Dec. 22, 1999 - Attendance: 34,200
MOBILE, Ala. - East Carolina's dramatic change on defense this season involved changing into an attack mode highlighting speed and quickness.
But as head coach Steve Logan had forewarned, the opponent in the inaugural Mobile Alabama Bowl was loaded with East Texas speed. And TCU eventually won the race, getting a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown by Russell Gary early in the fourth quarter that helped hand the Pirates a 28-14 loss in front of 34,200 in Ladd- Peebles Stadium.
East Carolina (9-3), bidding for only the second 10-win season in school history, was held to a season-low minus-16 yards rushing.
"They were a decent front," Pirates senior center Sherwin Lacewell said. "They were real good. I don't know what happened to us."
Meanwhile, national rushing leader LaDainian Tomlinson ran 36 times, mostly on lead option plays, and gained 124 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Nothing about that was unexpected, and the Pirates' plan was basically to get away with using nine players close to the interior line as much as possible.
"It was just enough," senior cornerback Forrest Foster said of TCU's option attack. "It was kind of like Southern Miss did--they didn't kill us, but they just kept coming and coming."
Pass plays by game most valuable player and true freshman Casey Printers-- both completed and not completed--loosened the Pirates just enough to keep the option working. TCU (8-4) went into the Pirates' territory on each of their first four drives and only came away with a 7-7 deadlock, but put together scoring drives of 58 and 61 yards in the final 11 1/2 minutes of the first half to pull ahead 21-7 at intermission.
"When you get behind two touchdowns, there's not going to be a lot of chances to having a running game, either," ECU offensive coordinator Doug Martin said.
The Pirates pulled within 21-14 in the second half, but Gary's interception return with 14:04 to go regained a two-touchdown lead and set the stage for Tomlinson to make time-killing runs. He ran 13 times for 58 yards in the fourth quarter.
"They didn't have any surprises, really, maybe a couple of plays where we were not sure we had seen something before," said ECU defensive coordinator Tim Rose. "They were a good running team. We saw a lot of playaction passes and they ran the option."
The Horned Frogs got 174 yards passing from Printers, with four of the catches going for 29 yards to Tomlinson on screen plays. East Carolina senior Jeff Kerr finished his final game as a Pirate with 12 of his 13 tackles solos, and five for losses. Redshirt freshman Anthony Adams added 10 tackles. East Carolina sophomore quarterback David Garrard threw 35 times, completing 19 for 191 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked three times. His 58-yard catch-and-run pass play to sophomore Arnie Powell gave the Pirates a 7-0 lead with less than two minutes gone.
"They got a lot of pressure with their front four," said junior tight end Rashon Burns. "We never got started. We did have a couple of explosion plays, but we never revved up."
Tomlinson only gained 20 yards on nine carries in the first half, consistently met by a swarm of Pirates. The Horned Frogs started drives at their 35 and ECU's 45, 45, and 37, but were denied by Foster's interception and Devone Claybrooks' block of a field goal around a punt.
Two plays ignited the Frogs and loosened the Pirates' defense in the second quarter. The first came on second-and-9 from the TCU 44 with just over 10 minutes left in the half, with Printers completing a 23-yard pass to Tim Maiden.
The second was a touchdown strike from Printers to Mike Scarborough, going away to the backside of the secondary to haul in a 21-yarder in the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
The Pirates managed just their third first down on the next series. But eventually Andrew Bayes punted 33 yards and the Frogs moved 61 yards efficiently on the strength of Patrick Batteaux's 35-yard option keeper to the ECU 19 on third-and-three followed by four Tomlinson runs, the last of three yards for a 21-7 cushion.
ECU - Powell 58 pass from Garrard (Miller kick)
TCU - Tomlinson 2 run (Kaylakie kick)
TCU - Scarborough 21 pass from Printers (Kaylakie kick)
TCU - Tomlinson 3 run (Kaylakie kick)
ECU - Wilson 13 run (Miller kick)
TCU - Gary 32 interception return (Kaylakie kick)
Rushing: TCU - Tomlinson 36-124, Batteaux 6-37, Printers 7-27, Layne 1-(-2). ECU - Henry 4-22, Wilson 9-16, Alston 1-(-7), Stokes 2-(-14), Garrard 10-(-33).
Passing: TCU - Printers 13-19-1, 174. ECU - Garrard 19-35-1, 191; Alston 1-2-0 48.
Receiving: TCU - Tomlinson 4-29, Scarborough 2-49, Maiden 2-41, Dunbar 2-16, Batteaux 1-17, James 1-13, Brown 1-9. ECU - Wilson 8-23, Chappell 5-116, Powell 2-67, Stokes 2-9, Floyd 1-11, Henry 1-9, Burns 1-4.