Frogs win in a runaway

FORTH WORTH, Texas — With a tailback like LaDainian Tomlinson, who could blame Texas Christian for taking a step back to the age of single-wing formations and leather helmets in the second half of Saturday’s 41-14 shellacking of Northwestern?

Employing a creative array of sweeps, draws, counters and seemingly unstoppable option plays, the No. 20 Horned Frogs (2-0) had no need for forward passes in the final 30 minutes. Instead, they relentlessly rushed against a fatigued NU defense, showing how expansive a one-dimensional offense can be.

The Frogs went right to their strength in Tomlinson & Co., totaling 387 yards on the ground in front of 30,796 fans at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Playing in an offensive scheme that would make any tailback drool, Tomlinson scampered for 243 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats, not to mention two long scoring runs that were called back on holding penalties.

“We were flowing to the edges and they were coming back with little counters and stuff to get back to the middle,” Cats linebacker Kevin Bentley said. “I felt that they did a good job of taking our team speed away because we are a fast-flow defense.”

NU fell to 2-1 after season-opening wins at home against Northern Illinois and Duke.

By spreading the NU defense with a textbook option attack in the first half, TCU opened up the middle of the field early in the third quarter. From there, the Frogs used a backbreaking 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive to increased their lead to 24-7. Tomlinson carried the ball eight times on the drive, the last of which was a 22-yard untouched sprint to the end zone.

Living up to his Heisman-candidate billing, Tomlinson showed lightning-quick cuts that had Cats defenders chasing all over the field.

“He makes plays happen, he runs hard, he’s a big guy and he has great speed, everything the (NFL) scouts look for,” NU running back Damien Anderson said.

With their running attack unfettered, the Frogs had no reason to change things up.

“I could sense offensively in the second half we were just hammering at them and they were getting fatigued,” Frogs coach Dennis Franchione said. “We were kind of running downhill against them there.”

The NU offense contrasted TCU’s as quarterback Zak Kustok struggled to find a crucial rhythm in the no-huddle attack. After Anderson scored on a 39-yard run midway through the opening quarter, NU stagnated offensively, sputtering in the second half.

The Cats still were within striking distance after Kustok hooked up with wide receiver Teddy Johnson on a short post pattern that went 73 yards for a touchdown. Down 24-14 with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, NU finally was able to contain Tomlinson and the TCU offense and had the ball on its own 17-yard line.

Two plays later, it was all over.

On second down, Kustok’s bullet pass bounced off wide receiver Sam Simmons’ chest, floating endlessly before Frogs nose tackle Stuart Ashley grabbed the ball and returned it to the Cats’ 16-yard line. TCU managed only a 23-yard field goal, yet it began a 17-point outburst that closed the casket on NU.

Said NU coach Randy Walker: “Anytime you (have) turnovers in critical situations and don’t do a better job than we did controlling the run or rushing the football, I’ve never been able to win many of those.”

After putting up 73 points in its first two games, the NU offense slowed Saturday. Aside from his touchdown run, Anderson averaged only 3 yards per carry as TCU quickly realized he was the Cats’ prime offensive threat.

And in trying to come back against a Frogs offense that took mammoth chunks off the clock on each possession, the Cats were forced to throw the ball on every play, leading to two late turnovers.

The NU offense lost any sense of tempo when, down 10-7 early in the second quarter, Kustok attempted his only deep pass of the day, lobbing a lame duck toward Johnson that was snagged by cornerback Jason Goss.

“If you’re worried about throwing an interception, you’re not going to be a good quarterback,” Kustok said. “That one just got hung up and a couple of their passes got picked off, but you just have to learn from it and move on next week.”

Walker said his biggest concern after the game was the lack of trust exhibited between players and coaches. The confusion on defense and the lack of execution on offense culminated in the fourth quarter, as a relatively close contest disintegrated into a laugher.

“We need to get back to our element, we need to get back to our zone and just cut it loose and play and coach with reckless abandonment because that’s the style of play we want to have,” Walker said. “We had that going for a couple of games, it didn’t exist Saturday and we have to bring that back.”