NCF Nation: Greg McCoy

Poinsettia Bowl Keys

December, 21, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for TCU and Louisiana Tech in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl:

TCU (10-2)

1. Move on: No doubt, the Horned Frogs have to be a little disappointed after failing to reach a BCS bowl game after going in back-to-back years. But head coach Gary Patterson said that's in the past and they have moved beyond it. We know Louisiana Tech wants to be there. Every year there is at least one team that feels like it is playing below its station in life. If TCU is anything but 100 percent ready to go, the Bulldogs will jump all over them.

2. Something special: Greg McCoy, the Mountain West Conference's special teams player of the year, is a difference maker in the return game -- averaging 31.6 yards per return, good for fourth in the nation. He has two kickoff returns for touchdowns of 94 and 99 yards. TCU's vaunted defense creates a lot of punts, which means McCoy should have a chance to make an impact on this game -- be it in the field position battle or potentially breaking a touchdown.

3. Share the love: TCU has three stellar running backs in Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker. Each brings their own skill set to the position and each will rotate throughout the game liberally, assuring that the Horned Frogs always have a fresh pair of legs running the ball. They'll run some option and misdirection with multiple-back formations. Once they get into a running rhythm, that will open things up for quarterback Casey Pachall to start looking downfield and make good use of play-action.

Louisiana Tech (8-4)

1. No home? No problem: Louisiana Tech has a hike from its Ruston campus to Qualcomm Stadium -- (temporarily renamed Snapdragon Stadium by the opportunistic folks at Qualcomm to promote their new processors) -- 1,609 miles to be exact. So what? The Bulldogs have won five straight on the road by a combined score of 140-76. In fact, it will have been almost three months since Louisiana Tech dropped a game away from home. The last road loss was on Sept. 24, a 26-20 defeat at the hands of Mississippi State in overtime.

2. Point of attack, and beyond: One of Louisiana Tech's advantages is its defensive line -- where 340-pound nose tackle Justin Ellis eats up space. Just as TCU rotates backs, look for a steady rotation of defensive linemen from the Bulldogs. They are also one of the better teams in the country at getting after the quarterback, ranking 17th nationally with better than 2.5 sacks per game. Christian Lacey and Matt Broha are outstanding defensive ends who could create havoc in the TCU backfield.

3. Good decisions: Louisiana Tech hasn't dropped a game since Colby Cameron got the starting gig. He can make all of the throws downfield to a solid group of receivers -- Quinton Patton (74 catches, 1,135 yards, 10 touchdowns) being his primary guy. But TCU hasn't been one of the best defenses in the nation for half a decade for nothing. It knows how to create pressure, disguise its coverages and blitz packages and keep quarterbacks guessing with its 4-2-5 formation. Cameron is a very good athlete, but his mental skills will be put to the test.

Moore leads MWC awards

December, 6, 2011
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year, the league announced Tuesday.

The other award recipients:
  • Defensive Player of the Year: TCU linebacker Tank Carder
  • Special Teams Player of the Year: TCU kick retrner Greg McCoy
  • Freshman of the Year: Wyoming QB Brett Smith
  • Coach of the Year: Wyoming coach Dave Christensen

Moore completed 300 of 405 passes for 3,507 yards and 41 touchdowns this season, setting Boise State and Mountain West single-season records in completions and touchdowns. His completion percentage (.741) is also the highest single-season mark in program history.

Carder becomes the fourth player in league history to win back-to-back Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors, after making 66 tackles and recording two interceptions.

McCoy gives TCU three straight special teams player of the year honors. He leads the MWC and ranks fourth nationally with a kick return average of 31.6, and has two kick returns for touchdowns this season.

Smith set a new Mountain West freshman single-season record with 3,140 yards of total offense, surpassing former TCU quarterback Andy Dalton (2,691 yards in 2007).

Christensen led Wyoming to an 8-4 regular season, improving on a 3-9 season in 2010. The Cowboys' five conference wins also ties a program record.

