Texas Tech’s 27-24 overtime road victory over TCU was beyond the pale in its extraordinary improbability. Forget the “mere” fact that the Red Raiders were nine-point underdogs. It was the way Tech won it that was utterly bizarre.
Freakiest of all was the sudden reappearance of a Red Raider defense that had lain dormant seemingly since the Miocene Epoch. Tech held a very potent Horned Frog attack 12 points below its average, 78 passing yards below its average, and 80 total yards below average. No, it wasn’t an Alabama-style suffocation job, but it was mighty darned impressive for a defense that hitherto had been parsecs on the bad side of merely mediocre. In other words, the quality of defense Texas Tech played was vastly superior to what it had shown before. And for that reason, it was entirely unexpected.
What was different? How did David Gibbs, his staff and players accomplish this feat of magic, without, by the way, starting defensive end Gary Moore and starting linebacker D’Vonta Hinton?
Most obviously, Gibbs disposed his players far more aggressively than he had done before. In the past the Red Raiders lined up with three or four down linemen, rarely rushing more than four, and playing soft zone coverage in the back end. The scheme was as passive as it was unimaginative.
That all changed against TCU.
The Red Raiders blitzed with some regularity. Tech defenders choked the line of scrimmage like weeds in a vacant lot after a gulley-washer. Sometimes they showed all-out blitz, only to back out at the snap of the ball. And they did this while trusting corners to play man coverage against a solid group of Horned Frog receivers.
This was entirely out of character for the Red Raiders, and it clearly caused problems for the TCU offense, quarterback Kenny Hill in particular, whom Tech chased from the game in the third quarter.
Now the blitzes rarely hit home, it must be said. In fact, the Red Raiders registered nary a sack. But the simple threat of pressure often flustered Kenny Hill and backup Foster Sawyer. Consequently, TCU completed a paltry 22 of 47 passes with a lone touchdown and a countervailing interception.
Credit also goes to the fellows in the secondary. Freshman Douglas Coleman had an interception and regularly plastered his receiver. Even the touchdown he allowed in overtime came against perfect coverage and required a miraculous catch by Desmon White.
Justis Nelson was his usual solid self, and safeties Jah’Shawn Johnson, Kisean Allen and Keenon Ward shut off the deep stuff.
We would be unforgivably remiss, however, in not singling out Malik Jenkins for special praise. Playing before friends and family in the Metroplex, Jenkins turned in the game of his Texas Tech career, recording 14 tackles, 10 of them solo, and a defended pass. It has been a very long time since we’ve seen a Red Raider linebacker play so well.
Without question, this was Tech’s best defensive performance since holding Arkansas to 24 points in week three of 2015. So hats off to David Gibbs and his entire crew. They’ve endured a great deal of abuse for quite a long time; the sterling effort against the Horned Frogs is a big first step on the road toward redemption.
The sudden manifestation of defense was this game’s primary oddity, but was not the only one. Penalties, or their lack, was another. Tech entered the game No. 126 nationally in penalty yardage, and dead last in penalties per game with 10 per outing. Against the Horned Frogs the Red Raiders committed one penalty for five yards. Talk about going against type!
Then there was the running game. Texas Tech entered this contest the most pass-heavy team in the nation. The ground game, for all intents and purposes, had been rendered a totally superfluous appendix.
Not so against TCU. The Red Raiders ran the ball 49 times and passed it only 40. At only 148 rushing yards, the productivity was not particularly spectacular, but the simple fact of having run the ball, and run it credibly was astounding.
Such a course of action was hardly a delight to Kliff Kingsbury, but given the light box TCU deployed to such great effect, he virtually had no choice. Either Kingsbury and quarterback Pat Mahomes ran the ball or they lost the game. It was a case of survival being stronger than football ideology in the end.
All in all, this game was one of the strangest in a recent Texas Tech football history littered with bizarre tales and outcomes. It also has the potential to be one of the more pivotal ones. Kingsbury and Gibbs entered this game under heavy fire for a season and program seemingly spiraling out of control. It is just possible that this most unusual of games turns out to be a watershed and a portent of things to come. But one thing is for certain—the upcoming game against the Texas Longhorns suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting.