Bowl Blitz: Seven-game win streaks on the line when TCU – La. Tech clash in Poinsettia Bowl

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Seeing as how the Sixth-annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl is this evening, what better way to start a preview of the game than with a little trivia. What was the last nationally televised football game played between military academies and when did it take place? Okay, if you said the recent Army-Navy game then yes, you’re right, because only because I forgot specifics. When was the last nationally televised foootball game between military academies that was not the Army-Navy game?

The answer, of course, is the Poinsettia Bowl, but the one which took place in 1952. After doing some quickipedia research (yes that’s quick and Wikipedia combined), I discovered the Poinsettia Bowl was originally a military services championship game, pitting Western and Eastern Military Services champions against each other. After last year’s weather fiasco, it’s almost fitting that the last televised game in 1952 between the Bolling Air Force Base and the San Diego Naval Training Center took place at Balboa Stadium in San Diego during a torrential downpour. Hundreds of reluctant sailers were apparently ordered to sit in the stands to make the stadium appear more full on national tv.

We’ve had five very exciting games so far this bowl season, and with this game featuring two of the hottest teams in the country , the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl shouldn’t have the same attendance problems as that historic battle in 1952. With outgoing Mountain West Champion TCU and its opponent, WAC champion Louisiana Tech, both riding seven-game winning streaks, this game has the potential to be the most exciting bowl game yet.

On the surface, this game might look like a TCU blowout considering the Horned Frogs are the ninth-best scoring offense in the country at 42 points per game and average nearly 450 yards of total offense. A disappointing overtime loss to spread-passing SMU is really the only blemish on TCU’s 10-2 record. They upset Boise State in Boise on November 12, not without a little help from Dan Goodale, en route to a perfect 7-0 conference record and a third-straight Mountain West title. Sure, they lost a shootout in Waco to Baylor to open the season, but that Baylor squad featured eventual Heisman winner Robert Griffin III so a loss is nothing to be ashamed of. With the perfect conference record once again, TCU finished the season having won a conference-record 23-straight Mountain West games. I’d except some “Undefeated in the Mountain West since 2008” shirts to pop up soon as TCU will join the Big 12 next year.

Looking deeper into the Horned Frogs’ opponent however, the Bulldogs of La. Tech, and you’ll find an opponent worthy of challenging TCU. The Bulldogs lost four of their first five games before catching fire and winning their final seven. They finished WAC play 6-1 and accepted a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl as early as November 26, weeks ahead of knowing their opponent. While TCU averages 444 yards per game on offense, La. Tech isn’t far behind with the 45th best passing attack in NCAA at 247 yards per game – nearly 400 yards total after factoring in their 150 yards rushing per game.

La. Tech’s strength on offense has been the two-headed passing attack of Nick Isham and Colby Cameron. Isham, a true freshman, has played more games (nine to Cameron’s six) but Cameron, a redshirt junior, averages more passing yards per game (223 to Isham’s 162). No matter who is under center, expect him to look for wide receiver Quinton Patton. The 6’2” redshirt junior has hauled in 74 catches for 1,135 yards and 10 TD’s. He’s averaging more than 15 yards per reception and 95 yards per game.

Combine the numbers of the two Bulldog quarterbacks and you’ll get a quarterback just slightly better than what Casey Pachall has done at TCU after replacing Rose Bowl winner and current NFL rookie-of-the-year candidate Andy Dalton.

Pachall, a sophomore who entered the season with only nine passing attempts on his collegiate resume, excelled in a way few expected. Starting every game, Pachall completed better than 67 percent of his passes for 2,715 yards and 24 touchdowns – he threw only six interceptions all year and ranks seventh nationally in passing efficiency. His signature game, and potentially a sign of things to come in the Big 12 next year, came in the big showdown against Boise State. Facing the winningest quarterback in NCAA history in Boise’s Kellen Moore, Pachall showed no fear throwing for 473 yards and five touchdowns.

The biggest determining factor in the outcome of tonight’s game, however, is not going to be the play of each team’s offense – although that will be important. No, it is on defense that the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl will be won. Whatever plagued the Bulldogs during the first five games clearly has been dealt with. Since giving up an average of 33 points through five games, including 42 to Central Arkansas and 44 to Hawaii, La. Tech has only allowed more than 21 points once, and held opponents to less than 15 points per game.

The key for La. Tech is going to be stopping the three-headed rushing attack of TCU’s Waymon James, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley. James is the leading rushed with 824 yards and a 7.7 average per carry, but Tucker is the scorer with 11 touchdowns and 684 yards rushing. Wesley, who played in three fewer games than both, still racked up 649 yards and five TDs; combine the three and you’re looking at a 2,157 yard back with 22 touchdowns. Heading in to tonight’s game, the Bulldog defense has allowed opponents to rush for more than 100 yards in four straight games, including a 253-yard outburst from Nevada. Shutting down Waymathed Jackersley is a must.

For the Horned Frogs to win, it is imperative they stop La. Tech’s passing attack. Throughout the year, TCU’s defense has struggled against quality passing quarterbacks and spread passing attacks. Against RGIII and Baylor in week one, TCU allowed 414 yards passing and six touchdowns. Two weeks later, against Louisiana-Monroe, TCU fell into a 17-point first-quarter deficit before storming back for the W. In their overtime loss to SMU, the Horned Frogs allowed 349 yards passing and four TD’s and then another 300+ to Moore in Boise. Despite a stout defense a year ago, the Horned Frogs have allowed 100 yards rushing to all but three opponents this year.

Since the Poinsettia Bowl’s rebirth in 2005, most of the six games have been filled with excitement and five-straight winners have come from the Mountain West – TCU with two of those victories. Each team is looking to end the season with a snowman in the “win-streak” column and momentum heading into the off-season. For the TCU, it’s important to show the Big 12 just how good of a team they are, while La. Tech could be playing for an opportunity to eventually join the Mountain West. It’s going to be quite the showcase in this mid-week bowl game. With no other college football competition, each team knows all eyes will be on them – now let’s hope they both show up.