Here are the first-team selections:


QB: Kellen Moore, Boise State

WR: Josh Boyce, TCU

WR: Tyler Shoemaker, Boise State

RB: Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State

RB: Doug Martin, Boise State

TE: Gavin Escobar, San Diego State

OL: Kyle Dooley , TCU

OL: Tommie Draheim, San Diego State

OL: Blaize Foltz, TCU

OL: Nate Potter, Boise State

OL: A. J. Wallerstein, Air Force

PK: Parker Herrington, Air Force

PR/KR: Greg McCoy, TCU


DL: Nordly Capi, Colorado State

DL: Tyrone Crawford, Boise State

DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU

DL: Shea McClellin, Boise State

LB: Miles Burris, San Diego State

LB: Tank Carder, TCU

LB: Carmen Messina, New Mexico

DB: Jon Davis, Air Force

DB: George Iloka, Boise State

DB: Leon McFadden, San Diego State

DB: Larry Parker, San Diego State

P: Brian Stahovich, San Diego State

TCU faces challenge from SMU pass game

September, 29, 2011
If there is one area of the TCU defense that has struggled more than the rest, it has been against the pass.

There were glaring problems in the season opener against Baylor, in which the Bears had five touchdown passes of 25 yards or more. A lot of those came against one-on-one coverage, as the Horned Frogs seemed helpless to stop balls that were simply being thrown over their heads.

Since then, TCU has not faced as big a test through the air. But that changes Saturday against SMU in the Battle for the Iron Skillet. The Mustangs are No. 15 in the nation in passing under June Jones, the run 'n' shoot master.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. McDermott
AP Photo/Dave EinselIn four games, J.J. McDermott has thrown for 1,133 yards and four touchdowns.
They have not really lost a beat with J.J. McDermott at quarterback, either. McDermott relieved an ineffective Kyle Padron in the season opener against Texas A&M and has thrown for 1,133 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Coach Gary Patterson knows what to expect out of this offense. So does his defense. He says his players are doing better against the pass.

"We gave up one long pass against Monroe; last week didn't give one up," he said. "We just have to keep getting better."

Indeed, of the nine passing touchdowns TCU has given up this season, eight have been of 20-plus yards. Consider TCU allowed just five passing touchdowns of 20-plus yards in all of 2011. There are new faces starting in the secondary, so they have needed time to get adjusted.

Also, Patterson said last week veteran cornerback Greg McCoy was not playing to the level he played at in the Rose Bowl, having given up three touchdown passes already this season. He wanted his team to get into sync, and play with confidence.

How does does a win over FCS Portland State do that? That remains to be seen. SMU gave TCU a challenge in the first half last season, taking a 14-10 lead into halftime. Zach Line had a monster game with 139 yards and one touchdown and an average of 8.2 yards a run.

Line is back, and already has 11 touchdown runs this season -- second in the nation behind Bernard Pierce of Temple. Though the Mustangs love to throw, Line has been a huge presence in the run game the last two seasons. He ranks No. 14 in the nation in rushing.

But what could hurt SMU is the potential loss of top receiver Cole Beasley, who has an injured right knee. Jones hasn't said whether Beasley will play. If he can't go, that would be a big blow for an SMU offense that is doing a better job of getting big plays in the pass game.

Beasley leads the team with 31 receptions for 376 yards. He and Darius Johnson have been the top two targets, combining for 58 of the team's 95 receptions.

On throwing the ball deep, Jones said, "I think we’re better than we were last year at this point. We’re making more throws up top and down the field. We still missed a few in the first three games, but last week we made a couple good throws so we’ll just hope that we keep getting better each week."

Given what Baylor did to TCU, you can bet SMU will try to follow the same game plan.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 19, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independent players of the week are selected by a national media panel.

Conference USA

Offense: Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Ryan Griffin, QB, Tulane. Keenum led the biggest comeback in school history in a 35-34 win at Louisiana Tech, completing 25-of-40 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns to overcome a 27-point third quarter deficit. Griffin completed his first 11 passes for 164 yards and finished the game 22-of-26 for 281 yards and a career-high-tying three touchdowns in a 49-10 win over UAB.

