Numerous themes emerge from any football game, some more obvious than others. And although Texas A&M obviously never trailed in their 45-40 win over the Red Raiders, this was a game Tech could have and probably should have won.
Consider the following.
Texas Tech outgained Texas A&M by 130 yards, racked up 11 more first downs, held the Aggies to a respectable 205 rushing yards, passed for 391 yards and completed 66 percent of their passes, had 30 fewer penalty yards than the Aggies, averaged 34 yards per kickoff return, possessed the ball seven more minutes than Texas A&M, converted two of three fourth down attempts, committed zero turnovers and allowed the Aggies only one play of more than 25 yards.
Looking at those numbers alone, you'd think the Red Raiders would have won by a couple of touchdowns. But the devil is in the special teams. The Aggie's blocked field goal and return for a touchdown was a stiletto through the heart. Likewise Tech settling for five field goal attempts in a game everybody knew was going to be high scoring.
And then there was Ryan Epperson's 68-yard punt late in the third quarter with the Aggies nursing an eight-point lead. Texas A&M killed the punt at the Red Raider five; Tech went three-and-out; Ryan Erxleben punted for 39 yards to the Aggie 46, and six plays later Texas A&M scored a touchdown to make the score 45-30. Had Austin Zouzalik managed to fair catch that punt around the Tech 25, this game might have had a different result.
Shades of '77: It seems like just about every Texas Tech/Texas A&M football game is memorable for one reason or another. And what Red Raider fans will most remember about the final installment of the series was the injury A&M's Demontre Moore inflicted on Eric Stephens with an unpenalized late hit.
The injury was gruesome, sickening, and apparently severe. Stephens, who was en route to an All Conference season, looks doubtful to return for the remainder of the year. What a sad end to a great season for one of the finest gentlemen on the Tech roster.
And for Red Raider fans gray of beard and long of memory, this injury will bring back memories of another injury inflicted on a key Red Raider by the Aggies. I speak of the broken leg suffered by Tech's Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Rodney Allison in 1977.
The Red Raiders, coming off a tremendous 1976 season, were considered strong contenders for the national championship, and entered the September clash with Texas A&M undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the nation.
In the first half of the battle in Lubbock, Allison suffered a broken leg, and with the injury Tech's hopes for a national title vanished along with Allison's Heisman candidacy. The Red Raiders went on to lose that game 33-17 and finish the season with a disappointing 7-5 mark. Many Tech fans remain convinced to this day that the Aggies injured Allison on purpose.
The injury to Eric Stephens, just like the injury to Allison, will go down in Texas Tech football infamy and ensure that, although the series between the Red Raiders and Aggies is over, the hatred will live on and on.
A Pall over the Red Raiders: From the mood in the post-game press conference it was clear that this was no ordinary lost football game. The defeat itself was bad enough, but the injury to Stephens left Tech players and coaches shaken. I suspect more than a few tears—of sadness, of rage—were shed in the Red Raider locker-room.
No Nonsense Neal: One of the Red Raiders most visibly upset was offensive coordinator Neal Brown. He did not accuse the Aggies of a cheap shot on Stephens, but he volunteered his disgust with repeated and highly suspicious injuries suffered by A&M defensive players. Brown was plenty hot; he questioned the morality of the Aggie coaching staff, and he stated his intent to report the dubious injuries to Big 12 headquarters.
And that is why Neal Brown is so refreshing. Most coaches answer questions with coach-speak and dissimulations that conceal more than they clarify. Not Brown. He is candid, opinionated and honest. He will tell one and all exactly where he stands, even if his words transgress the protocols of political correctness. We need more men like Neal Brown in this country.