After 19 years as the head coach of TCU football, Gary Patterson still faces new challenges.
Perhaps one of his biggest to date has been the coronavirus pandemic, which changed the way he has to approach the game and put his 20th season at the helm of the Horned Frogs in jeopardy.
The last two months, specifically, have been a roller coaster for TCU football.
They began official practice in July, facing new guidelines like face coverings for coaches, individual water bottles and frequent sanitation.
Then, the Frogs held their breath as conferences voted in early August on whether to move on with fall sports.
Read more: Big 12 to continue with fall athletics
After the Big 12 voted to continue with the football season, TCU announced quarterback Max Duggan would be out indefinitely due to a heart condition revealed by a COVID-19 test.
When Patterson met with the media on Monday, he was unwilling to give an update on Duggan’s medical condition, but he said Duggan had a real chance to return for a portion of the 2020 season.
Despite the roadblocks, Patterson said he likes what he has seen from the Horned Frogs on and off the field with 10 days until kickoff.
He commended the team for doing a good job following the university’s health and safety protocols.
“That’s really a positive for the university–the way they’ve handled this and the way they’ve done things,” Patterson said. “It’s taken an army to get down to what we need to try to get done. It’s truly been amazing. My hats go off to our kids.”
Patterson also praised the team for working hard in the “Texas heat” to prepare for the season.
He said the team will test the day before games, meaning players lower on the depth chart need to be ready if a starter tests positive.
New faces on offense
With Duggan out, Georgia transfer Matthew Downing is the expected starter at quarterback. Downing joined the Frogs in 2019 after redshirting at Georgia the year before. He has thrown just 10 passes in his collegiate career, completing eight of them for 88 yards.
“He’s not an eighth-grader. He’s a college quarterback,” Patterson said of Downing’s ability to get comfortable with the first team. “He was a quarterback at Georgia before he came here, so you have a competitor. You have a really smart kid.”
Before the first game, Patterson hopes to tighten up the support around Downing, primarily via the receiving core and offensive line.
“It’s really not Downing. It’s making sure all our wide receivers get on the same page,” Patterson said. “Offensive line–you’ve got a younger offensive football team.”
First-years Quentin Johnson, Blair Conwright and Savion Williams and Nebraska transfer JD Spielman highlight a group of new TCU receivers as the Frogs try to replace Jalen Reagor, who was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft last spring.
Wallow eyed as defensive leader
On the defensive side of things, Patterson will rely on linebacker Garrett Wallow for his leadership and dynamic play making.
“There’s still Garrett Wallow, and then everyone else needs to raise their level,” Patterson said of his linebacker core. “His leadership, his knowledge of the game, of how we play and what we do [will be important].”
Wallow led the Big 12 with 125 tackles in 2019.
Wallow could be joined by LSU transfer and former five-star recruit Marcel Brooks. But the Horned Frogs are still waiting to hear back from the NCAA on the status of his eligibility waiver.
TCU kicks off its season Friday, Sept. 11 against SMU at 8 p.m. The game will be aired on Fox Sports 1.
“We’ve got two weeks left to get ourselves where we need to get to and what we need to do,” Patterson said. “We’ve shown signs of a chance to be really good, and then there’s days [where it’s] not, which is pretty normal.”