No. 10 Tulane validates ranking with blowout of BYU
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 07:56 PM
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN/SI) -- All year long, Tulane was just considered a novelty. They just kept on winning games but playing a weak schedule.
By the end of the season, only national champions Tennessee could share something with the Green Wave -- a perfect season.
However, Tulane didn't do it under the national spotlight in the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, it didn't even wait for the ball to drop in New York's Times Sqaure to finish a perfect season.
Michael Jordan returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown and Shaun King threw for two TDs and ran for one as Tulane beat Brigham Young 41-27 in the Liberty Bowl, clinching the Green Wave's best season ever at 12-0.
A Green Wave player held up a small sign with the words "NATIONAL CHAMPS" after the game, and linebacker Brian Timmons couldn't agree more.
"We're 12-0," Timmons said. "They can't take that away from us. We feel in our hearts we are the true national champions."
Tulane came in as one of only two undefeated teams in Division I-A, with Tennessee. But the Green Wave, with its Conference USA schedule, wasn't part of the Bowl Championship Series. So the Green Wave had something to prove, and got the chance against Brigham Young (9-5), making its 22nd bowl appearance in 28 years.
King shredded a defense that ranked fifth nationally, going 23-of-38 for 276 yards and rushing 16 times for 109 yards as Tulane went one better than an 11-1 record in 1931. It was the Green Wave's first bowl victory since the 1970 Liberty Bowl, improving the school's bowl record to 3-6.
"Hopefully, we answered some of our doubters," King said. "Any time you go undefeated, you should be ranked in the top five."
BYU coach LaVell Edwards, whose Cougars wound up ranked fifth in 1996 despite a 14-1 record, refused to be drawn into talk of whether or not Tulane deserves to be considered for the national title.
"The fact is they're undefeated, one of only two teams that have accomplished that," he said. "It's no small task to go undefeated, and they did it. You just have to give them credit."
New coach Chris Scelfo wound up a winner in his coaching debut in place of Tommy Bowden, who left a month ago for Clemson. Scelfo handled the game with help from five assistants, including offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, who will join Bowden at Clemson.
Before Bowden's arrival in 1997, the Green Wave had won only 11 games in five years and hadn't had a winning record in 16 years. Tulane completed its miraculous turnaround without him.
Tulane's defense never let Brigham Young get on track with an offense hampered by the loss of tailback Ronney Jenkins, expelled last week for an honor code violation.
The Cougars scored on their second possession and had only 168 yards offense through three quarters. They didn't get inside the Tulane 20 again until the fourth quarter, when they scored three times to close the final margin.
Edwards said he didn't know what caused his Cougars to play so Flat, and that their 20-13 loss to Air Force in the Western Athletic Conference title game may have taken too much out of them.
Tulane started slowly, and it looked like BYU would take advantage.
Kevin Feterik found Brian Horton in the left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard TD on BYU's second possession. But a celebration penalty backed the Cougars' Owen Pochman for a 35-yard extra point attempt that was blocked.
The Cougars had a chance to add to the lead when Jordan put Tulane ahead to stay near the end of the first quarter. He stepped in front of Feterik's pass to Mike Rigell at the Tulane 21 and ran up the left sideline, cutting back at the BYU 15 to score untouched on the 79-yard return for a 10-3 lead.
His return was the longest in Liberty Bowl history, topping the 70-yarder by Mississippi's Robert Bailey in 1968.
"The touchdown off the intercepted pass was very huge," Edwards said. "Up to that point, we were moving the ball well and doing some good things."
Tulane finally got its offense going in the second quarter as King keyed a six-play drive with a 47-yard pass to Kerwin Cook despite double coverage. King scored three plays later on a 3-yard draw for a 17-6 lead. He also tossed TD passes of 60 yards to Cook and 13 yards to Jamaican Dartez in the third quarter.
Brad Palazzo added his second field goal of the half, a 23-yarder, just before halftime for a 20-6 lead.
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