Gary Patterson hates losing. Not exactly breaking news – every coach and competitor despises the wrong side of the scoreboard. The problem for Patterson is the product of the alternative. With winning comes attention.
There will be plenty of that in Fort Worth Saturday. ESPN’s College GameDay will be on campus to shine its mega-watt spotlight on No. 8 TCU, which takes on No. 23 West Virginia in the only game this weekend matching ranked teams. The Horned Frogs are a hot commodity and the flavor of the week because of their upset win at Stillwater on Sept. 24.
Patterson said after that game that his team wanted to be “relevant.” That it is. And that’s what gives the head coach headaches. Like former NFL coach Bill Parcells liked to say, “don’t eat the cheese.”
“You just have to understand people handle failure a lot better than they handle success,” Patterson told Sports Illustrated this week. “I’ve been probably a better underdog than I am a front-runner.”
One of the early significant victories of Patterson’s career came in 2005 when the Horned Frogs knocked off No. 7 Oklahoma in Norman. The back slaps and attaboys were forgotten when TCU lost to SMU in its next game – the only loss of that season. Patterson still stews over it.
He also spent this off-season preaching to his team about handling expectations and the outside noise that comes with winning. In 2016, the Frogs were thought to be a dark horse contender in the Big 12 but stumbled to a disappointing 6-7 record. One reason for the flop was TCU had just eight scholarship seniors. This year’s roster has 21.
There’s also the bounce-back factor that Patterson appears to have perfected. Last year was just the third losing season on his watch. The Frogs were 5-6 in 2004; the next season they finished 11-1. In the school’s second season in the Big 12, in 2013, TCU finished 4-8 and the next season went 12-1, tied for the Big 12 championship and came agonizingly close to a spot in the first College Football Playoff.
“They both have a toughness to them,” Patterson said when asked about any similarities between this year’s team and 2014. “And I’ve said that. Going into the season, I thought this group was more mature, I thought they liked each other.
“We’ve only played four games. I give them credit for what they’ve done so far, but we have to understand it’s just four ball games.”
The Mountaineers-Frogs matchup pits the Big 12’s two newcomers. The schools were drafted in 2011 after the defections of Missouri and Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference. And in a bit of irony, both quarterbacks are transfers from SEC schools.
West Virginia’s Will Grier, who started his career at Florida, is third in the Big 12 in passing efficiency and yards per game. Coupled with Justin Crawford, the league’s leading rusher, the Mountaineers are seventh in the FBS averaging 7.4 yards per play.
Senior Kenny Hill is in his second season at TCU after transferring from Texas A&M. Last season he led the Big 12 in interceptions, mostly because he tried to throw a touchdown on every pass. The Frogs lead the league in rushing and Hill is much more efficient, completing 72.6 percent of his passes. That number has been boosted thanks to his receivers – who led the nation in drops last season – catching what he throws.
“He’s playing really well,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Hill. “He’s been taking care of the ball better. That was a knock on him in the past. And then [his play on] critical downs. They’re running the ball a good bit. They’re not asking him to sit back there and throw the ball 90 percent of the time. He has a lot of good people around him, but he is managing [games] extremely well.”
Patterson was TCU’s defensive coordinator before being selected to replace Dennis Franchione as coach. And Patterson, one of the best defensive schemers in FBS, still runs the Frogs’ defense. He’ll be trying to have his “x’s” to bottle up the West Virginia’s “o’s.” On the other side, Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson uses a unique 3-3-5 system that morphs pass rush and coverages seemingly in mid-play. How Hill finds his targets in the maelstrom will be worth watching.
All the ingredients are in place for one of the best games of Week Six.
“You want to make sure that you play well on a big stage,” Patterson said. “Like I said, there’s games you’re supposed to win, and then big games take care of themselves. I think this is a big game. They don’t need any added incentive or pressure from me.”
Rhule sets his rules
This is it how it is: Whenever there’s a player discipline issue at Baylor, Tweets feature the eye-roll emoji and the cynics fire away at a can’t-miss target. A school still reeling from one of the seediest scandals in college sports history doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.
Matt Rhule is a smart man who understands the nature of his job. He’s in his first season as the Bears’ coach and there’s a decent chance the team will go 0-12. That’s the on-field problem that is expected for a team playing 11 freshmen and a major reason Rhule has a seven-year contract.
On Tuesday, Baylor’s best running back Terence Williams was apparently one of three players dismissed from the team. He even posted a farewell message on Snapchat.
Williams, though, is still on the team. Senior backups Ish Wilson and Jourdan Blake turned in their playbooks. Williams asked for a reprieve and Rhule turned the matter over to the team’s leadership council. They voted to give Williams a second and final chance.
“I told [Williams] that there are different standards that have to be met,” Rhule said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s about having a code of conduct that’s at the highest level. We voted and decided he deserved a second chance. I told him there would be no third chance.”
Huh. A couple of backups get the boot but the team’s best running back remains. More Bayloring?
Your Veteran Scribe is a life-long, card-carrying cynic. But in this case, Rhule deserves credit for setting his standards and holding his players accountable. There were no criminal actions by the three players in question. What they did was fail to adhere to Rhule’s Laws.
“I didn’t come here to just build a great team this year. I probably would’ve gone somewhere else if that’s what I wanted to do,” Rhule said. “I came here to try to continue to build a great program with standards and expectations where you know, when I sit here and tell you guys these are great kids on the field, off the field, in the classroom, that I’m speaking the truth. Those standards are high, our players are meeting them and I’m proud of our players.”
Three and out
- Kelsey Patterson, wife of the TCU football coach, has organized 20 wives of college football head coaches in a fundraising effort for hurricane relief in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico. The project, called “Giving Beyond The Game,” will have a website and an online auction. The auction will include helmets signed by the head coaches at Auburn, Clemson, Miami, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Stanford, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and TCU.
- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 21-0 when he coaches against first-year Big 12 coaches. He extended that record with Saturday’s victory over Baylor and Matt Rhule. This Saturday Snyder and the Wildcats will face first-year Texas coach Tom Herman. It will also be Snyder’s 78th.
- Unlike recent years, wakeup calls for Texas and Oklahoma fans won’t be needed for the annual Red River Rivalry in Dallas. The Big 12 announced Monday the game, which has had what seems to have been a perpetual 11 a.m. CST kickoff, will kick at 2:30 p.m. CT on Oct. 14. That means fans will have more time to enjoy adult beverages and corny dogs at the State Fair which is in session just outside the Cotton Bowl’s gates.