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October 5, 2012Last year, the TCU secondary couldn't get into a rhythm, while opposing offenses couldn't seem to get out of a rhythm through the Horned Frogs' first five games.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw for 359 yards and five touchdowns in a 50-48 win over TCU, and J.J. McDermott, who entered 2011 as a backup, tossed four touchdowns in the Mustangs' 40-33 win at Amon G. Carter Stadium, dropping the Frogs to 3-2 at the time.
Oh, how things have changed.
A little more than a year since its home loss to SMU, TCU (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big 12) has won 12 games in a row, the longest streak in the nation, and its defense, so porous at times early last year, has given up 7.3 points a game, good for No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama.
Perhaps more importantly than that, the Frogs, who host Iowa State (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday, have given up only two touchdowns through the air, a garbage score two weeks ago against Virginia and a touchdown late in the game against SMU. Against the Mustangs last week, TCU picked off five passes en route to a 24-16 win.
Part of the maturation of the secondary has been junior Elisha Olabode's move to free safety. Olabode, who played cornerback last year, has been involved in a turnover in each game this season, picking off passes against Grambling State and SMU, recovering a fumble at Kansas and forcing a fumble against Virginia.
Olabode's athleticism eased his transition to the new position, which is good for the Frogs as they enter a more pass-heavy league, TCU head coach Gary Patterson said.
"I'm not sure the free safety in the league we're playing in always needs to be a corner that's smarter that has to learn how to hit you," Patterson said. "That guy has to play some very tough 'H' receivers. And you've got to be able to run, and you've got to have man skills."
Olabode's interception and 51-yard return against the Mustangs set TCU up for a touchdown. That play was a product of him adjusting to an unfamiliar scenario and putting himself where he needed to be, Patterson said.
"They hadn't run the play all year," Patterson said. "But he followed his rules about how to play the position, and he was in the right position to do the things he needed to do. That's what a veteran team does."
Granted, TCU this year hasn't faced a Heisman-caliber quarterback like Griffin, nor has it lined up against an offense relatively close to the explosiveness Baylor had last year.
Kansas runs a spread offense, but the Jayhawks were more effective on the ground when they played the Frogs. Virginia ran somewhat of a pro-style offense, not posing too much of a threat through the air.
Of all TCU's opponents this year, SMU's run and shoot style might have lent itself most to being able to exploit any secondary flaws. But Garrett Gilbert has been largely ineffective all season, and the rainy conditions Saturday limited him even more as his receivers tallied up double-digit drops.
Now, the Frogs face an Iowa State team that's 3-1 but has questions marks at the quarterback position. Steele Jantz threw three interceptions last week against Texas Tech. He was sacked four times and managed only 76 yards passing. Sophomore Jared Barnett, who started six games last year, could see playing time Saturday at quarterback.
The Frogs will be preparing the same either way.
"They run the same offense with both [Jantz and Barnett]," Patterson said. "They both run. They both keep it. They both can scramble. They both can throw."
Still, the Cyclones, with whomever they start at quarterback, hardly pose the same threat, offensively, as, say, Baylor, who even without Griffin put up 63 points at West Virginia last week. And the Bears, who TCU plays next week, are just the beginning of the Frogs' back-loaded schedule.
But even without a true litmus test, the TCU defense has found something valuable through four games, regardless of the opponent.
"They've gained confidence," Patterson said. "Every time you have a goal line stand or get that many interceptions, then they listen more."
Convincing his team to buy into what they're hearing is crucial, Patterson said.
"Football's not just about Xs and Os," Patterson said. "To be honest, you're a salesman. You got to sell your program, not just to your constituents, not just to your alumni, but you got to sell it to your own team that what you do is the best in the business."
Kickoff against ISU is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. and is being televised on Fox Sports Net.