Texas Tech’s road victory over Arkansas certainly qualifies as an upset. The Hogs were solid 12-point favorites and that spread actually grew over the course of the week.
People who follow the sport obviously believed the Razorbacks, angry and motivated after losing at home to Toledo, would take it out on the Red Raiders, hammering them into the ground with a running game that amassed 438 yards against Tech last year.
But it didn’t happen. The Red Raiders sprang the surprise, prevailing 35-24 before a disbelieving throng in Fayetteville.
But it wasn’t the simple fact of the win that was borderline astounding, it was the thoroughness with which Tech licked the big bruisers from the SEC West, generally recognized as the toughest football division outside of the NFL. The Red Raiders pounced on the Hogs early, pitching a 3-and-out, striking for a touchdown on a drive of 2:39, and then continued to pounce until there was no life remaining in the home team.
The dominance, amazingly enough, started with David Gibbs’ defense. After giving up 438 rushing yards to the Hogs in 2014, the Red Raiders cut that number almost in two, allowing 228 clicks on the ground this night. What’s more, Tech allowed Arkansas 5.3 yards per carry, while the Red Raider ground game averaged 6.3 yards per tote. That is simply a nutty statistic, given the characteristics of the two teams.
Perhaps most impressive, however, was the defensive job Tech did in the second half. After giving up 21 first-half points, the Red Raiders held the Razorbacks to a mere field goal in the second.
This is becoming something of a trend with the 2015 Tech defense. Through three games the Red Raiders have allowed a grand total of 20 points in second halves, which comes out to slightly less that seven points per second half. David Gibbs and his staff may not admit it, but they are making superb halftime adjustments, and the results prove it.
Then, of course, there was Pat Mahomes’ scintillating performance. He threw four incompletions all night, which was impressive enough, particularly considering the hostile environment. But it was Mahomes’ uncanny running ability that really made all the difference.
Mahomes is hardly the fastest quarterback (think Robert Griffin) you’ll ever see, and he’s not flashy like Michael Vick when carrying the pill, but he is deceptively strong and physical, is difficult to get to the ground, and simply slips away from tacklers.
Mahomes has the knack. He throws when he should, runs when the time is right, and he gets the necessary yardage. Against Arkansas he carried 10 times for 58 yards and two touchdowns. And every yard he gained was critical.
But although there were heroes aplenty on both offense and defense for Tech, the game ball for this one goes to Kliff Kingsbury and his staff. The fact of the matter is that young Kingsbury and the Peachfuzz Gang absolutely coached circles around Bret Bielema and his crew.
We’ve already mentioned the marvelous job Gibbs and his fellow defensive coaches did with their halftime adjustments. But Kingsbury and the offensive coaches had an SEC defense’s number right from the opening kickoff.
Kingsbury was in the zone with his play-calling. There wasn’t a single play that could be second-guessed. Conversely, he had the Hog defense guessing all night.
Tech ran a bewildering array of counters and misdirections that sprang Mahomes and the running backs for big gainers, usually on the outside, and hit the Razorback back seven with crossing routes, screens and a gadget (option pass for a touchdown) that exposed the Hogs badly.
The Red Raiders didn’t punt all game. A missed field goal, and two picks on deep balls were all that kept Tech in check. In short, it was an offensive clinic performed against a defense with many an elite athlete.
So this Texas Tech team is for real. The improvement over last year’s club is astonishing. And the rest of the Big 12 is now on notice. If you marked the Tech game down as an automatic W, you better have done so in pencil rather than pen.