A leg injury left Aaron Brown sidelined for most of TCU’s first three games, but now that the junior is healthy, he’s beginning to live up to preseason expectations. The Cowboys’ defense has seen its fair share of star running backs in ’07. Will the Frogs’ standout wreak havoc on the conference’s premier run-stopping machine? Or will the Pokes continue to assert their defensive superiority?
It has become a bit of a recurring theme for the Mountain West Conference’s top-ranked defense, and it hasn’t slowed down the unit’s early-season dominance yet.
For the third time in as many games, the Pokes will face a premier running back on Saturday, and they plan on dealing with Aaron Brown the same way they dealt with Ian Johnson and Kalvin McRae. Neither the potential Heisman candidate nor the MAC’s most explosive runner was able to break through Wyoming’s defensive rushing stronghold in Weeks Two and Three. Johnson mustered 83 yards on 24 carries—a performance well below his 2006 average of 146 yards per game. More importantly, the Pokes kept him out of the end zone. McRae, last year’s most valuable player in the MAC, had just 57 yards on 16 carries a week later. If TCU’s star tailback wants to fare any better, he’ll have to find a way past the Pokes’ formidable front seven.
“We've got three sophomores up front that are just doing a great job," Wyoming head coach Joe Glenn told the Casper Star Tribune this week. "You've got those guys playing good up front, and then the linebacking corps is, to me, the best.”
It seems that way so far. After four nonconference outings, the Cowboys are ranked fourth in the country in total defense and are giving up 80+ yards less per game than any other team in the MWC.
Still, the Frogs were the early favorite to win the league title, and after a rough start to the season, Brown is beginning to show signs of living up to his preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The junior running back played in just one quarter of the Horned Frogs’ season opener against Baylor before going down with a leg injury that kept him out of the team’s next two contests against Texas and Air Force. TCU missed Brown in a bad way, losing both games, falling out of the top 25 and feeling the hurt of a dismal 1-2 start.
His return to the lineup in Week Four seemed to be just what the Frogs needed to regain momentum as they finished up their nonconference play; Brown’s 92 yards rushing on just 11 carries lifted TCU to a 21-7 victory over Southern Methodist.
His biggest game of the season came a week later, however, when the Frogs hosted Colorado State last Saturday. Brown added three receptions and 26 yards receiving to 124 yards rushing on 22 carries. It was the fifth 100-yard rushing performance of his career and good enough to garner Mountain West Conference Player of the Week honors.
"It's a great ... burden off the offense," quarterback Marcus Jackson told the Dallas Morning News last week. "Everyone else doesn't feel like they have to go out and be that Aaron Brown on offense. They can go out and do what they do best, knowing we have him back there."
Head coach Gary Patterson was more than positive about having his star rusher back to normal.
"The biggest thing he brings is leadership, besides being a guy who can take it to the house," he said during his weekly media luncheon Tuesday.
Brown has yet to take it to the house in 2007, however, and the Cowboys hope to keep it that way on Saturday. If they stay true to their early-season form, they may do just that; the Pokes’ defense has given up just five total touchdowns so far this year.
Despite Wyoming’s success against Johnson and McRae, however, Glenn knows Brown will be a tough tackle for the Pokes all afternoon.
“He's unbelievable," Glenn said Tuesday during the Mountain West Conference's weekly coaches teleconference. "He's got tremendous speed and he's a great runner.
“TCU is a very talented football team, and a very fast football team and a team that we've never defeated. So we are anxiously awaiting Saturday's game.”
So are Cowboys fans. A two-week road trip followed by a bye week has left Laramie in a near month-long football drought.
"We had a chance to get to heal a little bit and get our legs back,” Glenn said of the bye week. “It gives you a little head start, but not a huge, big head start.”
With Brown and TCU in town, the Cowboys will take whatever kind of head start they can get.