Tomlinson leads TCU to rout of UTEP
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- LaDainian Tomlinson may be running into contention for next year's Heisman Trophy.
Tomlinson broke the NCAA Division I-A rushing record, gaining 406 yards and scoring six touchdowns Saturday in TCU's 52-24 victory over Texas-El Paso.
Tomlinson carried 43 times and topped the record held by Tony Sands of Kansas, who rushed for 396 yards on 58 carries against Missouri on Nov. 23, 1991. The junior and first-year starter also set a single-season rushing record for the Horned Frogs with one game to play.
"All the credit goes to the offensive line. They've done a great job of creating holes all season," Tomlinson said. "I need to buy them a couple of steaks."
And it's an offensive line that will return intact next season. There are no seniors in the group, and the starting five includes four juniors and a sophomore.
While Tomlinson is the first major-college rusher to gain 400 yards in a game, he is the sixth overall in the NCAA. The record is 441 yards, by Dante Brown of Division III Marietta College in 1996.
Touchdown runs of 70 and 63 yards on consecutive carries in the fourth quarter got Tomlinson close to the record. So even with a 45-24 lead, TCU (6-4, 4-2 Western Athletic Conference) sent him back out for its final drive of the game, and he broke the 400-yard barrier with a 7-yard carry.
"If he's so close to something like that, you've got to let him finish it off," said TCU coach Dennis Franchione. "We just wanted to get him his 20 yards."
Tomlinson broke Kenneth Davis' 15-year-old single-season record when he burst through the line and outraced two defensive backs for the 70-yard touchdown. Davis rushed for 1,611 yards in 1984, and Davis now has 1,725.
On his next carry, the first play after a UTEP punt, Tomlinson broke through the left side and raced 63 yards down the sideline, cutting back toward the middle to avoid being tackled inside the 10. That gave him the single-game school record and moved him within 13 yards of 400.
"Going into the game, I wasn't thinking about a lot of yards," Tomlinson said. "All I was thinking about was winning the game. I knew we had a chance to get to six wins and be conference champs."
By beating UTEP (5-7, 3-4), TCU became bowl eligible and moved within a victory over SMU next week of sharing the WAC title.
UTEP, which had battled back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to tie the game at 17 by halftime, finished with its 11th straight losing season since a 10-3 record in 1988.
After rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Tomlinson doubled his efforts. He had 287 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the second half, touching the ball on 29 of 37 plays before he left the game with the Horned Frogs at the 3.
"After three turnovers, I was a little punchy about what to call in the second half," Franchione said. "The smart thing to do was to give the ball to No. 5."
On the opening possession of the second half, Tomlinson had all seven carries on a 71-yard touchdown drive that put TCU ahead to stay. He got the final 27 yards when he took a pitch left, escaped several tacklers at the line and broke into the open.
After a UTEP punt, Tomlinson was involved in nine of 10 plays on a 58-yard drive, getting the final yard when he spun off the back of the offensive line and sprinting to the outside.
The Horned Frogs failed to score on just one of its six second-half possessions. That was at the end of the third quarter, when Tomlinson didn't get the ball on four straight plays before a punt.
TCU went 76 yards on its next drive, Tomlison with carries of 1 and 5 yards before breaking the 70-yarder.
"Tomlinson's runs were unbelievable. There was nobody near him," said UTEP coach Charlie Bailey. "Sometimes it was missed assignments and sometimes it was not."
UTEP, which trailed 14-0 after two turnovers in the first five minutes of the game, took advantage of a TCU fumble just before halftime to tie the game at 17-17 on a 2-yard keeper by Rocky Perez with 40 seconds left.
Tomlinson ran for touchdowns after both of the early UTEP turnovers, taking a pitchout 13 yards after a fumble and leaping high over the pile for a 1-yard keeper after an interception.