Gary Patterson has had great defenses before. His Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense and finished second in yards per play in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Gary Patterson has faced great quarterbacks before. He schemed for two Heisman winners in Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin III, plus a runner-up in Colt McCoy. He faced Kellen Moore three times. Moore was 1-2 against Patterson and 49-1 against everyone else.

Gary Patterson has coached in big games before. He beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. He pummeled Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. He beat Adrian Peterson in Norman when Oklahoma was coming off two straight national title appearances. He won in Salt Lake City when Utah was ranked No. 6, and won on the blue turf in Boise when Moore, Chris Petersen and the Broncos were ranked No. 5.

But I’m not sure Patterson has ever had a better defense than this, which is appropriate because I’m not sure he’s ever faced a better quarterback than the one he’ll face Saturday, and I’m not sure he’s ever coached in a bigger game than Saturday night’s visit to Oklahoma.

Let’s start with the quarterback.

Baker Mayfield set the FBS record last season in passing efficiency and yards per attempt — and he’s on pace to shatter both records this season. The OU gunslinger has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for an insane 11.9 yards per attempt (his previous record is 11.1) with 28 touchdowns against five interceptions, good for a 201.60 efficiency rating that’s more than five points ahead of last season’s record-breaking mark. When the game is within seven points either way, Mayfield plays at a temperature that roughly equates to three times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Mayfield When Game Is Within 7 Points

Completions Attempts Comp. % Yards YPA TDs INTs Rating
136 186 73.1 2,419 13.7 23 3 219.94

Mayfield averaged 11 yards per attempt for 386 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 31-16 win at Ohio State. He averaged 11.2 per throw in a 29-24 win over Texas. At Oklahoma State last week? A school record 598 yards on 36 attempts — 16.6 per attempt — with five touchdowns in last week’s 62-52 win. Even with two interceptions Mayfield threw up a 240.92 rating.

Mayfield is a well-deserved Heisman front-runner in the midst of completing the most efficient career by a quarterback in major college football history.

But it’s not just Mayfield that Patterson will have to worry about Saturday. Oklahoma leads the nation with 608.2 yards per game and 8.57 yards per play. No team in this Offensive Renaissance Era we’re living in has averaged more than 7.67 a play, and OU is only 10 yards off the total offense record — a pair of marks set by different teams.

So we’ve established that TCU has the challenge of a lifetime looming. But this Horned Frogs defense has proven thus far that it’s up for the challenge.

TCU doesn’t lead the nation in total defense — the post-modern Big 12 has rendered that impossible — but the Frogs do lead the country in rushing defense and yards per carry allowed and rank in the top six nationally in total defense, yards per play allowed, scoring defense, stop rate, third down defense and red zone defense.

TCU Ranks In The Top 25 Nationally in 13 Defensive Categories

Defensive Category Statistic National Rank Big 12 Rank
Total Defense 284.1 yards 6th 1st
Yards Per Play 4.40 5th 1st
Scoring Defense 13.9 points 6th 1st
Stop Rate 80.2% 5th 1st
Points Per Drive 1.13 5th 1st
Rushing Defense 69.67 yards 1st 1st
Yards Per Carry 2.15 1st 1st
Opponent Completion % 49.1% 4th 1st
Pass Efficiency Defense 112.26 24th 1st
Sacks Per Game 3.11 13th 1st
Opponent 3rd Downs 26.67% 6th 2nd
Opponent Red Zone TD % 36.84% 2nd 1st
Opponent Plays of 10+ Yards 95 14th 1st

TCU hasn’t allowed so much as 3.7 yards per play in a game since October 7. TCU defended 54 drives during the last month. Three of them ended in touchdowns.

But Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas are not anywhere close to Oklahoma offensively. Heck, an All-Star team of Wildcats, Jayhawks, Cyclones and Longhorns still couldn’t match Oklahoma’s offense. Thus, the goals must change.

The Frogs allowed Oklahoma State to attain 499 total yards, 6.84 per play and 31 points. All numbers that defy the traditional norms of “good” defense. All numbers that were well below Oklahoma State’s season averages. All numbers good enough to win, thanks to a 4-1 turnover edge and a running game that churned out 238 yards, 4.6 a pop, four touchdowns and 44 points.

It’s going to take a similar formula on Saturday night. “I think the best way to win championships is to shorten the game,” Patterson told The All-American.

But if the No. 6 Frogs go to Norman and beat No. 5 Oklahoma — Mayfield called on fans to create a similar atmosphere to OU’s 2008 home game with then-No. 2 Texas Tech, a game the Sooners won 65-21 — Patterson will have TCU on a clear path to the one prize he has yet to claim. After carrying the program, the athletics department and the entire university on his back and up Mount College Football, to a Conference USA championship, a Mountain West championship, a Rose Bowl win, a Big 12 championship and a New Year’s Six victory, there’s one jewel left, and it goes right smack dab in the front of the crown: a national championship.

He can get there with a win on Saturday night. All it’s going to take is the best performance his defense has ever had, against the most efficient quarterback and the most explosive offense in college football’s modern history.