There are times during spring drills and two-a-days dedicated to learning how to stop the seldom-seen offense that is so productive when done right. Those lessons resumed about four weeks ago.
"It's a three-hour mental drill as far as defense is concerned," Patterson said of facing the Falcons. "You have to have the mentality to be able to handle that."
Test time comes Saturday night, when the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs (7-0, 3-0 Mountain West) host Air Force (5-2, 3-1). This could be TCU's toughest challenge despite one of its most dominating defensive stretches ever.
The Frogs have allowed only a field goal the past three games. Mountain West teams haven't scored a touchdown against them this month and managed only 166 total yards a game.
"Like I told my guys, the key to it is, if you're going to prove that you're a great defense, you've got to play on all fronts," Patterson said. "You have to be able to play an offense like (Air Force). ... It's about being able to do your job and do the right things, and how you do it. That's going to be our challenge this week."
Air Force is the nation's top rushing team with 347 yards a game.
The Falcons lost fullback Jared Tew after he broke his leg last week, but that will not change what they do. Nathan Walker, a senior, will start alongside junior running back Asher Clark (95 yards per game) and running quarterback Tim Jefferson (66.3 ypg, team-high seven rushing touchdowns).
"Nathan has been as all in as all in gets. He'll do a good job," coach Troy Calhoun said, adding that he's not worried about extra work for Clark.
"What (Clark) is, he is stronger," he said. "The more that you carry, the more you get a feel to be a little bit more of a physical runner and how to sense where there are creases."
Finding holes in TCU's defense can be difficult. Even for Air Force, which before running for 229 yards on a bitterly cold night in Colorado in a loss last October, managed only 131 yards rushing per game their previous three meetings against the Frogs.
"They are fast. They play five defensive backs and they use their speed to their advantage," Jefferson said. "They fly to the football and they don't miss tackles. That's what they do to be a good defense and they do it very well."
Before losing 27-25 at San Diego State last week, the Falcons' only loss had been 27-24 at third-ranked Oklahoma last month. Air Force piled up 351 yards on the ground and scored 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points in a comeback bid that fell short against the Sooners.
That Air Force-Oklahoma game was one of the films that TCU players watched.
"I wasn't surprised by the difficulty of playing an Air Force," Patterson said. "What a triple-option offense does, it makes you get better with your eyes and your feet. You can't take false steps and you've got to get your eyes in the right place or they'll go play-action pass."
Jefferson has thrown for 335 yards and three TDs the last two games, including career highs of 13 completions and 30 attempts last week.
TCU, ranked fifth in the first BCS standings, is playing the last of three consecutive home games.
The Frogs then are on the road for three of their last four regular-season games. That includes a Nov. 6 game at ninth-ranked Utah.
Before BYU managed a 27-yard field goal in the third quarter last Saturday, there were shutouts against Colorado State and Wyoming. TCU is the only FBS team this season to hold consecutive opponents scoreless.
SMU's 361 yards and 24 points are the most this season against TCU, which leads the nation in scoring defense (9.3 points per game) and is second in total defense (218 yards per game). No other team has more than 263 yards against the Frogs.
"You look at them, you know they are going to be bigger, faster, stronger than a lot of guys out there," Falcons center Michael Hester said. "They won't try to mix it up on you too much or mess with you. They'll just line up and try to beat you with what they've got."