Defense: Korey Williams, LB, Southern Miss. Williams led the Golden Eagles with 10 tackles, seven of which were solo stops, in a 52-6 win over Southeastern Louisiana. He added one tackle for loss and an interception return for a touchdown.

Special teams: Nick Adams, KR, UAB. Adams set a UAB single-game record with 194 kick return yards and took a Tulane kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Tulane.


Offense: Trent Steelman, QB, Army. Had 28 carries for 108 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Northwestern.

Defense: Robert Blanton, CB, Notre Dame. Grabbed an interception deep in Notre Dame territory and returned it 82 yards, setting up a game-sealing field goal for the Fighting Irish over Michigan State.

Special teams: George Atkinson III, RB/KR, Notre Dame. Had 142 yards on four kickoff returns, including an 89-yard touchdown, in a 31-13 home win over No. 15 Michigan State. Atkinson is the first Fighting Irish freshman to return a kickoff for a score since Raghib Ismail in 1988.


East Division
Offense: Tyler Tettleton, QB, Ohio.
Threw for a career-high 285 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Bobcats to a 44-7 victory over Marshall and improve to 3-0 on the year -- its best start to a season since 1976. He also also rushed for a touchdown and a season-best 53 yards.

Defense: Dwayne Woods, LB, Bowling Green. Had a game-high 12 tackles and two tackles for loss in the Falcons’ 28-27 loss to Wyoming.

Special Teams: Matt Weller, K, Ohio. Was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals, connecting from 20, 21 and 34 yards and was 5-for-5 in extra-point attempts in a win over Marshall.

West Division
Offense: Jordan White, WR, Western Michigan.
Had 13 catches for a season-high 177 yards in a 44-14 win over Central Michigan. White had two touchdowns and a career-best 241 all-purpose yards.

Defense: Travis Freeman, LB, Ball State. Had a season-high 12 tackles in a 28-25 victory over Buffalo.

Special Teams: John Potter, K, Western Michigan. Scored for 14 points in a 44-14 win over Central Michigan with five extra points and a career-matching three field goals (33, 43, 43).

Mountain West

Offense: Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State. Moore went 32-of-42 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns. The 32 completions are a single-game career high for Moore, while the five touchdowns tied his career high. Hillman rushed for 191 yards on a career-high 32 carries and tied his career-high with four touchdowns in a 42-24 win over Washington State.

Defense: Larry Parker, DB, San Diego State. Josh Biezuns, DL, Wyoming. Parker helped forced three turnovers, including two fourth-quarter interceptions, as the Aztecs beat Washington State 42-24. The two interceptions were the first two of his career. Biezuns forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, had two sacks for 15 yards and combined with fellow senior defensive lineman Gabe Knapton to block the potential game-tying extra-point attempts with 3 seconds left as Wyoming beat Bowling Green 28-27.

Special teams: Greg McCoy, DB, TCU. Returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the second half, setting the tone for TCU to score 14 points in the opening 4:18 of the third quarter in its 38-17 win over ULM.

Sun Belt

Offense: Corey Robinson, QB, Troy. Set new career highs for pass attempts (63), completions (36) and rushing yards (33) in a loss to Arkansas. His 373 passing yards were the third most of his career.

Defense: Isame Faciane, DT, FIU. LaDarrius Madden, DB, Troy. Faciane had arguably the biggest play of the game against UCF when he picked up a fumble by Jeff Godfrey and returned it 51 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the win over the Knights. Madden had six total tackles and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Special Teams: Melvin White, DB, Louisiana. Made the momentum turning play against Nicholls State with a 68-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown. The Cajuns outscored the Colonels 24-7 after the blocked field goal.


Offense: Mike Ball, RB, Nevada. Rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns in Nevada’s 17-14 win at San Jose State.

Defense: Logan Harrell, DT, Fresno State. Recorded a career-high 11 tackles and tied his career-high with 4.5 tackles for a loss of 23 yards in a 27-22 win over North Dakota.

Special teams: Jake Hurst, P, Nevada. Punted six times for 259 yards, A 43.2-yard average, in the win over San Jose State. He had a long of 49 yards and placed two inside the 20-yard line.

TCU secondary misses veteran leader

September, 7, 2011
Going into the season, most everybody focused on how TCU would replace veteran quarterback Andy Dalton.

But the Horned Frogs lost a veteran player of equal importance in the secondary. Nobody talked much about having to replace free safety Tejay Johnson. They should have.

TCU had one breakdown after another in the secondary in a 50-48 loss to Baylor last Friday night. Balls sailed over the heads of the cornerbacks. The safeties had a hard time tackling or lending much support to the cornerbacks. It was one of the worst defensive performances under coach Gary Patterson, and quickly became obvious that the Horned Frogs sorely missed Johnson.

While Casey Pachall had an admirable first start in replacing Dalton, Johnny Fobbs and Elisha Olabode struggled at free safety. The two combined for one tackle in the game. When asked whether Johnson's departure had an impact on the way the defensive backs played, Patterson said, "Oh, sure it did.

"At the safety position, we made 12 tackles. You can't miss tackles and play safety. We're going to go about things, understanding those positions are up for grabs and find out if somebody else -- maybe the two older guys will step up. We have to make more plays than we did."

Johnson started 38 straight games for the Horned Frogs, providing veteran leadership. But he also played the most important position in the Patterson defense. He made all the calls and put his teammates in the proper position to make plays. He also finished third on the team with 66 tackles as an important player in providing support both against the run and the pass.

TCU went into the Baylor game with four new starters in the secondary. The only player who was a full-time starter in 2010 was cornerback Greg McCoy. Safety Tekerrein Cuba started six games last season, the only other player in the defensive backfield with a start under his belt. Strong safety Sam Carter is a redshirt freshman converted from quarterback; cornerback Jason Verrett transferred in from junior college. Fobbs, a senior, had played as a backup to Johnson but never started a game.

Patterson said in hindsight he probably should have played more safeties in the game, but this is a position in which there is a lack of depth and experience. He said they had a better day of practice Sunday, but opened up the competition because when you give up 50 points, "all positions are open."

Cuba and Fobbs are seniors, and Patterson is banking on them to play better because of their experience. But this week against Air Force, they mostly will be relied on for help against the run. The Falcons are not a passing team.

"There's no excuses," Patterson said "You've go tot be able to play the deep ball, especially the way we go about playing defense. One of the hard parts is you'd like to come back and play another passing team."

They will have another chance. Next time, the secondary has to be ready.

Non-AQ Players of the Week

September, 5, 2011
Here are the non-AQ players of the week, as selected by each conference. The independents are selected by a national panel of writers.

Case Keenum, QB, Houston. Threw for 310 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cougars to a 38-34 win over UCLA in his first game since tearing his ACL last year.

Defense: Cordarro Law, DL, Southern Miss. Had eight tackles (two solos) and added two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in Southern Miss’ win over Louisiana Tech.

Special Teams: Robert Kelley, PR, Tulane. Set a school-record for kickoff return yards in his first game for the school, with 213 yards on seven returns.

Kriss Proctor, QB, Navy. Ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard scoring sprint on the third play from scrimmage, in a win over Delaware.

Offense: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. Recorded a career-high 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to USF. Floyd set the school record for career receptions and now has 183.

Defense: Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU. With his team trailing 13-6, Van Noy caused a fumble that he also recovered, taking it 3 yards into the end zone for the decisive score in a 14-13 win over Ole Miss.

Special teams: Jon Teague, K, Navy. Set a career and Navy record with a 54-yard field goal. Teague added a 36-yard field goal and was 4-of-5 on extra points.

East Division

Offense: Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple. Had 20 carries for 147 yards and tied a career-high with three touchdowns in a win over Villanova. Pierce became the third player in Temple history to record 10 games of 100 yards rushing.

Defense: Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green. Had tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and safety in a win over Idaho.

Special Teams: Travis Carrie, PR, Ohio. Had a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 44-24 win at New Mexico State.

West Division

Offense: Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois. Threw a career-high five touchdowns and ran for 80 yards and a score in a 49-26 victory over Army on Saturday.

Defense: Nathan Ollie, DT, Ball State. Had four tackles, including two sacks, in a 27-20 win over Indiana.

Special Teams: Ryan Casano, PK, Toledo. Made all three field goals and seven extra points for 16 points in a 58-22 win over New Hampshire.

Mountain West
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State. Completed 28-of-34 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns to lead No. 5 Boise State to a 35-21 win over No. 19 Georgia.

Defense: Nordly Capi, DE, Colorado State. Set a new NCAA single-game record with four forced fumbles in a 14-10 victory at New Mexico. His fourth forced fumble of the contest helped the Rams preserve their first conference victory. He added seven tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks .

Special teams: Greg McCoy, KR, TCU. Set a new TCU single-game record with 229 kick return yards a 50-48 loss at Baylor. His total ranks fourth in Mountain West history.

Sun Belt
T.Y. Hilton, WR, FIU. Had 283 all-purpose yards, 12 shy of his own school record, in a win over North Texas. The 283 yards were the most by any player in the country in Week 1.

Defense: Eric Russell, DB, Middle Tennessee. Led the team with 13 tackles, including 11 solo, and got his first career sack in a loss at Purdue. He also had an interception and was the main kick and punt returner for the team.

Special Teams: Hendrix Brakefield, P, Western Kentucky. Averaged 44.6 yards per kick on eight punts in a loss to Kentucky. Of his eight punts, three went for over 50 yards -- including a 58 yarder. He also had two punts downed inside the 10.

Bryant Moniz, QB, Hawaii. Moniz completed 20-of-33 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown while adding a career-high 121 rushing yards on 14 carries with three more scores in a win over Colorado.

Defense: Paipai Falemalu, DL, Hawaii. Had six tackles (five solo), including three for a loss, in a win over Colorado.

Special teams: Taveon Rogers, KR, New Mexico State. Returned four kickoffs for 177 yards -- including a 97-yard touchdown -- in a loss to Ohio. Rogers had a total of 259 all-purpose yards.

TCU looking for special teams ace

April, 15, 2011
TCU has not had to worry about its kickoff and punt return game in recent years, not with Jeremy Kerley returning kicks.

Kerley became on of the most dynamic return men in college football, winning Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year honors twice -- just the second player to accomplish that feat. He ranked second in the league in punt returns and third in kickoff returns. His speed always made him a threat to return a kick for a touchdown, though many teams kicked away from him last season and his opportunities dwindled.

Still, he leaves a big hole in the TCU special teams game. Kerley had 30 of the team's 36 punt returns last season and 19 of the team's 31 kickoff returns. Coach Gary Patterson still is undecided about who will replace Kerley when the season begins Sept. 3 against Baylor. There are some players on the team with punt and kickoff return experience, but not many. Among the candidates:

Cornerback Greg McCoy. Perhaps the most experienced of those on the team with kickoff returns, McCoy returned one for an 81-yard touchdown in 2009. He had five kickoff returns last season for 167 yards, a 33.4-yard average that could make him the front-runner to take over for Kerley.

Receiver Skye Dawson. He had one punt return and three kickoff returns last season and is one of the fastest players on the team.

Safety Elisha Olabode. He played as a true freshman last season but returned no kicks. He did in high school, though, with three punt returns for touchdowns at Cesar Hill High in Texas.

TCU aims for staying power

December, 30, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- TCU is proudly carrying a banner at the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

"We're not just representing TCU," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We're representing all the non-AQ schools."

The Horned Frogs are taking that responsibility very seriously this week, saying they have to play well for all the schools who might never get a chance to make it to this stage. As far as crusades go, though, this won't be a long one. TCU will soon be leaving that torch for someone else to pick up.

