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Gil LeBreton

Frogs are winners despite the defeat

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LINCOLN, Neb. _ In 1917, in-state rival Nebraska Wesleyan journeyed here to begin the football season _ and was promptly shucked and hulled by the big university, 100-0.

It hasn't gotten much better for opening-day guests since.

Consider these: 49-13, 45-0, 56-27, 59-14, 55-14 and 77-28.

In order, those are the scores of the ever-hospitable Nebraska Cornhuskers' six most recent home openers.

Swathed in red, with echoes of Nebraska's past glories ringing from its broad end zones, Memorial Stadium is no place for a young head coach to launch his first full football season.

But Gary Patterson and his TCU Horned Frogs left here Saturday with their heads held high and their dignities more than intact. Expected to be mowed and rolled by 30 points, TCU's swarming defense gave the mighty, No. 4-ranked Huskers all they could handle before losing, 21-7.

And as the clock ticked down, the time when most visiting teams here are either scrambling for oxygen or searching for their well-beaten posteriors, there instead were the Cornhuskers, their Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback still in the ballgame, still throwing for the end zone.

When was the last time that a coach lost a football game and was named National Coach of the Week?

Patterson deserves the certificate, or the trophy, or the pat on the back.

"We got a lot out of it," the head coach said. "We were in a tough football game and we responded. Our young players played well. Certainly, we'll be a better football team because of today's game."

Yes, the coach did say that _ Nebraska head coach Frank Solich said it.

Somewhere along the way, Patterson had prepared a team that lost the guts of its championship defense. Somehow, he had taken a TCU team missing 28 departed seniors and 14 starters, and convinced the survivors not to be in awe. It was only Memorial Stadium, he had told them.

"The field's 100 yards long, just like our field," quarterback Casey Printers said. "We didn't look at them as these `gods' that couldn't be beaten."

After an ominous first Nebraska drive, the Frogs seemed to heed their instructions and, while 77,473 jaws dropped, began to make themselves at home.

"We play against their offense every day in practice," Patterson said about the Nebraska option. "One of the things about the option is that people are scared to blitz it.

"But you have to play Nebraska. You can't just sit there and zone them all day. They'd get six one time, then three, then six ..."

So the Frogs began to blitz. With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Nebraska clung to a scant 13-7 lead, and Huskers quarterback Eric Crouch hadn't looked comfortable since his team's opening drive.

"Sometimes, when you play somebody like Nebraska," Patterson said, "you have to roll the dice."

But it wasn't smoke and mirrors that kept TCU, the 30-point underdog, in the game. It was the confidence that the young Frogs showed. It was Printers, who, though the offense never could get anything going, kept his poise and never put his team in trouble.

And it was a coaching staff that, despite the intimidating venue, appeared to work more and more smoothly as the day went on.

Somebody said that the ABC-TV announcers interviewed former TCU coach Dennis Franchione while the game was on the air.

Shame on ABC. That's not just poor taste. That's unfair. Dennis Franchione never gave a single locker room speech or called a play in this game.

It's Gary Patterson's team now. His confidence is evident in it. His fingerprints still are clearly all over its defense.

"A lot of people think we lost more than we have," the new coach said.

He didn't want to talk about the 28 seniors that the team lost. He was ready to turn his attention to the weeks ahead.

"We felt that we could come in here and have a learning experience, and I think we did that," Patterson said.

"As I told them in the locker room, `Put it in your memory banks.' "

For TCU, assuming it can score a touchdown or two, the road ahead suddenly looms considerably brighter. The Frogs have a loss on their record, but their confidence and their dignity are intact _ not to mention putting $900,000 in the bank, just for showing up.

If there are any trophies to be handed out this week, save one for the new coach.

Gil LeBreton, (817) 390-7760

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© 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas

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