By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Gary Patterson goes into his 20th season as TCU’s head coach paying attention to the detail of things he never would have thought about in the past.
“From your own water bottle to sanitizing every 10 minutes. … Where did you sit and how close you sit to somebody, how you eat, you name it,” Patterson said. “Everybody’s being very careful, but the longer it goes, the more normal those habits become.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has altered how things are being done on and off the field, the mindset for TCU players positively changed when they were finally certain they had games to get prepared for this fall.
“Since we said, ‘Hey we’re moving forward, we’ve got an opponent, we’re getting ready to go,’ you can see them starting to dial in like they would for a ball game,” Patterson said. “So it’s been fun, I’m really happy for them because they put it in a lot of work, and as much work as they put it, not to get an opportunity to play games would be terrible.”
The Horned Frogs are coming off their second losing season in four years, after having to win their last two games in the 2018 regular season just to get into a bowl game they won to finish 7-6. There were only two losing records in Patterson’s first 15 seasons.
There was a setback for TCU when preseason testing revealed that returning starting quarterback Max Duggan has a previously undetected, life-long health issue that will keep him out for at least the start of the season. The condition was discovered during ramped-up testing protocols because of the virus.
“I won four out of five games with a fourth-team quarterback two years ago. Expectations are: nothing has changed,” Patterson said. “I can’t tell you much about (Duggan), but he’s possibly got a chance to return here. We’ll see how it goes.”
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Sophomore Matthew Downing, who played limited snaps in four games at Georgia as a freshman in 2018 before walking on at TCU, is now the likely starting quarterback. Patterson said Downing has been “doing good” and that the Frogs aren’t having to limit their offensive plans because of the unexpected switch.
“He’s not an eighth grader. He’s a college quarterback. At the end of the day he was a quarterback at Georgia before he came here. You have a competitor and a really smart kid,” Patterson said. “You know how I judge quarterbacks, we’ll see what he looks like on Saturdays.”
Senior linebacker Garret Wallow is back after leading the Big 12 with 125 tackles last year, and ranking in the top 10 nationally with 10.4 tackles per game. He also had 18 tackles for loss. Patterson said Wallow’s leadership and knowledge of the game are just as important as those big numbers.
Patterson never walks by a sanitizing machine without putting soap on his hands. Along with the on-field changes, such as sanitizing balls after they’re touched, the coach said position groups are in their meeting rooms less than 15 minutes at a time. Players are also doing mostly online classes, which helps lower the possibility of being infected by the virus.
TCU lost the first two games it was supposed to play, at California and at home against Prairie View, after the Pac-12 and SWAC postponed their fall schedules. The Big 12 opted to keep its round-robin league schedule and allow teams to play one non-conference game at home.
TCU initially added Tennessee Tech, the school where Patterson had his first full-time coaching job as a linebackers coach from 1983-84. But Tennessee Tech canceled after the Ohio Valley Conference’s decision to not play this fall. TCU was then able to restore its annual game against SMU, which agreed to play in Fort Worth for the second year in a row for TCU’s opener Sept. 12. The rivalry game had originally been canceled since it was supposed to be played in Dallas on Sept. 26, the same week Big 12 play now beings.
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