It is the first team from outside the six automatic-qualifying conferences to reach two consecutive BCS games, and it came the hard way as TCU has gone 12-0 the last two regular seasons. In 2012, the team will have much more margin for error as it joins the Big East and can still make the BCS just by winning the league.

"I'm actually a little envious of the younger players," said cornerback Greg McCoy, whose eligibility expires after the 2011 campaign. "We all worked hard for the future, and I know there's a lot of envy among the upperclassmen. But when you work hard, things get better. And we all know we contributed to this."

TCU's senior class played a major role in making the program attractive to the Big East, winning 35 games the previous three years. Many of those seniors are stars on this team, like four-year starter Andy Dalton, center Jake Kirkpatrick, receiver/returner Jeremy Kerley, safety Tejay Johnson and defensive end Wayne Daniels.

But the program has shown that it can reload. Last year's team lost All-America defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Daryl Washington to the NFL. Daniels elevated his game, and redshirt freshman Stansly Maponga stepped in to replace Hughes' production at end. Sophomore Tanner Brock took over for Washington at middle linebacker and kept that position strong.

"We have a great coaching staff and the athletes to continue to be successful," senior right guard Josh Vernon said. "We don't rely on just one guy on offense or defense."

Can TCU keep this going? It's unrealistic to think the program will keep piling up undefeated regular seasons. But who's to say they can't become the top frogs in the Big East and turn into the next Virginia Tech, Miami or Florida State -- programs that went from humble beginnings to consistent national powers.

They're not far from that level now.

"I don't feel like we're the small guy," head coach Gary Patterson said. "We've only lost three games the last three years. We lost to Oklahoma that played in national championship game. We lost to Utah that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then Boise State a year ago (in the Fiesta Bowl). So we've been in big games and we've proven we can play on a big stage. "

As long as Patterson stays in Fort Worth, the team should remain highly competitive. The school is in the midst of a $105 million renovation of Amon Carter Stadium, funded through private donations. Patterson's staff knows how to recruit and develop Texas talent.

There might not be many more Rose Bowls in the Horned Frogs' future, but Big East membership will allow them to compete for BCS games on an annual basis.

"Obviously we've done something right to get to go to the Big East, and hopefully we'll make that league better," Dalton said. "I can't see us dropping off. I think we'll just keep getting better."
LOS ANGELES -- TCU free safety Tejay Johnson remembers a 6-foot-2 wide receiver showing up as a freshman, intent on becoming a star playmaker on offense. Johnson stunned the youngster by telling him his future: "You're going to be a safety."

Players who sign up with the Horned Frogs and coach Gary Patterson often learn that their high school position matters about as much as their astrological sign. That's one of the secrets to the program's sustained success. Patterson and his staff scour Texas for athletes first and figure out where to put them later.

"The one thing that we always look at is, can the young man run?'" defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said. "And if he can, then that's a good basis to start for a lot of positions."

[+] EnlargeTejay Johnson
Dale Zanine/US PresswireTejay Johnson is the quarterback of a TCU defense made up players who have switched from other positions.
That philosophy is a big reason why the defense has consistently ranked as one of the nation's best, despite featuring mostly under-the-radar recruits. Patterson and his assistants have an uncanny ability to identify athletes and then teach them how to play defense, if necessary. Current NFL linebacker Stephen Hodge was converted from a high school quarterback to a safety for the Frogs. Last year's All-American defensive end, Jerry Hughes, starred at running back in high school.

Examples abound on this year's team as well. Safety Colin Jones was a prep running back. Starting cornerbacks Jason Teague and Greg McCoy were high school receivers. Defensive tackle Cory Grant came in as a tight end. Linebacker Tank Carder was known for being a former BMX world champion. Matt Anderson entered college as a safety and is now a backup defensive lineman.

"I honestly don't know how Coach P does that," senior defensive end Wayne Daniels said. "I don't think I've ever seen him miss with a position change."

