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Two-of-a-Kind Football is Mild, Less Thrilling

According to the scoreboard, two different teams played in the Freedom Bowl Monday night in Anaheim Stadium.

You could have fooled me.

San Diego State and Tulsa played like twins. They had the same personalities, which was to say conservative and colorless. They looked the same. They played the same. They almost smelled the same, if you get my drift.

They could have saved a lot of money and had just one of them show up and play against its own defense.

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Indeed, it would have been appropriate had they ended up with the same score. Apparently, what with all the post-Christmas shopping, there was only one tie left in the stores. Brigham Young and Iowa got that one. Of course, BYU collects ties in Mission Valley.

San Diego State might have had a tie (or a victory) in the Freedom Bowl, except it kept dropping the package. Fumbles subtracted seven possible points from SDSU’s total and added seven to Tulsa’s.

As a result, after struggling with so much boring sameness for most of the game, Tulsa came away with a 28-17 victory.

This was pretty mild stuff.

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With SDSU involved, you had to expect one of those barroom brawls. You know, a lot of long punches and not too much defense. The last time these guys played in a bowl game, they imposed their wild and woolly personalities on Iowa and came away losers in a 39-38 Holiday Bowl in 1986. At least it was fun.

It figured to be more of the same Monday night.

Instead, San Diego State became Tulsa . . . and vice versa.

Both teams slugged it out and plugged it out. They went for body punches in close. A boxing match like this would have been booed. They spent the night in a clinch.

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SDSU did its punching with Marshall Faulk, the All-American freshman. This made sense. When SDSU is running the ball, Faulk figures to be the guy. However, it forgot to bring wide receivers like Patrick Rowe and Darnay Scott to the party. It was Faulk, Faulk and then Faulk some more.

After getting to this bowl appearance with a devastating offense of many dimensions, SDSU came out with a playbook that could have been written by Woody Hayes.

And darned if Tulsa did not have almost exactly the same playbook. It handed the ball down after down after down to Ron Jackson, who had spent most of the season as Tulsa’s second string running back. All he did Monday night was carry 46 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns.

Jackson and Faulk were different. They were hardly twins in how they carried the football. Jackson was one of those straight-up, knees-high guys who comes right at you and dares you to get in his way. Faulk was more of a skittering ghost, disappearing from where you thought he was.

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In this game, Faulk carried 30 times for 157 yards. That’s not bad, but he was all there was to SDSU’s offense. Understand that Faulk was also the Aztecs’ leading receiver , with nine catches for 42 yards.

That’s not much production from the leading receiver in this passing attack. SDSU receivers gain that much in 16 seconds, not 60 minutes. All of the passes to Faulk were little dump-offs in the flat. You kept waiting for him to break up field as defenders tightened the noose around him at the line of scrimmage, but it never happened.

The first scoring drive was the story of the game for the SDSU offense. It was an excruciating march of 86 yards, 15 plays consuming 6 minutes and 21 seconds. Marshall Faulk handled the ball, either as a runner or receiver, on 11 of those 15 plays. They struggled, staving off three third down situations, and got the ball into the end zone on a two-yard run from Faulk.

All this work was blown away when SDSU’s special teams, of all people, tried the only daring ploy of the evening.

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An onside kick.

Huh?

It did not travel the required 10 yards. SDSU recovered, but Tulsa had the ball at the Aztec 46. All of 91 seconds later, Jackson was in the end zone to tie the game.

Again, the Aztecs went on one of those death marches and got the ball down to the one, but Wayne Pittman fumbled the ball away into the end zone to Tulsa. Pittman is a normally reliable young man, but you had to wonder about going away from Faulk, the guy who got them to where they were.

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The other fumble, equally devastating, came in the fourth period when T.C. Wright muffed a booming punt from Tulsa’s Gus Frerotte and Tulsa recovered at the SDSU four. This one came when the score was 21-17 and the SDSU defense had apparently given the offense a shot at taking the lead. Guess who, Jackson, took the ball into the end zone and whatever drama was drained.

That was all that could have saved this game.

A close finish.

Heroics at the end.

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As it was, the final gun was more of a wake-up call.

There were no heroics.

I should have gone to Disneyland.


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