Los Angeles The toughest part comes, TCU senior safety Colin Jones said, on the day before the game.
That’s when the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense finds itself in a darkened room ... alone ... with laser-pointer-wielding head coach Gary Patterson.
“He runs a play on the projector and pauses it,” Jones explained. “Then, with the pointer, he goes position to position.
“You have to give a rundown of exactly what your alignment is and what you have to do.”
Patterson, of course, is there to offer ... uh ... “instant feedback.” The only acceptable test grade is a perfect 100.
The talk at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, however, wasn’t about tests, but rather about rabbits and dump trucks. Size versus speed.
The Wisconsin Badgers’ Hummer-sized offensive linemen against the TCU Horned Frogs’ ant-swarming defenders. The eternal Big Ten bowl matchup.
But it’s not that simple, TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said.
“I mean, it’s like a Ferrari and a dump truck,” Bumpas said. “We’re fast, but the reality of it is, when the dump truck is going straight ahead, it’s a dangerous weapon.”
Behold the 11-1 Badgers. They led the Big Ten in scoring and third-down conversions and were second in both rushing yardage and total offense.
A near-ultimate challenge for college football’s ultimate defense. That seems to be the week’s prevailing storyline, at least.
But as the Wisconsin coaches have probably already told the Badgers by now, the Frogs’ defense isn’t all about the stopwatch.
“Coach Patterson and his defensive staff and even the way they set up, their players know that defense,” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said.
“They’re very sound, and I think one of the reasons they’re able to play as fast is they’ve got athletes that can move, but I think also they know what they’re doing and where they’re going. They don’t play with hesitation. They play fast because they know what they’re doing, and they trust what they’re doing.”
Bumpas himself couldn’t have described his defense better.
It starts with Patterson and his relentless preparation. Bumpas singled out Patterson’s “attention to detail.”
“Every little thing that it takes to go into the football game,” Bumpas said, “he has it covered.”
And as Jones’ description of the pregame tests showed, Patterson insists that his defense be just as prepared.
The idea is not to just have a defense for every occasion, but a thorough and ready recognition of everything the opponent’s offense could be calling. Everything.
Remember the fake punt by Boise State that helped to decide last January’s Fiesta Bowl? It fooled the Frogs in the fourth quarter, but as Patterson pointed out right after the game, Boise had also called the fake punt earlier in the game and TCU had spotted it, causing the Broncos to wave the play off.
“He does a great job of anticipating,” Bumpas said of his boss.
“And all offensive coordinators, I think, have certain plays that they get in the habit of calling.”
The experience and maturity within the TCU defense make Patterson’s goal of ultimate preparation that much easier. But then again, as the Frogs know, they won’t get on the field unless Patterson is convinced they know what’s coming.
“It really gets back to players,” Bumpas said. “It’s the old expression — it’s not the Xs and Os. It’s the Jimmys and the Joes.”
Team speed, Bumpas said, is only a part of it, no matter what the cliche storyline of this Rose Bowl matchup is shaping up to be.
“We’re intense, fast, and we play hard,” was the way TCU defensive end Wayne Daniels put it.
And they’re ready to pass the test.