Sometimes football teams are forged during the grueling practices of spring and summer, and through intense strength training, and rigorous film study. Sometimes, however, teams “find themselves” via a single great play or performance against an opposing team on the gridiron itself.
One wouldn’t ordinarily think that a game against the Kansas Jayhawks would be the setting for such an epiphany, but it is just possible that is what happened in the second half of Texas Tech’s 55-19 trampling of the Jayhawks Thursday night.
Kansas, of course, is the worst football program in the Big 12. They came into the game with Texas Tech (3-1, 1-0 in the Big 12) riding a 36-game road losing streak, and haven’t won a conference game since defeating Iowa State 34-14 on October 8, 2014. KU (1-3, 0-1 in Big 12) hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, and hasn’t beaten the Red Raiders since 2001.
The 2016 renewal of the series began as if Texas Tech would once again cakewalk to victory over the Jayhawks. The Red Raiders scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and, despite going into an offensive funk late in the first quarter, led the visitors 21-2 thanks to a 17-yard Pat Mahomes-to-Devin Lauderdale strike with 7:35 remaining in the first half.
But what looked to be a leisurely stroll in the park soon turned into a very nervous trek through a terrible neighborhood.
The Texas Tech defense, which had hitherto played virtually perfect football, quickly reverted to its old shaky self on Kansas’ next drive, which went 75 yards in seven plays, and terminated with an 18-yard touchdown strike from Ryan Willis to Chase Harrell. Even though the Red Raiders answered with another touchdown just before halftime, there was a feeling of concern because of the Tech defense’s play on KU’s touchdown drive.
The concern turned into real worry after Cameron Batson muffed a punt, which Kansas recovered on Tech’s 39 yard-line, and quickly cashed in for a touchdown on Montell Cozart’s 11-yard pass to Steven Sims.
On Tech’s very next drive, the Red Raiders went 3-and-out, and Erik Baughman’s 33-yard punt set Kansas up on Tech’s 38 yard-line. The Red Raider defense stiffened, however, allowing only a 35-yard field goal. Still, a 19-point lead had dwindled to only nine points with most of the second half still to play.
Then, with approximately seven minutes to play in the third quarter, apparent disaster struck. On 2nd-and-4 from Texas Tech 29, Pat Mahomes ran through an alley in the Kansas defense, and 32 yards later, was slowed down by Fish Smithson and cleaned up by Isaiah Bean. Mahomes was driven shoulder-first into the turf, sustaining an injury in the process. What’s more, the injury was significant enough to shelve the team’s surefire money-card for the remainder of the game.
Suddenly, Tech’s hopes rode with little-used backup Nic Shimonek. The specter of a devastating upset loss to the Jayhawks suffused the atmosphere in Jones Stadium.
But Shimonek rose to the occasion.
He completed his first three passes, the final of which was a four-yard TD to Dylan Cantrell.
Following the Tech’s defense’s stifling of Kansas’ next drive, Shimonek led the Red Raiders to another touchdown, this one on a 37-yard strike from Shimonek to Keke Coutee.
From then on, it was more of the same. The defense prevented the Jayhawks from even threatening the Red Raider goal-line, while Shimonek threw two more touchdowns, one to Coutee and the other to Jonathan Giles. Texas Tech had not only avoided a cataclysmic loss, but had done so in style, thoroughly dominating the Jayhawks for the final one and a half quarters.
Now a home blowout victory over the Kansas Jayhawks is, in and of itself, not particularly noteworthy. Most Big 12s pile-drive KU as a matter of course. But it is not the score that is significant in Tech’s win. Rather, it was in how the Red Raiders accomplished it.
Midway through the third quarter, Tech looked dead in the water, while KU was riding a crest of momentum. Making matters worse, Mahomes, who seemingly represented any hope the Red Raiders had for a special season, went down and out with an injury.
In those circumstances, many football teams, and indeed, many past Texas Tech teams, would have succumbed to circumstances and exited the stadium with an appalling loss draped around its neck. Instead, the Red Raiders, led by an unlikely hero, stormed back and dropped Kansas like a bad habit.
If the Red Raiders manage to defeat a tough Kansas State team on the road next Saturday, this team could be off to the races.