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Owls get set for showdown with TCU
by Jose Luis Cubria
thresher editorial staff

liz rice/thresher
Junior linebacker Dan Dawson returns one of his three interceptions in Rice's 38-13 win over the University of Hawaii Saturday. Dawson's three interceptions tied a school record.

It will take nearly every bit of Ken Hatfield's head coaching expertise for the Rice football team to upset Texas Christian University tomorrow, recent history notwithstanding.

But you can be sure Hatfield won't have to beg his players to win one for the gipper - the Owls already have more than enough reasons to stomp the Horned Frogs.

Rice visits Fort Worth tomorrow for a conference clash with 11th-ranked TCU. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. at Amon Carter Stadium, and the game will be regionally televised by ESPN, including on KTBU in Houston.

If nothing else, the Owls won't lack motivation. After all, the Horned Frogs - one of Rice's most bitter rivals to begin with - are undefeated and highly ranked. And they've scheduled the Owls for Homecoming. And it's their final year in the conference. And they're touting their star player as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. And ... well, you get the picture.

With so many reasons to beat TCU, Rice could easily get caught up in the hype. But instead, the Owls have decided to take the most basic approach of all - they want to beat the Horned Frogs simply because they're the next opponent on their schedule.

"I think we have a little incentive because we're 2-5," junior linebacker Dan Dawson said. "We don't need any extra motivation. ... We should be ready."

Of course, that's the least exciting reason of all. And don't think the Owls have forgotten about all the other juicy ones.

Take, for example, the fact that this will be the last time the two schools face each other in a long time. The Horned Frogs are bolting from the Western Athletic Conference at the end of this year, when they will join Conference USA.

The two schools have played each other every year since 1928, first as members of the Southwest Conference and, since 1996, as WAC foes. The Owls wouldn't mind giving TCU a friendly parting gift.

"I don't want to talk about that too much," junior safety Jason Hebert said with a laugh. "But it would be nice to put them away one last time before we don't get to play them any more."

While TCU leads the all-time series 40-35-3, the Owls have owned the Horned Frogs recently. Rice has won four straight meetings between the two schools, including a 42-21 romp at Rice Stadium last year.

Since last year's dominating Rice win, however, TCU has reeled off 11 straight wins by a margin of nearly 25 points per game.

Hatfield said there's no specific reason why Rice has been able to dominate the series even while the Horned Frogs have dominated everyone else. But the Owls do know that TCU will be looking for revenge.

"It works against us," Dawson said. "They're going to be mad. We won't sneak up on them or anything. They're probably mad that we've beaten them and that we beat them pretty bad here last year. So if we're going to beat them, we'll have to earn it."

The Horned Frogs, who enter the game unbeaten at 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, have had visions of a New Year's Day bowl game - and perhaps even a national championship - dancing in their heads since two-a-days.

They struggled to beat an up-and-down University of Tulsa team 17-3 last week. But the Owls, who lost to Tulsa 23-16 in September, know TCU is for real.

"This is a team that has the second-longest winning streak in America," Hatfield said. "They're playing well. We've been picked as their homecoming opponent again, so we'll try to get ready for that kind of atmosphere. I know it will be a great crowd and a great, exciting day. ... We'll need a great effort."

The toughest part of all will be stopping LaDainian Tomlinson, the nation's leading rusher at 182.2 yards per game and one of the favorites to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy.

The Owls know they'll have their hands full with a back who has drawn comparisons to the University of Texas' legendary Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy two years ago and routinely dominated Rice.

"Tomlinson's probably the best back I've played against in college," Dawson said. "I played against Ricky Williams, and Tomlinson's just as good. ... And the thing I like about him is he plays real hard every play. Even when we were beating them last year, you could tell he wanted the ball and wanted to help his team. I like people that play like that.

"I'm excited about it and I think the whole defense is. He's a great player and they're a great team. These are the games you come to college to play in. It should be fun."

Hatfield said Rice enters every game looking to stop the run first. Against Tomlinson and the Horned Frogs, it will be more important than ever.

"It's no big revelation that against TCU you had better stop the running game or they won't throw a single pass," Hatfield said. "It's a real challenge. They have a good attack and a good scheme in throwing the football, but we have to go in there and play the running game extremely well."

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