'Locked in' Andy Dalton finds redemption

PASADENA, Calif. -- Andy Dalton changed once TCU began its postseason practices in Fort Worth last month.

Receiver Jimmy Young noticed it right away. Dalton stopped cracking jokes with his teammates and laughing in the locker room. Smiles didn't come very easily from the big redhead.

"You can always tell when Andy is serious," Young said. "I just knew then that he was locked in."

"Locked in" is a good way to describe Dalton's performance in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Horned Frogs put the bulk of the offensive game plan in the hands of their reliable senior quarterback, and he delivered in a 21-19 win over Wisconsin.

Dalton, the game's offensive MVP, completed 15 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown and finished as his team's leading rusher with another score that way. In all, he accounted for 247 of TCU's 301 yards.

Maybe most importantly, he didn't throw any interceptions. In the previous year's 17-10 loss to Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he had the worst game of his career, getting picked off three times. He had to live with the criticism that came from that loss, and he said he didn't watch any replays of the game for more than two weeks afterward. Center Jake Kirkpatrick described Dalton as really down on himself last January.

Dalton remembers the feeling well. As he awaited his Rose Bowl news conference, Dalton saw the disappointed Wisconsin players on the dais and immediately recognized the looks on their faces.

"To take a lot of the blame for the team puts you in a tough position," he said. "That's something I didn't want to feel again."

So once the Rose Bowl matchup was announced, Dalton got down to business. He did little else but study film on Wisconsin in the weeks leading up to the game. Along with the coaching staff, he thought the Horned Frogs could exploit the Wisconsin defense down the field and on the edges. When TCU needed a big play on offense, time and again Dalton found open receivers.

His numbers could have been better if not for a few drops and a couple of times when receivers slipped on the stadium's grass. Only once in the first half did a tailback even touch the ball, as Dalton picked up yards himself on the zone-read plays.

"I knew everything they were doing," he said of Wisconsin's defense. "The way I studied for this game helped with the way we played. I was really focused because I knew I wanted to play well in this game."

In truth, Dalton's Rose Bowl performance typified his career better than the Fiesta Bowl disappointment. Lightly recruited -- TCU beat out UTEP and Memphis for his services -- Dalton won the starting job as a freshman and broke every school passing record. He finished as the Horned Frogs' all-time winningest quarterback, with a 42-7 record, including 36-3 the past three years.

That's why teammates said earlier this week that they let him down last year against Boise State, not the other way around.

"He's how we were able to go 13-0," tailback Ed Wesley said. "He's the guy who has led this team this far, and it was his job, I guess, to finish it off."

Dalton was one of the last two players to leave the TCU locker room, walking toward the team bus in his white sweat suit. A smattering of fans still waiting spotted him and yelled "Andy!" He cracked a smile. There was no need to be locked in any more.