Even during a “down” year, TCU’s defense under Gary Patterson still ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense. However, the unit still came short of the dominance we’ve come to expect in Fort Worth.
TCU’s defense ranked just No. 34 in ESPN’s SP+ metric, the worst such rating since 2016 and second-worst since joining the Big 12. And heading into 2020, looming questions at defensive end and cornerback hang over the defense.
“There’s capabilities there,” Patterson said. “We’ve just got to get better at it.”
Defensive end Ochaun Mathis underwhelmed in his first season as a starter and won’t have the help of second round pick Ross Blacklock at defensive tackle to help. However, his best games were in the second half of the year. Defensive tackles Terrell Cooper and Corey Bethley provide consistent production, but sorting through Parker Workman, Adam Plant and Colt Ellison for the other pass rushing role will define the unit.
Senior linebacker Garret Wallow ranked top 10 nationally in both tackles and tackles per loss during a breakout 2019 season. Multiple players switched around next to Wallow, including La’Kendrick Van Zandt and Ben Wilson. However, Dee Winters showed great promise as a freshman and could cement his place in that role.
The real strength lies on the back end. Pro Football Focus rated Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington as the top two safeties in America, and the duo combined for 108 tackles, 13 pass breakups and nine interceptions. They’ll play an outsized role while a bevy of underclassmen compete for playing time at the cornerback and third safety spots.
“If the safeties are growing up and learning the defense, they can get everyone lined up in the right spot,” Moehrig said. “It can make the team even better and more ferocious defensively. I think the growth for all defensive backs really is key.”
Perhaps the best news at TCU is that the defense projects to start just one senior. Next year’s unit is only an early preview of what’s to come.
“We have a lot of young football players,” Patterson said. “There’s a lot of positives here at TCU.”
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