The two most glorious victories in Texas Tech football history have come only three years apart. But the sequels to the two wins could not have been more radically different.
On Halloween night of 2008 a veteran Red Raider squad knocked off the No.1 Texas Longhorns 39-33 in one of the most intense and pulsating games college football has ever seen. The very next week the Red Raiders were faced with the daunting task of battling the No.8 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Oklahoma State, sporting an 8-1 mark, was a physical, ground-oriented team led by running back Kendall Hunter, perhaps the best ball-carrier in the Big 12. How could Texas Tech, flush off its exhilarating and exhausting win over the Longhorns, possibly summon the reserves to knock off the Cowboys a week later?
Most pundits thought the Red Raiders couldn't do it. The expectation was that the Cowboys would grind a flat, listless Tech team into a fine powder and cast it to the four winds.
The Red Raiders had other ideas.
After a Graham Harrell fumble early in the first quarter handed OSU a seven-point lead, Tech ignited the superchargers and proceeded to incinerate the visitors from Stillwater. When the gas and vapor cleared, the Red Raiders had sauntered off with a 56-20 victory that was absolutely shocking in its thoroughness.
Somehow, someway, Tech managed not only to reprise its performance against Texas, but to do it one better. If the victory over the Longhorns was impressive, the disarticulation of Oklahoma State was stupefying. It remains the best game I've ever seen a Red Raider football team play.
Fast forward three years.
An unheralded Tech outfit with a 4-2 record, and coming off a disheartening home loss to Kansas State, ventured to Norman, Oklahoma where a team ranked No.1 by the nation's coaches awaited. The Oklahoma Sooners, owners of a 39-game home winning streak, and with a history of annihilating the Red Raiders when they came to town, appeared poised to do so yet again. They were 29-point favorites and many folks felt that number was too small.
Beating the Sooners was an unthinkable fantasy for Tech. The goal—or so we all thought—was simply to go the distance with the Sooners. To make them earn the victory. To let OU know it had been in a fight, and to earn the home team's respect in the process.
Instead, the Red Raiders authored one of the greatest upsets in modern college football history. And not only did Tech topple the mighty giants, they thoroughly dominated them for most of the game, leading by 24 points in the second half before allowing Oklahoma to make a late run.
Suddenly the firmament was the limit for Tech. What had been a mediocre season took on the luster of something special. There was talk of the Red Raiders winning their final five games and playing in a major bowl.
And certainly there was nothing to fear from next week's opponent, the hapless Iowa State Cyclones, blowout losers of four straight games. Unlike the ominous Oklahoma State Cowboys who awaited the 2008 Red Raiders following their win over Texas, the Cyclones would be a mere speed-bump on Tech's road to a far more significant game in Austin the week after.
But something horrible happened when Tech locked up with Iowa State. The Red Raiders bore no resemblance whatsoever to the team that bullied the Sooners. They played like imposters. And the patsies from Ames abused and humiliated Tech for four solid quarters, handing the home team a 41-7 loss that banished it to mediocrity yet again.
The wildly disparate results of the two games following Tech's two greatest victories can only be explained as a function of maturity or its lack.
The 2008 Red Raiders were a battle-tempered, veteran club. They were mature enough to know how to re-fire the engines when they had to. And they were mentally tough enough to trudge through four quarters against a quality opponent. That team would run out of steam in Norman a week later, but by that time they had established themselves as one of the greatest squads in school history.
The 2011 Red Raiders are obviously not composed of the same stuff. They are extremely young and inexperienced, particularly on defense, and do not have the mental strength to run the months-long Big 12 gauntlet. They are capable of playing inspired football on any given Saturday, but cannot string together magnificent performances.
Eventually the Red Raiders will return to the plane inhabited by the 2008 team. Until then, however, and certainly for the rest of this season, expect Tech's trademark to be volatility with all the glory and heartache that comes in its train.