Everything's bigger in Texas? It's more like everything's faster in Fort Worth. Patterson will gladly sacrifice a few inches of height and 20 or more pounds per player in exchange for speed. His 4-2-5 defense is by definition built on swiftness over bulk, with three safeties and one fewer linebacker on the field than the normal 4-3 alignment.

Some of the reason for playing a 4-2-5 is by necessity, Bumpas said. There are more cornerbacks and safeties out there than big guys who can play linebacker, and even in the talent-rich state of Texas, TCU often has to comb through the prospects that Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M don't want. Those schools usually want the big guys.

"We really look for potential, probably more so than a finished product," Bumpas said.

The 4-2-5 is a perfect base defense against spread offenses, as the Horned Frogs are basically in nickel all of the time. Of course, that might not be an advantage in Saturday's Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio; Wisconsin's powerful attack is about as far away from a spread as you can find.

The keys to the 4-2-5 include flexibility and individual responsibility. TCU can put two safeties on one side of the field, bring one or two down for help against the run or send them on blitzes. The defensive front does a lot of shifting, and the pass coverage is divided into two halves of the field. Free safety Johnson is the quarterback of the defense, and weak safety Alex Ibiloye will make calls for coverage on his side.

"Free safety is definitely the hardest position," Carder said. "Coach Patterson gives us three or four different calls, and we've got to choose which one it is. We have a lot of responsibility to make the right calls, but they teach us well and line us up in the right spots."

At the end of each week, Patterson tests each defensive player on their assignments and coverages. He'll show a play on a video screen, pause it, then force each guy to show with a laser pointer exactly what his responsibility is in that situation.

"It's pretty intense," Jones said. "You get some instant feedback, and it's usually pretty negative if you mess up."

The Horned Frogs don't seem to mess up too much on Saturdays. Their defense has led the nation in yards allowed for the past three years and ranks No. 1 this year in points surrendered at just 11.4 per game. It's a senior-laden group that knows this system intimately.

"Structurally, they're a little bit different than what we see," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "But what makes it different is how they play it. They play it really well, not just this year but for many years. They've got athletes that can move, they also know where they're going and what they're doing, so they don't play with hesitation."

Some incoming TCU players, like that freshman wide receiver, might hesitate at switching to a new position. But Johnson said that like most, the freshman quickly realized it was his best chance to get on the field and contribute.

At this point, why would anyone question TCU's winning formula?
The signature at TCU has always been defense, and that will never change as long as Gary Patterson is the head coach there.

Sure, the faces in the starting lineup change, as they have this season. But look at the top of the NCAA stat sheet, and there you see the Horned Frogs once again.

Their defense, which has been No. 1 in the country the last two seasons, is ranked No. 4 after three games. Impressive considering its top two players, Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington are gone. Impressive considering two of its three games have come against opponents from automatic qualifying conferences.

Only four other teams ranked in the Top 25 in total defense -- Stanford, Alabama, Iowa and LSU -- have played at least two teams from AQ conferences. LSU is the only one that has played three in its first three games.

[+] EnlargeTanner Brock
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesTanner Brock leads TCU in tackles with 19. TCU's defense is again one of college football's best.
“We’ve played with a lot of effort and a lot of intensity,” Patterson said this week. “We’ve given up some plays and we have to keep getting better, but I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet.”

You always want to see steady improvement from your team as the season goes on, of course, and this week provides the next test. No. 4 TCU (3-0) plays SMU (2-1) in a nationally televised game Friday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN). The Mustangs provide the third radically different type of offense TCU has seen from its FBS opponents so far this season.

SMU enjoys passing the ball under coach June Jones, a run 'n' shoot disciple. The Mustangs do have an effective runner this year in Zach Line, at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, but the primary objective will be to stop the passing attack.

Many of the new faces on that TCU defense are right in the secondary. Four-year starting cornerbacks Rafael Priest and Nick Sanders are gone, but it’s important to remember their replacements got plenty of playing time last season while they both struggled through injuries. Greg McCoy and Jason Teague had four combined interceptions last season, while Priest and Sanders had one.

