocky Chucky Hunter (6-1 300) and Davion Pierson (6-2 305). Together, they've combined for eight tackles for loss and are a factor on nearly every play. Another impressive thing here is the depth … backup defensive tackle Jon Lewis (6-2 290) has 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, while backup defensive end James McFarland (6-3 248) has 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.

If there's an area where the Horned Frogs aren't quite as good as they have been, it's at linebacker. But that doesn't mean TCU is poor there … just solid. Marcus Mallet (6-2 230) and Paul Dawson (6-1 227) are the listed starters, and those two, along with backup Jonathan Anderson (6-3 227) make up TCU's third, fourth and fifth-leading tacklers. Mallet leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss among his 40 stops. Dawson has 36 tackles including 4.5 per loss. And Anderson, who might be the best athlete of the bunch, has 33 tackles and has forced two fumbles.

If course, you could almost call strong safety Sam Carter (6-1 215) a linebacker because of his size and destructive nature in the box. Carter has 21 tackles this year, but 4.5 of those stops have come in the backfield, including two sacks, and he has one forced fumble and three picks. Weak safety Chris Hackett (6-2 195) can top those turnover numbers — he has three picks and two forced fumbles. Hackett leads the team in tackles with 47, and he has 3.0 tackles for loss, two sacks and four passes broken up. Elisha Olabode (5-11 193) is an active free safety as well with 41 tackles and six passes broken up this year.

But while the safety corps is outstanding, the best defensive back on the squad is senior All-America candidate Jason Verrett (5-10 176) at cornerback. Verrett will take some chances to dare people to throw at him … it's how he has 11 passes broken up on the year. He's a highly competitive cover guy who seems to take it as a personal insult when people challenge him. Kevin White (5-10 174) isn't as good as Verrett, but few corners are. Because Verrett is so good, TCU can roll coverages and provide extra help for White, who has two picks on the year. Verrett also deserves credit as a tackler, making 3.5 tackles for loss on the year because of his aggressive nature.

Ethan Perry has been a strong directional punter, averaging 41.0 yards per punt and putting 15 of his 43 punts inside the 20 with just three touchbacks.