August 31, 2003
John Hryhorchuk , <i>Hullabaloo</i> main section editor
With the 2002 Liberty Bowl trophy safely nestled away in Fort Worth, the TCU Horned Frogs begin their quest for another C-USA championship in the Big Easy in front of a national television audience and a Tulane crowd eager for some action. The Horned Frogs have been heralded as the best team you've never heard of by some commentators, but that excuse won't hold true for long. If the hype about TCU is true, Tulane will have to play at a Hawai'i Bowl level to keep pace.
If the hype is false, look for Tulane to launch off to a strong start for what could be a memorable season. Tulane enters highly motivated with newfound zeal and unprecedented fan support. Converting this energy into success on the field could make the difference.
"Monday night is going to be a tremendous challenge to us," Head Coach Chris Scelfo said. "The last couple of years we have battled TCU back and forth. We've had some highs and lows during the course of games and I expect it to be the same on Monday night. The big thing for us on Monday, we're opening up with consistent, fast football in all three phases."
TCU travels to New Orleans with the 2002 Liberty Bowl trophy and the 25th spot in national preseason rankings. Last season, the Frogs fielded the nation's third best defense, only allowing 240.25 yards per game. Their rushing defense led the nation by holding opponents to a mere 64.83 yards per game and just 1.98 yards per rush. Tulane fans have reasons to be optimistic.
TCU Head Coach and defensive mastermind Gary Patterson will walk into the Superdome with only 11 returning starters and many questions still in the air. Patterson expressed concern in fall scrimmages with a lack of leadership on defense.
"The defense has to step up," Patterson said. "This was the second time we stepped on the game field for a scrimmage and have been lethargic. It seems like we're waiting for somebody like [graduate All-American] LaMarcus McDonald to make a play. That hallway's empty. Somebody else is going to have to step up."
The defensive line and linebacker squad highlight the vaunted TCU defense. Led by linemen Bo Schobel and Chad Pugh, the D-line returns fully intact from last year's success. At linebacker, the Frogs continue to have a strong presence despite the loss of McDonald. The primary area of concern for Patterson during the spring was whether his cornerbacks would step up this fall. If they don't, the game could get quite interesting.
For Tulane to succeed on offense, the Wave offensive line must protect quarterback J.P. Losman long enough for him to develop a deep passing threat that will keep the defense honest. Tulane's receiving corps ranks among the most impressive in University history. Led by Roydell Williams, the position features uncommon depth and the talent to successfully run a five wide-out set.
The talents of running backs Mewelde Moore and Jovon Jackson will need to be used creatively should TCU dominate the line. Luckily, Moore is among the top receiving running backs in the nation. Should TCU get out to an early lead, Wave fans can keep hope. During the 2002 campaign, TCU led by at least 11 points late in the third quarter prior to its two losses on the season.
On offense, TCU features Lonta Hobbs, last year's C-USA freshman of the year. Hobbs averaged 128.6 yards per game last season, but had one of his less impressive games against Tulane. The Green Wave held Hobbs to 5.4 yards per rush, his second lowest average in conference play. At quarterback, sophomore Tye Gunn returns from a season ending knee injury last year. The Horned Frogs went 4-0 under Gunn averaging 40.5 points per game.
Gunn maintained a 138.34 quarterback efficiency rating, which would have led the conference, prior to his injury. TCU has a respectable offensive line but a receiving crew that lacks the star power of other positions. The Tulane corners similarly lack acclaim, and the defense in general will need to repeat 2002 successes if the Wave hopes to march into the Liberty Bowl this New Year's Eve. The 2001 Wave defense was a laughing stock in the NCAA, but the addition of Defensive Coordinator Eric Schumann seemed to make all the difference for the following year.
This year, four returning starters will join an inexperienced squad in determining which version of history will repeat itself this time around. Butkus Award watch list linebacker Anthony Cannon leads the Tulane defense and a strong linebacker group. The defensive line and secondary will need to show the consistency many fear they lack.
Tulane's defense last year matched up well against TCU's offense, and, with luck, this will continue. Fans shouldn't anticipate a repeat of the 48-22 thrashing Tulane delivered last time the Frogs visited New Orleans. Should Tulane pull off the upset, it will do so in a tightly matched and exciting game, worthy of the national television audience it will receive.
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