At strong safety, Colin Jones has re-emerged as the starter while Tyler Luttrell has been out with a hamstring injury. Jones went into last season penciled in as the starter but hurt his hamstring, and Luttrell ended up becoming the starter.

Jones is tied for third on the team with 15 tackles, including three for a loss. With the 4-2-5 defense TCU runs, it’s incumbent on the safeties to make plays. That’s why three of the four top tacklers are the safeties -- Alex Ibiloye and Tejay Johnson are right up there as well.

As for the other players who are gone, their replacements have stepped up big time, too. Tanner Brock, taking over for Washington, leads the team in tackles with 19. Only a sophomore, Brock is perhaps best remembered for making a helmetless block last year against SMU, on a punt return Jeremy Kerley returned 71 yards for a touchdown.

Stansly Maponga has taken over for Hughes, but it’s Wayne Daniels who has emerged on the left side to put the stud on the end. Daniels has 3.5 sacks already this season. Of his nine tackles, six are for a loss. He made a statement right out of the gate, with two sacks in the opening win over Oregon State, helping get pressure on Ryan Katz and setting the tone for the entire game.

Overall, TCU is giving up 227.7 yards a game, and though that is ranked No. 4 in the country, it is the second-lowest total under Patterson. It’s about 17 yards less than TCU gave up a year ago.

Still, it’s only three games in, and Patterson doesn’t want to get too high on his defense just yet.

“We’re still trying to grow up,” Patterson said. “You have to grow up in the first five or six ball games. We didn’t feel we practiced well last week, so we have to come back and do a better job of that and not just do it on Friday and Saturday.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- TCU coach Gary Patterson and starting cornerback Rafael Priest couldn’t agree on Priest’s status for Monday’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Patterson said Priest, who suffered a sprained left foot, could possibly play in the game. Priest said he was doubtful, but then amended his comments and said that he thought he could play.

Regardless, both parties agree that Priest will be a game-time decision.

“At first, I couldn’t walk on it,” Priest said. “That was only a week and a half ago, so my body’s responded real well to [treatment].

“Four years of playing and the biggest game of my life and I’m doubtful.”

Priest said the injury happened a week and a half ago during practice when he was covering a receiver. The ball was underthrown and as he came back to defend it, he stepped on the back of the receiver’s foot and it arched the front of his foot upward, straining it.

Priest said he had been in an orthopedic boot the past week, but that the swelling has gone down and that he’s now able to wear his normal shoes.

Priest said he likely will not practice before game day and has spent his time doing mental reps, watching film and getting prepared to start.

“I’m hopeful. I feel like I’m going to play,” Priest said. “I’m just getting all the mental reps, memorizing plays and I guess whenever game time comes, if I’m anywhere close to where I can go, I’m going to go.”

If Priest can’t play, Greg McCoy has been working with the first team and will play in his place. McCoy has played in every game this season and has one start.

“Greg has come a long way,” Priest said. “He’s probably the fastest guy on the team. His covering skills have gotten way better and every time I can I give him little pointers and tell him what he can and can’t do. I feel like, if I don’t get to play, he’s going to fill in and hold his own.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- TCU starting cornerback Rafael Priest is expected to miss the Fiesta Bowl, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Priest, a senior who has started 50 games during his career, suffered an ankle injury during bowl prep last week. Priest has 18 tackles this season and an interception returned for a touchdown. He’s defended seven passes.

Sophomore Greg McCoy will take his spot. McCoy has played in every game this season with one start. He has 15 tackles and two interceptions. McCoy also has three passes defended and a blocked kick.

Priest is the only starter out for the Horned Frogs. Boise State has had six starters go down with injury this season, including leading receiver Austin Pettis, who suffered a fractured ankle against Nevada. Pettis has been practicing with the Broncos, but is hobbled. Boise State coach Chris Petersen said Pettis would be a game-time decision.

However, the Broncos do expect sophomore slot receiver Tyler Shoemaker to return from a hernia injury that has caused him to miss the last three games.