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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Leapin' Lizards! Texas Christian beats Wisconsin to win the Rose Bowl

Linebacker Tank Carder's play fuels the Horned Frogs' 21-19 win over the Badgers and a big jump forward this season.

January 01, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • TCU's Jai Caveness (26) and Elisha Olabode (6) celebrate after the Horned Frogs defeated Wisconsin, 21-19, in the 97th Rose Bowl on Saturday in Pasadena.
TCU's Jai Caveness (26) and Elisha Olabode (6) celebrate after the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Wisconsin was the "big" team, but Texas Christian had the Tank.

Tank Carder, a great football name in a great football game, stuck up his arm late Saturday afternoon and batted down a pass for all the little frogs.

"We were lucky Tank was in the game," TCU Coach Gary Patterson understated afterward.

Tank your lucky stars.

Carder's knockdown did not officially secure TCU's historic 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in front of 94,118 in the 97th Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs still had to recover the onside kick, which Bart Johnson did, and then run off the final seconds to secure the school's biggest win since Sammy Baugh was slingin' it.

Maybe that's why it took Carder a few minutes to process the enormity of his play on Wisconsin's two-point conversation try with two minutes left.

Carder: "It didn't seem like that big of a play until it sunk in."

The Badgers had just driven 77 yards and scored on Montee Ball's four-yard run.

Wisconsin needed two more points to work overtime on a holiday.

You plan all your life for moments like this and sometimes they work out even when things go wrong.

Carder was expecting, duh, Wisconsin to run. That's what the Badgers had done all the way down to 21-19.

Wisconsin came out in the spread, however, with quarterback Scott Tolzien in shotgun formation. Carder was reordered to a "wide dogs" blitz from the left but got stone-cold blocked when he saw Tolzien cocking his arm.

"I jumped, and that was it," Carder said.

It sure was.

"Sometimes things were just meant to be," Patterson said.

Wisconsin had called the perfect play. Receiver Jacob Pedersen was wide open.

"It leaves your hand and you see that big paw up there and it gets batted down," Tolzien said. "That's part of the game."

Yeah . . . the hard part.

Carder's play effectively ended the Rose Bowl that ended TCU's perfect season at 13-0, as it ended Wisconsin's imperfect year at 11-2.

TCU's win was historic on a number of fronts. The Horned Frogs became the first team from a "non-automatic qualifier" conference to play in, and win, the Rose Bowl.

The Horned Frogs were here on a waiver that kept Stanford out. There was so much to prove.

The game was a "big vs. fast" argument as Wisconsin's offensive line outweighed TCU's defensive front by an average of 40 pounds.

In the end, speed thrilled.

Wisconsin's loss capped a New Year's Day when the Big Ten went winless in five bowl games. It was Ohio State's president, Gordon Gee, who last month stated teams like Boise State and TCU didn't deserve national-title shots because they played "sisters of the poor."

All people are saying today is "poor Wisconsin," "poor Michigan" and "poor Penn State."

The argument over whether TCU deserved a national shot this year has less traction only because the school just announced it will join the Big East in 2012.

It's harder to make mockery of a system that just accepted your enrollment application.

It's also hard to stand up at the Rose Bowl and say you should be playing in a better game. It's like getting invited to the White House and complaining about the carpet.

"I've never been here before," Patterson said. "To be able to look at those mountains and see everything that went on with the game . . . I mean, I would be doing them injustice by saying anything less than I was glad I was here today."

The game ended a lot of half-truths and myths. Champions of the Mountain West Conference can hang (obviously) with tri-champions of the Big Ten.

"I think we showed that these teams can play with anybody," TCU quarterback Andy Dalton said.

Wisconsin scored 83 on Indiana this year but had to scratch to get 19 against TCU?

Wisconsin was bigger, not better, than TCU, even though it didn't look that way when Ball ran 40 yards through the Horned Frogs' defense on the game's first play from scrimmage.

But TCU's defense regrouped and found its footing.

The game's hardest hits were delivered by TCU players, with the sound of Carder's third-quarter sack of Tolzien still resonating in the Arroyo Seco.

TCU's defense teetered as it tried to calibrate Wisconsin's strength. A huge key was forcing Wisconsin to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns twice in the first half.

"I felt like we efficiently held them," Carder explained. "As long as we hold them to field goals, we felt we could win the game."

TCU played it old school. The Horned Frogs ran only 49 plays from scrimmage and scored two first-half touchdowns on only three possessions.

TCU played second-half field position against Wisconsin, pinning the Badgers on their first three possessions at the five, three and 11.

Dalton made his final game at TCU one of his best. He's still kicking himself for his three-interception performance in last year's Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State.

"It was very important to him after last year," Patterson said. "He was very hard on himself."

Dalton, the redhead, took it to Big Red. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown. He brilliantly double-pumped Wisconsin defenders on hookups with his receivers, highlighted by his 23-yard first-quarter scoring pass to Johnson.

Dalton also worked Wisconsin with his legs, scoring TCU's second touchdown on a four-yard scamper.

Dalton leaves TCU with 42 wins, more than any active college quarterback.

Everyone knows the "real" BCS title game isn't until next week, but TCU left Pasadena feeling as if it had played in something close.

"I've never been a whiner," Patterson said. ". . . To us, this was a national-championship-caliber ballgame."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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