Texas Christian’s football heritage includes national championships, a Heisman Trophy, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh and LaDainian Tomlinson. But never have the Horned Frogs been this nationally prominent for so long.
TCU, which hosts Virginia in a Saturday matinee (11 a.m., kick Central time), is the nation’s only program to win at least 11 games in six of the past seven seasons. During that span, the Horned Frogs are 6-1 in bowls and have finished among the top 10 four times.
Conference snobs are quick to remind that TCU, a first-year member of the Big 12, did that damage while ruling the Mountain West. But understand that in this stretch, the Horned Frogs have won 11 games against opponents from the so-called BCS leagues.
That marked TCU’s first unbeaten year since Heisman-winning quarterback Davey O’Brien led the Horned Frogs to the 1938 national title, this two years after Baugh headed off to the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
Tomlinson brought the program notoriety as a 2000 All-American but nothing approaching its recent results under 12th-year head coach Gary Patterson.
So attractive were the Horned Frogs and their Dallas-Fort Worth market that the Big East and Big 12 invited them. TCU accepted the initial offer, from the Big East, but when the more geographically sensible Big 12 called, the school wisely bailed on the Big East before playing a game.
“They're a team that has a scheme and a system that they've been doing for a while, and they believe in it,” Virginia coach Mike London said.
London was not on the Cavaliers’ staff in 2009, when they lost at home to TCU 30-14. Prior to that game, then-Virginia coach Al Groh told anyone who would listen that the Horned Frogs could win the ACC.
The architect of this rise, and the primary reason Amon G. Carter Stadium just received a $164-million facelift, is Patterson, 111-30 in 11-plus seasons. TCU’s defensive coordinator from 1998-2000 under Dennis Franchione, Patterson was promoted by then-athletic director Eric Hyman when Franchione bolted for Alabama.
The new-look stadium seats a modest 45,000, so don’t mistake TCU for Texas or Texas A&M among colossal Lone Star State football outposts. But the program’s quality is undeniable.
True to Patterson’s roots, the Horned Frogs’ success is steeped in defense. So while Andy Dalton, quarterback of the Rose Bowl champs, is probably the program’s most visible alum, All-Americans such as defensive end Jerry Hughes and safety Tejay Johnson have been the linchpins.
“Their defense is giving up three points a game, 60 yards rushing, 225 yards total offense,” London said. “They play kind of a 4-2-5 defense that Richmond, Duke, Virginia Tech kind of employ a little bit. They're very aggressive and very athletic up front, and their safeties are involved in a lot of play making.
“I think it's a challenging defense because of whether you call them rovers or whether you call them the strong safeties that are down in the box, they're one of the elements that can force the run because they play their defensive ends in a six technique, meaning they're head up on the tight ends, so when the tight ends block, that employs a run read for those safeties.”
In opening victories over Grambling and Kansas, TCU (2-0) has allowed six points and no touchdowns. Opponents are averaging 2.1 yards per rush, problematic for a Cavaliers team that has struggled to run the ball.
“They kind of dare you to throw the ball,” London said, “but they have those defensive ends, linemen, outside safeties that can come off the edge or they can play coverage. They can run, so they're very fast and athletic.”
Patterson, whose staff includes former head coaches Eddie Williamson (VMI) and Randy Shannon (Miami), calls Virginia “very big and physical on both sides of the ball. … They are a lot better football team than who we played three years ago, when we went to Virginia.”
TCU was No. 16 then in the Associated Press poll and is No. 17 now. The Horned Frogs would be Virginia’s highest-ranked road conquest since a 1994 victory at No. 14 Virginia Tech, but they have won 27 of their last 28 at home, the exception a 40-33 overtime loss last season to Southern Methodist – TCU’s only other defeat last year was 50-48 against Robert Griffin III and Baylor.
The Horned Frogs’ headliners this season are defensive end Stansly Maponga, linebacker Kenny Cain and quarterback Casey Pachall. Waymon James, their leading rusher, is done for the year with a knee injury after averaging 9.9 yards per carry against Grambling and Kansas.
How they fare against the likes of Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia will be intriguing to watch.
For a compelling look at Patterson and TCU, check out this Sports Illustrated profile penned last year by S.L. Price.
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