Mobile Alabama Bowl -- Mobile, Ala.
Wednesday, Dec. 20
TCU vs. Southern Mississippi
This should be a defensive struggle involving two teams that will be battling for years to come in Conference USA. In its final season as part of the WAC, TCU not only won the conference championship but also finished with 10 victories for the first time since 1938. This also marks the first time in school history that the Horned Frogs will have played in three straight bowl games.
|TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson led the nation with 2,158 yards rushing.|
For TCU, outstanding defensive coordinator Gary Patterson takes over from Dennis Franchione as the Horned Frogs' head coach, beginning with this contest. Patterson's well-coordinated defense led the nation this season, allowing the opposition to rush for just 2.3 yards per carry and only 84 yards per game.
Senior DE Aaron Schobel leads the charge, excelling as an outside pass rusher with his relentless style. Schobel has started 45 straight games to close out his exceptional career, finishing the 2000 campaign with 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. With Schobel chasing down quarterbacks along with the consistent play of senior safeties Curtis Fuller and Russell Gary, the Horned Frogs allowed opposing QBs to complete just 44.3 percent of their passes.
This means that when Southern Miss is on the attack, QB Jeff Kelly has to be on top of his game, taking advantage of the potential boost that could be provided at wide receiver with the healthy return of talented sophomore wide-out Leroy Handy. Sidelined since late October with a shoulder injury, Handy has been practicing and indications are that he's ready to go. It will be up to Kelly to get the ball to Handy early on, allowing him to immediately work his way into the flow of the game.
Kelly's ability to create some opportunities through the air will be critical, since the Golden Eagles have struggled when it comes to establishing a consistent ground attack. The problems began when talented junior RB Derrick Nix was sent to the sidelines in late September with an ankle injury and subsequent kidney problem. Hard-working junior Dawayne Woods filled in admirably, but the loss of Nix was definitely huge.
When TCU has the football, all eyes will be on super blue-chip senior RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Not only can Tomlinson hit the home run at any time, but he also surprises defenders with his strength and tackle-breaking ability. For the year, he averaged nearly six yards per carry and scored 22 TDs.
While Tomlinson is the focal point of the Horned Frogs' attack, not to be overlooked is multi-talented sophomore signal-caller Casey Printers. Not only does Printers have the ability to run the option, but he also proved to be a very capable passer as well, completing 57 percent of his aerials on the season. In fact, over the final two games of the regular season, Printers completed 23 of 37 passes for nearly 500 yards and six TDs.
As is the case with TCU's top-ranked defense, Southern Miss also fields an excellent stop troop, holding opposing running backs to an average of less than three yards per carry. Primary headliners on defense for the Golden Eagles include DE Cedric Scott (19 tackles for loss), redshirt freshman LB Rod Davis (leading freshman tackler in Conference USA with 94 stops), as well as DBs Chad Williams (eight sacks, led Golden Eagles with 114 tackles) and Leo Barnes (104 tackles, five interceptions, 14 pass breakups). Despite all the talent on hand, the Golden Eagles definitely had to miss the leadership and big-play ability of DE Adalius Thomas and MLB T.J. Slaughter, who both moved on to the NFL after last season.
Summary: TCU presents all kinds of problems for opposing defenses, with Printers doing a great job of complementing Tomlinson's rushing exploits. So even though Southern Miss will field a hard-nosed and very solid defensive unit, they will still be supremely tested by the Horned Frogs' multi-dimensional attack.
While TCU was consistent throughout the season and bounced back exceptionally well from a loss at San Jose State on Nov. 4, Southern Miss struggled down the stretch, losing three of its last four games. What Southern Miss has to do is regain the form they showed early in the season when they nearly upset Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville and pitched the shutout (21-0) against Alabama on the road at Legion Field. Southern Miss will also need a boost by the return from the injury list of talented sophomore wide-out Leroy Handy.
There is no question that TCU has the superior football team, but over the years, you would be wise to never underestimate the Golden Eagles and outstanding head coach Jeff Bower. Southern Miss will match TCU's intensity level and will battle hard for 60 minutes. Whether they have the material to hang with TCU is up for debate. Printers has developed into an outstanding quarterback and Tomlinson is the best player on the field. Schobel is also a terrific edge pass-rusher. The unknown dynamic is how TCU will operate without Dennis Franchione leading the Horned Frogs into battle.