Frogs focusing on task at hand
Safety Johnny Fobbs hopes TCU can go back to playing with a chip on its shoulder
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The TCU defense's stunning failures in Friday night's season opener -- to wrap up and bring down ball carriers, to cover the deep route, to prevent the Baylor Bears from hanging half-a-hundred -- spawned far-reaching levels of embarrassment.
Don't mistake this for some sensationalized overreaction by a mercenary media machine. No, no. This is TCU's own, senior safety Johnny Fobbs, taking his unit to task.
Fobbs not only heard the footsteps of Baylor receivers going for six touchdowns -- the most thrown on a Horned Frogs defense in 20 years -- he felt the unnerving stare of past defensive stalwarts who had achieved so much for the program by giving up so little to opposing offenses.
"The thing about it, just for being a senior, man, it was embarrassing," Fobbs said. "It was embarrassing knowing all the safeties from Tejay [Johnson] to Colin [Jones] to Alex [Ibiloye], going way back to [David] Roach and Brian Bonner and [Stephen] Hodge, just knowing how they took on the game and knowing how they wrapped up and tackled.
"To miss so many tackles is just embarrassing."
Coach Gary Patterson counted 20 whiffs with at least half charged to the safety position, the one position Patterson did not operate like a revolving door against the Bears.
That changed during this week's preparation. Patterson has promised a rotation at safety just like at cornerback as he seeks a steadying force for Saturday afternoon's Mountain West Conference opener at Air Force. The Falcons won't consistently test the Frogs deep like Baylor's Robert Griffin III, but they will attack relentlessly on the ground with their challenging triple option.
"That's the thing that I'm most concerned about going into this game," Patterson said of the missed tackles. "Air Force is just like Baylor; they come at you all day long. And I'm not telling [Air Force coach] Troy Calhoun something he doesn't know, because he's watched the film, but if you don't tackle people and you're not physical and you don't play with leverage, then you're going to have a hard time playing defense."
The destruction in Waco was thorough -- 564 total yards allowed, 23 completions on 29 attempts, three touchdown passes of at least 40 yards, more than 100 rushing yards allowed in the first half.
Yet the defense nearly saved the day with a series of second-half stops capped by a huge fumble forced and recovered by end Stansly Maponga with 6:54 to go.
Fobbs knows only one way. The former two-way star from nearby Everman High School was redshirting in 2007, the last season TCU didn't lead the nation in fewest yards allowed per game.
Expectations naturally followed this defense despite the loss of five starters and three in the defensive backfield.
"To tell you the truth, right after the game when I looked up at the scoreboard, I never thought I would see 50 points on the opposing side -- 50 points," Fobbs said. "From being a freshman all the way to now, I haven't seen that many points, and just knowing it was my senior year, that we gave up that many points, it hurts so bad. It hurts me because I feel like we failed our past. We failed our past safeties and past defenses that came through and did what they had to do on a regular basis. And for them, it hurt."
That's pretty heavy stuff stemming from a two-point loss in a season opener against a nonconference opponent. But just like the incredibly high standard set by the defense, same goes for the overall success and expectations of the program.
The BCS is what it's all about, and one loss pretty much crushes that goal. And now for more hard facts for this TCU team entering just Week 2. A loss at Air Force could kill its shot at a third consecutive MWC championship.
TCU plays at Boise on Nov. 12.
That's a long way away. For now, as the Frogs look to forget Friday and avoid consecutive losses for the first time since September 2007 and the first 0-2 start since 1999, Fobbs has found new motivation coming off the rare loss.
"I really think it takes the pressure off of us," Fobbs said. "I'm not trying to say it's a positive or anything, but it takes the pressure off of us trying to be perfect. Now we can go back to fighting and playing with a chip on our shoulder, and going back to [our] first goal, and that's the conference championship."
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.