By Steve Ramirez
PASADENA – Texas Christian University has been winning a lot of games the past two years.
Still, the national perception was the Horned Frogs, with a mid-major schedule and as a member of a non-Bowl Championship Series conference, didn’t quite match up with college football’s elite, especially those from Bowl Championship Series conferences like the Southeastern, Pac-10 and Big Ten.
TCU showed otherwise Saturday.
Quarterback Andy Dalton accounted for 247 yards and two touchdowns, linebacker Tank Carder knocked down a pass on a two-conversion attempt with two minutes to play and the No. 3 Horned Frogs silenced the naysayers with a 21-19 victory over No. 4 and Big Ten tri-champion Wisconsin in front of 94,118 at the 97th Rose Bowl Game.
TCU, which has won 26 of its past 27 games and 44 games in the past four seasons, improved to 13-0 and made a strong argument for a mythical national title. Wisconsin, getting 132 yards rushing and a touchdown form Montee Ball, finished 11-2 after advancing to the school’s fourth Rose Bowl Game since 1994.
“As a program for 13 years, as I’ve said, we’ve been trying to climb the mountain,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Today was a climax of the last 10 years of what we tried to get done.
“TCU is 13-0 and has 44 wins with this senior class. And they know that at any point in time anybody can beat anybody. I’ve been telling people for the last eight years that there is parity in college football, and on any given day anybody can beat anybody.”
The Horned Frogs, getting 219 yards passing from Dalton, proved the point Saturday, and the key may have come in the first quarter when they withstood two Badgers scoring drives and responded with two touchdown drives of their own to take a 14-10 lead.
Dalton, who passed for 109 yards in the first half, threw 23 yards to Bart Johnson for a 7-3 lead with 6:15 left in the quarter before running 4 yards for a score and 14-10 lead with 36 seconds left in the quarter.
“You always want to start fast,” Dalton said. “I think we only got the ball three times in the first half and it felt like we hadn’t played going into halftime. We scored twice and we were watching the rest of the time.
“We knew we had to take advantage of our opportunities because Wisconsin’s got such a great run offense and they can run the clock.”
The Badgers, who got a 40-yard run from Ball on the game’s first play, did that. But they also had two scoring drives stall. TCU forced a Philip Welch 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 Badgers lead at 10:39 of the opening quarter and then stopped Wisconsin at its 22, resulting in a miss by Welch from 39 yards with 8:34 left in the first half.
The Badgers also got a 1-yard touchdown run by John Clay for a 10-7 lead, which was erased by Dalton’s 4-yard run.
“What got us here was clean execution and clean disciplined football,” said Wisconsin quarter Scott Tolzien, who threw for 152 yards. “We didn’t do that today, myself included. That’s why this is the greatest game, because if you don’t execute the other team’s going to find a way to beat you.
“I think you have to give credit to TCU for a good game plan, and (they) just played their tails off.”
Wisconsin, which rushed for 226 yards, made it 14-13 after driving to the TCU 22 and settling for Welch’s 37-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
“I feel like that was the key to the game,” Carder said. “On the first drive, we held them to a field goal. Those two (first-half) field goals we held them to obviously won the game for us.
“When we made them kick field goals, I think that helped us out a lot throughout the long stretch of the game. And coach Patterson said that early in the week. He told us they were going to drive the ball down the field, and as long as we hold them we felt we could win the game.”
The Horned Frogs then got some breathing room early in the second half.
Dalton, tossing 33 yards to Ed Wesley and 12 yards to Jimmy Young, pushed the advantage to 21-13 when Luke Shivers concluded the opening drive of the third quarter with a 1-yard run at 11:56.
Wisconsin was bogged down for much of the second half inside its only 20 before using Clay late for a chance to tie the score during thefinal seven minutes. The junior, who had been bothered by injuries during the final month of the regular season, broke off runs of 14 and 32 yards to advance the Badgers from the shadow of their own goal
line to the TCU 33.
Tolzien then tossed 10 yards to Lance Kendricks for a first down at the Horned Frogs’ 19 before runs of 5, 4, 2, and 3 yards by Clay gave the Badgers a second and goal at the 4. Ball took it in from there to cut the deficit to 21-19 with two minutes left.
“John Clay loves to compete and win,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “You could see that come out in the last drive and the energy he had.”
But it was the next play that clinched it for TCU. Carder, the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year, got enough pressure coming off the edge on the conversion to knock down a Tolzien pass that looked headed to an open Jason Hengel a foot inside the end zone.
“Coach Patterson called a blitz,” Carder said. “I got blocked and couldn’t get through the hole. I just stopped, backed up, saw (Tolzien) cock his arm back and I jumped and that was the end of it.
“I was like, after I knocked it down, it didn’t seem like that big of a play until it sunk in. It was definitely — they needed two points, and I swatted it and stopped them from getting two points. It didn’t sink in right away, then I thought, ‘yeah all right.'”
Wisconsin’s Alec Lerner then popped up the onside kick attempt, which was grabbed by TCU’s Johnson. The Horned Frogs then ran out the clock for their second bowl win in the past three seasons.
“I think of my time here at TCU,” Dalton said. “I never thought we’d have a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. We got the opportunity today and (got) a big win.”
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