AUSTIN, Texas -- Ask Jaxon Shipley what comes to mind on the topic of the TCU defense and he keeps his answer simple.
“I think of Verrett,” he said.
That would be Jason Verrett, the Horned Frogs’ All-America cornerback. The first thought was not TCU's 3-4 record, its rough start to Big 12 play, or the fact that arguably its best player (defensive end Devonte Fields) is out for the season.
Gary Patterson’s defense has earned Texas’ full respect, and it’s safe to say Mack Brown and his players expect a serious challenge in Fort Worth on Saturday. Brown made that perfectly clear during his press conference on Wednesday.
“Can we continue to have balance and be patient with the running game and use the play-action pass like we did against OU against one of the best defensive teams in the country?” Brown said.
He means that compliment when he offers it. While TCU’s defense doesn’t lead the Big 12 in scoring or total defense, it’s among the 10 best in the country in three critical measures: Red-zone defense, sacks and forcing turnovers.
And TCU has a credible case for saying its schedule has been one of the nation’s toughest. The four teams that have bested the Frogs are all ranked in the BCS standings and currently are a combined 24-4.
“I really feel like Gary's hung in there,” Brown said. “We were a big win for him last year at the end of the year when we were still in the conference championship race. I think to make a decision on what his team's going to do this year this early is not fair, because they've played three of the toughest teams in our league.”
And that win in Austin last Thanksgiving might be the best this TCU defense has produced in its first 13 Big 12 games. The Longhorns produced 13 points, 300 total yards, 86 rushing yards, converted 27 percent of third downs and scored touchdowns on just one of their four trips to the red zone.
And to Brown, Patterson’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme looks awfully similar no matter which players he plugs in.
“They are who they are, and they haven’t changed it at all,” Brown said. “They totally have bought in to what Gary does defensively and I think that's why they're so good. They're not going to change and they're not going to worry about you.
“I think they coach defense and their teams play defense as good as anybody in the country.”
So what is Texas going to do about it? Scoring early and often would swing this game considerably, especially considering how poorly TCU’s offense has fared in the first half this season. But will that early offense come via the run, and can Texas pound the rock 59 times -- as it did against OU -- and expect another 255-yard outcome?
Against the Sooners, Texas didn’t seem to need too many in-game adjustments offensively. The run was working again and again.
This week, Brown and his staff will be ready for a serious chess match. No matter their record, the Frogs are worth fearing.