San Francisco Chronicle

TCU’s vaunted defense presents big test for Cal

- By Rusty Simmons Rusty Simmons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: rsimmons@ sfchronicl­ Twitter: @Rusty_SFChron

In the second and third quarters of its season-opening loss to Nevada on Saturday night, Cal ran only six times to gain a mere 9 yards and failed on five of six third-down conversion attempts.

Three days after those startling numbers marinated, Cal offensive coordinato­r Bill Musgrave said: “We were just trying to move the ball any way we could. Nothing changes. We want to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. Shoot, we just want to get the ball going down the field, run or pass, and find what we do well.

“That’s the only explanatio­n we’ve got.”

The Bears better come up with a better explanatio­n before they play Saturday at TCU, which has finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense five times in the past two decades and is regularly near the top of the heap.

The Horned Frogs held their Week 1 opponent, Duquesne, to three points, 2.1 rushing yards per carry and 76 total passing yards.

Cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and defensive end Ochaun Mathis are preseason All-America candidates. Hodges-Tomlinson was rated by Pro Football Focus last season as the nation’s highest-graded cornerback in coverage, and Mathis led the Big 12 and ranked 12th nationally in sacks per game (0.9).

The key to TCU’s defense is head coach Gary Patterson, who has led the team to three top-10 finishes in the past seven seasons.

“TCU’s defense has been doing the same thing for 21 years, and they’re really, really good at it,” Musgrave said. “It’s a high-level defense. They know what they’re doing, and they’ve got really good people to execute it.”

To counteract the Frogs’ aggressive 4-2-5 defense, opponents have to showcase speedy skilled players. Even though it toggled through seven receivers, five running backs and five tight ends in the opener, Cal may not have the speed to cause problems.

That exact scenario played out just three years ago in the Cheez-It Bowl, where the teams met for the first time in program history and came up with what SB Nation called “one of the most beautifull­y hideous bowls ever.”

In TCU’s 10-7 overtime win, the teams combined for six first-half intercepti­ons and nine total. Two of the intercepti­ons came on illegal throws from Frogs quarterbac­k Grayson Muehlstein, who threw one after catching a forward pass and another after he passed the line of scrimmage.

It was the fourth bowl game in NCAA history with nine or more intercepti­ons, joining the 1942 Orange Bowl, 1968 Sun Bowl and 1982 Liberty Bowl and is jokingly referred to as the “Cheez-INT Bowl.”

The offensive players in the Cheez-It Bowl so underperfo­rmed that ESPN gave the “spotlight honor” to Jalen Reagor, who had zero catches and three carries for 9 yards.

“This is a middle drill game,” Patterson said, referring to a knockdown, dragout drill where one player stands in the middle of teammates and points to another player. Those players engage, and the winner leaves the other in the circle for another repetition.

“‘No fair dodging,’ as (former TCU defensive coordinato­r Dick) Bumpas used to say. Can’t flinch in these types of games,” Patterson said. “But if you want to win a lot of ballgames, you have to win all types. You have to win basketball games. You have to win street fights. You have to win all of them.”

 ?? Ron Jenkins / Associated Press ?? TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1) reacts after intercepti­ng a pass against Duquesne last week as Bud Clark (26) looks on.
Ron Jenkins / Associated Press TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson (1) reacts after intercepti­ng a pass against Duquesne last week as Bud Clark (26) looks on.

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