TCU slips but doesn't fall

Sunday, October 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. – In weather that inspired more than a few fans to stay home Saturday, TCU's offense played as though it wanted to be somewhere – anywhere – else, too.

Pouring rain and a tougher Tulsa defense than many might have expected held the Horned Frogs to their worst offensive performance of the season. The Frogs defense, staunch all year, finally had to be the difference in a game, and that's how 11th-ranked TCU escaped with a 17-3 victory before 20,034 at Tulsa's Skelly Stadium.


"I've coached teams that went undefeated – and I hope this team is capable of doing that – but when you do, there's going to be a time or two that you have to win ugly," TCU coach Dennis Franchione said. "Most undefeated teams sooner or later have games like this, and they go on. I hope we can go on."

TCU's victory was its 11th consecutive and ran the Frogs' record to 6-0 overall – the best start at the school since 1938 – and 3-0 in the Western Athletic Conference. Tulsa lost its third consecutive game and fell to 3-5, 2-2.

Franchione and his players were quick to applaud Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane held TCU to 285 total yards, easily the Frogs' lowest output of the season. One could even say the Tulsa defense stuffed Frogs tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, Division I-A's leading rusher entering the game. Tomlinson, who had been averaging 194.8 yards per game, produced a season-low 119 yards on 27 carries.

"I love how we competed," said Tulsa coach Keith Burns, whose team had been torched the previous two games for 82 points and 1,062 total yards, including 450 rushing yards last week against New Mexico State. "The odds were obviously stacked against us."

That would have been difficult to tell by watching the first 40 minutes or so Saturday. Tulsa's defense consistently funneled Tomlinson inside and stuffed him. And after TCU squandered good opportunities in the first quarter, the rain, combined with poor second-quarter field position, prevented Franchione from turning quarterback Casey Printers loose.

That resulted in a 3-3 halftime tie, TCU's lowest point total in a half this season and the first time the Frogs didn't lead at the half.

"They did a great job game-planning for us," Tomlinson said. "They had our number all night."

So TCU had to rely on its defense, which somewhat quietly – considering Tomlinson and the offense's explosiveness this season – has led the nation in yards (236.6) and points (9.6) allowed this season.

The Frogs produced a season-high four interceptions. One came in the end zone to thwart a Tulsa scoring attempt late in the first half, and two others set up TCU's touchdowns late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.

Sophomore Bo Springfield, playing more because of cornerback Jason Goss' season-ending knee injury last week in practice, grabbed his first career interception with 3:18 remaining in the third quarter and the score tied, 3-3.

With Tulsa concentrating so hard on Tomlinson, Printers began breaking loose on option keepers – he eventually rushed for a career-high 87 yards on 14 carries. And despite the rain, Printers also was able to find Tim Maiden on a deep curl route at the Tulsa 5-yard line, and Maiden busted into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:47 left in the third quarter.

"They were playing the run so hard, it made it easy for me to see him," said Printers, who completed seven of 12 attempts for 62 yards and didn't throw an interception for only the second time this season.

Kenneth Hilliard, starting in place of Goss, then got his first interception of the year three plays into Tulsa's next drive, and he returned it 36 yards to the Tulsa 14-yard line.

Printers kept for 13 yards, then Tomlinson did the honors from a yard out on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 17-3.

That was enough, even though not a lot of it was very pretty.