Don't Blame the Defense

LUBBOCK, Texas – Don't blame the defense for this one. If you had told any Cowboy player, coach or fan that their team would go into the fourth quarter leading 15-14 they would have felt really good about their chances of winning. However, one Cowboy fan accurately said, "In 17 minutes we played our way out of the beach (Holiday Bowl) past the Riverwalk (Alamo Bowl) all the way to the river boats (Independence Bowl)."

That's how long it took for Texas Tech to take control of the game and finish off a 31-15 win over the Cowboys and probably send themselves to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl and a date with Ohio State.

That was the trip the Cowboys craved, but four possessions in the fourth quarter yielded just one first down (and that came with less than a minute to play). Yes, it was the offense that came up short in the final game of the season.

The defense wasn't perfect, but they held Texas Tech to just 24 legitimate points. The final touchdown came gift wrapped when the O-State offense turned it over on downs at the 28-yard line.

The Cowboy offense just couldn't get the job done. Texas Tech didn't do anything out of the ordinary, The Red Raiders were "plain Jane" for the most part on defense, but they kept the Cowboys from running the football. They did it with a seven-man front and deep zone coverages. Offensive coordinator Mike Gundy called it the softest defense they had seen this season in scheme. They obviously weren't soft in technique and performance.

"We didn't block them," said head coach Les Miles. "We had the opportunity to go down the field and run and throw. At times we were throwing the football and had guys in our face, and at times we were running the football and plays that certainly we had numbers for but the Tech defensive linemen were making plays. It was surprising that we sputtered on offense the way we did."

The defense on the other hand played well. The Cowboys held Texas Tech to seven first half points. Texas Tech had 436 yards of total offense with 281 yards through the air – both well below their season average. The defense gave Oklahoma State a chance to win.

"That defense played well enough for us to win the ballgame," said Miles. "The score is not indicative of how well our defense played. The defense played from start to finish extremely well."

There were plenty of heroes on the defensive side, but you have to start with weak safety Jamie Thompson. Thompson was so tired after the game that it took him almost 40 minutes to get out of his game uniform. He had 10 tackles to lead the Cowboys, and nine of those were unassisted. He also scored the Cowboys' only touchdown when he jumped an out route in the third quarter and picked off Sonny Cumbie's pass and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown.

 "I think we did a good job of preparation for it," said Thompson. "My coach (Doug Mallory) and I watched a lot of tape and that play I was ready for. He threw it right to me and I just tried to get to the other end as fast as I could. Once I got it I was just trying to look at myself in the Jumbotron and make sure nobody got close to me."

Another hero who stepped up big was defensive end Darnell Smith. Smith finished with five tackles and had two quarterback sacks, including a huge drive stopping sack in the red zone. Smith came screaming through and knocked Cumbie down for a 12-yard loss. Tech failed to convert a first down and kicker Alex Trlica missed a 43-yard field goal try.

"Just felt like they had pretty good protection and I saw the quarterback step in," Smith said. "I knew his routes were taken away, and I knew I had to keep fighting. He crossed my face and I was able to take him down."

The third hero comes from the special teams. In the absence of an offensive touchdown, the first time since the 52-9 loss to Oklahoma last season, Jason Ricks was the Cowboys' scoring leader with three field goals. His second field goal in the second quarter was a 55-yard beauty that might have been good from 65 yards. It was a shot, and ties Ricks with Tim Sydnes for the second longest field goal in OSU history. The longest belongs to Larry Roach, a 56-yarder.

"After seeing Prentiss running around a little bit, going crazy, looked like Barry Sanders a little bit, I didn't quite know where we were at but I knew we were in field goal range at the time," said Ricks noting the play earlier which was a loss on a reverse by Elliott. "Then the coaches were indecisive about punting it, going for it or kicking the field goal. Coach Miles signaled field goal. To be honest I didn't have time to see how far it was. Woogie (John Wohglemuth told me to hurry up. I just went through my steps quickly and then kicked it."

Ricks' kick was a nice highlight, but when your highlights are absent of any offensive touchdowns, then typically your highlights won't add up to victory. For the Cowboys that was the case in the regular season finale.

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