It's not exactly the pass rush you want from a defensive line that was regarded as one of the top units in the Big 12 last season. Of course, when you don't have an All-American like Devonte Fields rushing the quarterback and you have to replace another Big 12 performer in Stansly Maponga, the numbers were going to be hard to match.
Fields was missed greatly against LSU as Tiger quarterback Zach Mettenberger sometimes had between 3-4 seconds to find open receivers. Fields played the third quarter against Southeastern Louisiana but was ineffective. He continued to be ineffective against Texas Tech the following week, seeming to shadow the quarterback most of the night.
However, while Fields was ineffective against Tech, others around him began to step up. The Frogs ended up sacking Red Raider quarterback Baker Mayfield four times.
Last week in the Frogs' 48-17 win over SMU, the defensive line accounted for four of the seven sacks recorded by the TCU defense.
Through four games TCU leads the Big 12 conference with 15 sacks. Ten of those sacks have come from the defensive line.
TCU head coach Gary Patterson said on Tuesday that he biggest difference on the increase of sacks the last two ball games was the style of offense they've played. Patterson said his team will see a similar offense to Southeastern Louisiana when they travel to Oklahoma this Saturday.
"Number one, Southeastern Louisiana is a little like Oklahoma where you won't get a lot of sacks unless you get them to 2nd or 3rd and long," he said. "They run the veer and the pistol stuff. There's some articulation to how you have to play that offense. You played your first ball game against a quality opponent in LSU, it's hard to do that anyway."
Patterson says another factor on why the pass rush has improved is due to the pass coverage in the secondary. Along with leading the Big 12 in sacks, TCU also leads the conference in interceptions with nine. The coach said against SMU he liked what he saw from sophomores James McFarland and Terrell Lathan, who got to Garrett Gilbert off stellar pass rush techniques.
"We've done a good job in coverage, some have of them have been sacks and others have been coverage sacks," Patterson said. "We're having to create things. McFarland and Lathan came off the line and had some great moves. Early in the ball game against SMU it was really Coach Bumpas's and my fault because we were a little bit too worried about the quarterback scrambling and we were calling twist and trying to control that instead of rushing the passer."
Senior Jon Koontz echoed Patterson in saying the secondary has helped them with the pass rush. He also says learning the opposing quarterback's tendencies have also benefitted the defensive line.
"We've paid close attention to the way quarterbacks handle pressure," Koontz said. "The quarterback up at Tech was a scrambler and someone that would escape as soon as he felt heat. We had a game plan for him. It was the same type of thing with Gilbert last week; we knew he wasn't much of a drop back passer so running around the edges wasn't going to do us any good; he was just going to have a lane to step up and throw the ball. He didn't panic like a lot of quarterbacks we face. We've paid close attention to quarterbacks tendencies and how they handle pressure and that's helped us a lot as a defensive line."
Leading the way for the Frogs' defensive front has somewhat come as a surprise this season as Jon Lewis leads the team with four sacks. The junior is also the leader among Big 12 players in sacks which caught Patterson by surprise. The coach said the pressure from the inside players is a big help to the defensive ends.
"I didn't know that to be honest with you," Patterson said. "It's awesome. When you get push inside that's the big thing; that really helps you. When the inside guys are able to get sacks that means they're getting a push in the pocket they're not able to step forward. That helps you when you have inside guys that can do that."
Koontz also credits the interior of the Frogs' defensive line for the ends success.
"It's been phenomenal, the push that those guys can get up the middle is huge for an end because half the sacks that come to us are caused by them because they flush the quarterback out of the pocket," Koontz said. "Jon, Chuck (Hunter) and DP (Davion Pierson) all those guys in the middle have such a great mix of speed and strength and they keep offensive linemen on their toes and they've got a great ability to get back to the quarterback."
The defensive line will be put to the test again this week with a big, experienced offensive line from Oklahoma.
"They're not going to mess up anything as far as protection or anything like that. They're a solid group of guys, we're going to really have to execute against them to give our defense a chance," Koontz said.