It wasn’t easy, but TCU got it done in San Diego during the holidays once again.
The Horned Frogs’ second San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl victory was a tough-fought battle between two teams that came into the game as hot as anyone in the nation.
Both TCU and WAC-champion Louisiana Tech came into the game riding seven-game winning streaks.
Failing to sneak into the Top 16 in the BCS rankings, the Horned Frogs were unable to earn a BCS bid. It was unknown heading into the Poinsettia Bowl how that would affect the team, which just one year ago capped off an undefeated season with a win in the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin.
For about a half, it looked as though it was affecting Gary Patterson’s team quite negatively.
Louisiana Tech clearly was more excited than TCU to be playing in the pre-Christmas bowl, and their play on the field in the first half backed that up. The Bulldogs started by using a healthy dose of the passing game in order to setup a 23-yard field goal by Matt Nelson.
About halfway into the first quarter, Louisiana Tech found a groove in the running game with true-freshman back Hunter Lee. Lee, who was fourth on the depth chart to start the season, gashed the TCU defense for 62 of his 70 total yards in the first half.
If anything, TCU was helped out in the first half by a couple of costly miscues by the Bulldogs.
Already up 3-0 and driving in TCU territory, Lee coughed up the ball, which was recovered by the Horned Frogs. The turnover resulted in a 25-yard field goal by TCU’s Ross Evans.
A missed field goal by Nelson, followed by an interception by Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron near the end of the first half, turned what could have been a double-digit Louisiana Tech lead into a 10-10 deadlock heading into the locker room.
While a tied score at the half would normally be a win for an underdog such as Louisiana Tech, it was clear that the Bulldogs had not done enough to shift the momentum completely.
The third quarter was an offensive show of sorts, with 280 yards and 21 points being racked by the two teams. Louisiana Tech held a 24-17 advantage with just over two minutes left in third quarter, but the genius that is TCU head coach Gary Patterson took over.
A 19-play drive that started with 2:20 left in the third quarter was capped off with 8:27 in the fourth by a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Luke Shivers. The game was tied at 24 points apiece.
Louisiana Tech got the ball back, but the momentum had already shifted to the side wearing purple. Thanks to a pass rush that started to get pressure on the Bulldogs’ Cameron early in the second half, the Horned Frogs were able to force Louisiana Tech into a three-and-out.
On the ensuing possession, Casey Pachall threw a 42-yard touchdown to wideout Skye Dawson that would eventually prove to be the game-winner.
After a second consecutive three-and-out, the Bulldogs were forced to punt yet again, and this time they would not get the ball back. Thanks to a strong rushing attack that showed life in the first half but was negated for the most part due to penalties, the Horned Frogs were able to run out the rest of the clock.
It was probably not the kind of roller-coaster ride that Gary Patterson would have liked to be a passenger on, but a win is a win for the Mountain West champs.
The Horned Frogs defense was somewhat of a silent hero in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.
As mentioned earlier, TCU was able to get much more pressure on Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron than they were in the first half. In addition, the Horned Frogs limited the Bulldogs to 2 yards of total offense in the final quarter.
Like many of the early bowl games, this one was much closer than the majority of people would have predicted. The Horned Frogs were a 9.5-point favorite at one point heading into this matchup.
The win by TCU is the first for the Mountain West conference this bowl season, which had lost in their previous two bowl appearances. Wyoming lost to Temple in the New Mexico Bowl, and San Diego State was upset by UL-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl. Both games were played on December 17th, the first day of bowl games.