Liberty Bowl Preview: Rams Face Stout TCU Defense

Even though they don't play each other on a regular basis, there will be few surprises when 23rd ranked Colorado State, champions of the Mountain West Conference and Texas Christian, winners of Conference USA, kick-off the 2002 AXA Liberty Bowl December 31st in Memphis.

The Rams, led by the MWC Offensive Player-of-the-Year, Quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt, and the conference's leading rusher, tailback Cecil Sapp, will try to run the ball. Early and often. TCU will focus on stopping the run. On the other side of the ball, it will be much the same thing.

"Really, both teams will try and do the same thing. We need to try and run the ball. They are going to try and run the ball," said CSU Head Coach Sonny Lubick. "If we can get Cecil going, then that helps our offense. I'm sure they're thinking the same thing with their offense."

CSU, 10-2 on the season, continued workouts for the New Year's Eve match up with a two-hour workout Saturday, and another full-scale practice on Sunday. Lubick, concluding his tenth year with the Rams, said after his team's practice session Friday that both teams will have that similar plan in mind when the game kick's-off at 1:30 p.m. MT/2:30 p.m. CT.

Sapp, a two-time first-team All-Mountain West Conference choice, led the league in rushing and has already established a new school season record with 1,495 yards entering Tuesday's game. He was hampered late in the year with a sprained right big toe, something Lubick says has healed.

"I think the time off has helped him. He looks like he has recovered from the sore toe," said Lubick. The Rams also hope to capitalize on the rushing talents of quarterback Van Pelt, who has gained 825 yards rushing to date. Called by some "a linebacker in a QB's body," Van Pelt keys the Rams offense, throwing for 2,049 yards and 10 TDs and adding 11 rushing scores.

But Colorado State faces a stiff challenge against a TCU defense ranked near or at the top of national stats against the run and in total defense. Horned Frogs (9-2) are led by Coach Gary Patterson, a former assistant at Kansas State. He brought the hard-nosed Wildcat defensive philosophy with him to Fort Worth, and it has worked. TCU has proven tough to run against for many of the top rushing teams in the nation over the last couple of seasons. This season, the Horned Frogs allowed the second fewest total yards in the nation, and gave up less than 63 yards per game on the ground – the nation's best. CSU averages over 214 yards per game on the ground. The Rams averaged over 30 points a game, while TCU gave up just 20 per.

When a team is as tough to run on as TCU, it makes it crucial for an offense to be able to do something different in order to loosen things up. Fortunately for Sonny Lubick, he has a player in Bradlee Van Pelt who can do just that.

Look for Van Pelt to open up the game with play-action and pass plays off an option look, then throwing to one of his talented receivers. Joel Dressen, Joey Cuppari, et all will be big early in the game.

If CSU can hit a pass or three, it will make TCU wary of the big pass play the rest of the game, and the running lanes will eventually open up. Cecil Sapp will get his 100+, Van Pelt might, too. Rams beat the Horned Frogs 27-17 to wrap up the best season in school history.

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