(AP) - TCU is finally starting to resemble a Gary Patterson defense again.
After so many injuries to key players and using 16 first-time starters, the fifth-ranked Horned Frogs have allowed only one touchdown in the past seven quarters. Their last four opponents have scored a combined 17 points after halftime.
''We're just playing faster, not thinking as much'' said Patterson, who still runs TCU's 4-2-5 scheme like he did as defensive coordinator before becoming head coach 15 years ago.
The improvement comes at the right time with the Frogs (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) heading into their toughest stretch of the season. They play Saturday at 12th-ranked Oklahoma State (8-0, 5-0) and still have games left against the Big 12's other ranked championship contenders - 14th-ranked Oklahoma and No. 2 Baylor.
''Now that we've got guys back every week, we've played a little bit better, and I expect them to keep doing that as we go along, even though the competition is going to get tough,'' Patterson said. ''That's what you have to do if you want to try to win a championship.''
The Frogs are coming off a 40-10 win over West Virginia, which was held to 327 total yards after an FBS-best streak of 27 consecutive games with at least 350. The Mountaineers have been held to fewer points in a Big 12 game only once in their four seasons in the league.
Pierson is the Frogs' most experienced starter with 35 starts, 10 more than senior safety Derrick Kindred, the only returning starter from last year's defense who didn't graduate, leave for the NFL draft or get sidelined by injury. Pierson was out early because of a concussion and recurring symptoms.
''Like a spark, he comes back with all this energy, his craziness. We just feed of him, great to have him back,'' defensive tackle Aaron Curry said of Pierson. ''He has this energy about him that everybody feeds off.''
It's a good thing the Horned Frogs' defense is starting to come together, because it's about to face quite a test.
Oklahoma State has scored 128 points in its last two games, piling up 1,245 total yards - including a whopping 859 through the air. It fell down 24-0 last Saturday at Texas Tech and trailed early in the fourth quarter, but still won 70-53 - its fifth second-half comeback win of the season.
"We're not good enough here to look past even tomorrow's practice, that's just where we are as a football team,'' coach Mike Gundy said Monday. ''We have to try to improve each day to stay alive, and our goal last week was to just be a point or two better than Texas Tech. That's all we could worry about. And this week, it's to try to play the very best we can against TCU.''
The key to Oklahoma State's comeback wins has been the ability of its defense to adjust while its offense chips away at the deficit.
Junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries against Texas Tech, believes it boils down to the defense refusing to roll over.
''Not giving up, it's a mindset thing,'' said Ogbah, who leads the Big 12 and is tied for fifth in the nation with nine sacks. ''We come in the locker room and talk to each other and say, `Hey, we've come too far, we can't just let this slip away from us. We just have to go out there and stop them any way we can.'"
''And our offense has really stepped up big for us when we needed them the most.''
Oklahoma State's defense will need that mindset again to have a chance at slowing down the Horned Frogs' potent offense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin. TCU ranks second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 48.9 points, and total offense (a 616.3-yard average), while Boykin is fifth in passing yards with 2,927 and Josh Doctson leads everyone with 1,250 yards receiving.
''If there's a more dynamic player in college football, I don't know where he's at,'' Gundy said of Boykin. ''I don't see anybody else like him at this time. I want to be able to give him credit, and (TCU) credit for what they've done, but I also want to be able to make sure everybody knows that our defense is going to come out and play hard and use our team speed, and I'll be surprised if our guys don't play well.''
Oklahoma State beat TCU in Stillwater in 2012 and 2013, but the Horned Frogs sent the 15th-ranked Cowboys spiraling toward a five-game losing streak with a 42-9 win in Fort Worth last season.
TCU ripped off 676 yards, 410 of which came off the arm of Boykin. Two of his three touchdown passes went to Doctson, who gained 225 yards through the air.