TCU Puts No. 1 Defense to Test Against BYU Cougars

Brett RichinsSenior Analyst IOctober 12, 2010

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Wide receiver Bart Johnson #6 of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates a touchdown with Andy Dalton #14 in the third quarter against the SMU Mustangs at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on September 24, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The BYU offense played smash-mouth football in Saturday’s 24-21 win over San Diego State, rushing the ball 62 times for 271 yards.

The question is, can they duplicate that kind of success against fourth-ranked TCU in Fort Worth this week?

The Horned Frogs once again sport one of the top defenses in the country.

They are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, second in passing defense, second in scoring defense and 15th against the run.

In short, nobody has found success against the Frogs defense this year.

Only June Jones’ SMU Mustangs have been able to hang more than 263 yards of offense on TCU this year. SMU benefited from a couple of TCU turnovers to stay within 41-24 of the Frogs.

On Monday, Bronco Mendenhall said that BYU believed they could move the ball last week on the ground against the Aztecs, noting that BYU has had some success running on Rocky Long’s defenses the past couple of years.

He also said that even though the Cougars may not run the ball as often as they did last Saturday, the ground game will continue to be a key ingredient in the offense as quarterback Jake Heaps continues to develop.

It’s a safe bet that running the ball on TCU will prove to be more difficult this week. The Frogs have much better players on defense, and their scheme is different than that of SDSU’s.

TCU employs a unique 4-2-5 defensive alignment with a safety in place of a linebacker.

They play with what they refer to as a strong, a weak and a free safety in the defensive backfield, with the strong and weak safeties needing to be as proficient against the run as they are in covering receivers. Under Gary Patterson, TCU has been very good at recruiting the type of players who fit their unique scheme.

The big advantage of the the 4-2-5 is its speed.

The defense was designed to stop spread passing attacks, and it is very effective at doing so. It eliminates a lot of the pressure put on inside linebackers to cover faster players in the spread, and it has the advantage of not requiring a dominating nose tackle to be successful like the 3-4-4 or 3-3-5.

By nature, though, the 4-2-5 is weak against the run with just two linebackers to fill gaps and make plays against the rush.

TCU attempts to makes up for this deficiency with stunts and pre-snap shifts to the offense’s strong side. They also bring one of their quick safeties down against the run in what essentially becomes more of a standard 4-3, just with a faster player at outside linebacker.

When all is said and done, the best way to attack this defense is with powerful, straight-ahead running, complemented with play-action passes, accurate throws and precise route-running as the safeties come down to help out in the run game.

There will also be no room for dropped passes by BYU receivers in this game if the Cougars are to have a chance.

Teams like SMU have also had success against the Horned Frogs running the draw trap.

Going wide or running long developing plays will play directly into the hands of the speedy TCU defense. The Cougars, as they did against the Aztecs, will need to keep things between the tackles.

The key in attacking TCU is to stay patient with the running game, letting a big, physical offensive line take its toll as the the game wears on. That is easier said than done though, given TCU’s effectiveness these days on offense. Teams tend to get down early to the Frogs and then end up trying to play catch up.

We’ll take a look at how the Cougars may defend the Horned Frog offense in our next segment.

By the way, for those who are interested in some of the X’s and O’s of the Horned Frog defense, below you'll find excerpts from an article by Gary Patterson published for a Nike Clinic that explains some of TCU’s defensive philosophy.

It’s interesting to see how Patterson and his staff simplify things for his players, allowing them to just go out and play rather than being out there trying to think.

It's also interesting how the defensive calls in the front six have no bearing on the defensive calls in the secondary and vice-versa. Another unique element is that TCU views the defensive secondary split into halves, with two calls being made in the secondary instead of the standard one—one for each half of the field.

To my knowledge no other team thinks like this defensively.

Gary Patterson:

“Our fronts and coverages have nothing to do with each other. The front is called by the use of a wristband. We break down our first six or seven opponents and put the fronts on the player’s wristbands. We don’t have to teach anything new to our players during the season. The team’s may change, but the fronts do not. We do teach during the season, but we don’t have to re-teach our fronts.”


(When we blitz) the secondary doesn’t care what is going on with the front and LBs. All they know is there is going to be a blitz and both LB’s are going to rush. That tells them they have to cover everybody if there is a pass.

If there is a double smoke (an outside S blitz from both) being run, the FS knows the SS and WS are blitzing off the edge. He has to talk to the two LBs to get them into coverage.


“We divide our packages into attack groups. The four DL and two LBs are one segment of our defense. We align the front six and they go one direction. The coverage behind them is what we call a double-quarterback system. We play with three safeties on the field. We have a strong, weak and free safety. The free and weak safeties are going to control both halves of the field. They are the quarterbacks and they will make all the calls…

In our coverage scheme we are going to divide the formation at the center every snap. We play with five defensive backs in the secondary…

[If the passing strength is to the defensive left] the FS calls ‘read’ left. The FS is going to talk to the LCB, SS, and the read side LB. The weak safety aligns on the other side and talks to the right corner and right LB…

Starting in spring practice, the first Monday we teach Cover 2 (Robber). On Tuesday, we teach our Blue coverage (quarters)….On Wednesday, we teach squats-and-halves coverage (Cover 5). After that we are done teaching our zone coverages…

We don’t worry about formations any more. When you divide the formation down the middle, to each side there are only three formations the offense can give the secondary. The offense can give you a pro set, which is a tight end and wideout; a twin set, which is two wideouts; or some kind of trips set that the defense will have to defend. That is all they can give you.

In three days we teach our kids to line up in all three coverages against those formations…when we start talking about our game play, we never talk about lining up. All we talk about is what the opponent is going to be doing and how we are going to adjust to it.

Unless the offense lines up in a three-back wishbone or a no-back set, there are only three ways the offense can be aligned and still be sound. Unless we want the coverage to overplay something to one side, we don’t worry about formations."