2011 Poinsettia Bowl Recap
TCU Horned Frogs vs Louisiana Tech Bulldogs - TCU 31, Louisiana Tech 24
For long stretches of the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, the TCU Horned Frogs looked, breathed and acted the part of a team that did not want to be at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. However, they pulled themselves out of a substantial mental rut just long enough to avoid a fate that has befallen so many other heavy favorites inside the home of the San Diego Chargers over the years.
Yes, TCU avoided a lightning-bolt-like upset in the college football postseason on Wednesday night, barely escaping the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in a battle of conference champions. TCU carried the Mountain West banner into Southern California and Louisiana Tech held the flag for the Western Athletic Conference, and when this clash was done and dusted, the team that won the Rose Bowl a season ago emerged with its hide intact… but by the smallest of margins.
There’s a long history of San Diego-based bowl games in which the heavily-favored team just doesn’t play with all that much passion, usually due to a sense that it has been placed in a bowl game far below its pay grade. Teams that feel they’re playing in downmarket bowls against unattractive opponents will fail to spill the tank. They’ll drift through the motions and regard the larger occasion as unworthy of their time. A BCS bowl would bring forth a supreme effort, but a late-December bowl can have a deadening effect on a team’s emotions. We’ve seen this dynamic play out over the past decade in the city of San Diego.
In the 2003 Holiday Bowl, Texas – a substantial favorite against Washington State – wanted to play in a BCS bowl against a sexier national program. The Longhorns didn’t show up in Qualcomm, and the Cougars devoured them from start to finish. In 2004, California – after losing a politically-flavored battle with Texas for an at-large spot in the 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan – grumbled its way through a blowout loss to Texas Tech. In 2005, Oregon – after a 10-1 season – looked relatively listless against Oklahoma. The Ducks felt they should have been in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against either Ohio State or Notre Dame. Finally, last year, the 2010 Nebraska Cornhuskers wanted absolutely no part of the Holiday Bowl against a Washington team they had thumped by a 56-21 score earlier in that same season. Nebraska saw no value in playing hard a second time against a team it had already thrashed. As a result, Washington scored a 19-7 win over Nebraska. TCU, despite beating seventh-ranked Boise State and winning the Mountain West for the third straight season, was facing the same basic challenge of other San Diego bowl losers over the past decade. The Horned Frogs were certainly better than Louisiana Tech on the merits, but would they care?
For a long time, it seemed that the answer was going to be “no.” TCU showed one brief burst of fire in the belly at the beginning of the second half, but for almost all of the first 45 minutes, only Louisiana Tech cared about this game. When receiver Myles White caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Colby Cameron with 2:10 left in the third quarter, Tech gained a 24-17 lead against a TCU squad that was playing the game at half-speed. Everyone was wondering if the Horned Frogs would finally express the desire to win the game they were playing, not the Sugar Bowl or any other prestige-laden contest they weren’t able to be a part of.
In the fourth quarter, the Frogs delivered the goods. Coach Gary Patterson’s team finally shelved its penchant for the big penalty (eight on the evening for 71 yards) or a crippling turnover ( two in all). The Frogs put together an 18-play touchdown drive to tie the score at 24-all with 7:49 left in regulation. Then, after forcing a three-and-out against Louisiana Tech’s offense, TCU hit paydirt on a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Casey Pachall to receiver Skye Dawson. The Frogs’ surge of confidence overwhelmed the Bulldogs just before the finish line, as a huge upset didn’t come to pass in San Diego. Not this time.
By: Matt Zemek
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