So often in the post-Mike Leach era when Texas Tech has lost, it has been physically dominated. In such losses the Red Raiders where whipped at the line of scrimmage and were unable to do anything right in the back half on offense and on defense.
Such was not the case in Tech’s 45-44 road loss to No. 13 Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Cowboys and had a legitimate shot at winning the game late in the fourth quarter. Had Tech done so, it would have been the program’s first win in Stillwater since 2001 when current head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the team’s starting quarterback.
On offense, the Red Raiders sputtered early in the first quarter, but hit their stride in the second and basically had their way with the OSU defense for the rest of the game.
Quarterback Pat Mahomes played his best game since an earlier loss to Oklahoma, and arguably played his best game of the season.
The poor decisions that typified his play over the last three weeks were conspicuous by their absence on this day. Mahomes truly took what the defense gave him, forsaking risky deep throws in favor of less spectacular passes to receivers in the short and intermediate ranges. He also was flawless in knowing when to tuck and run, and when to pass.
Mahomes’ pocket sense was also sterling. With apparent ease he sensed pressure and avoided it, gliding to the outside or stepping up to avoid rushers. Consequently, Mahomes avoided bad plays and kept the offense ahead of the sticks on almost every drive.
A good deal of credit also goes to the offensive line. This group got a good push in the ground game, far better than against Texas last week, and did a solid job in pass protection as well, although the Cowboys did begin to pressure Mahomes a bit in the second half.
Running Back Demarcus Felton provided a huge lift for the ground game, running with real authority between the tackles, making people miss, and finishing runs. Felton wound up with 77 rushing yards on only 10 carries before being felled by an injury.
The defense, too, played just well enough to win against one of the better offenses in the country. Oklahoma State got its yards—605 to be exact—and tallied plenty of points, but Tech’s defense still managed to keep this game in reach for the offense.
Malik Jenkins, Luke Stice, and the interior defensive linemen all made contributions to a defensive effort that, while far from pretty, was hardly an embarrassment such as Tech football fans have become all too accustomed to seeing over the last several years.
Special teams too made contributions. The Red Raiders converted a fake punt and an onside kick, and did a very good job in punt and kickoff coverage as well. Michael Barden, who has suffered through a borderline miserable season, was one of the heroes for Tech on this day.
What makes all of the above so surprising, and even a little bit impressive, is the fact that the Red Raiders accomplished these feats without several of the team’s best players.
Offensively, starting running back Da’Leon Ward didn’t even make the trip, and starting right tackle Justin Murphy did not play. Compounding the injury difficulties on offense was Felton’s injury in the third quarter. After Felton went down Tech was forced to roll with little used Quinton White and Justin Stockton whose value is limited largely to stretch plays.
Defensively, the Red Raiders lost leading tackler Jordyn Brooks to injury in the first half.
So Texas Tech, despite playing without several of its top line players, hung in there and were on the cusp of sending this game into overtime with less than two minutes to play.
But here is where we get to the reason the Red Raiders lost. Mistakes, mistakes and more mistakes. Tech botched multiple plays that ordinarily they execute in their sleep.
The most obvious, of course, was Clayton Hatfield’s missed extra point, which prevented the Red Raiders from tying the game in the waning moments. Whether you put the blame on Cameron Batson’s imperfect hold or Hatfield’s shank, the bottom line is that Tech failed to convert a play that should be automatic for teams in Power Five football conference.
But Batson and Hatfield were hardly alone in ignominy. Tech’s receivers, most uncharacteristically, dropped critical pass after critical pass in this game. Dylan Cantrell and Jonathan Giles, arguably Tech’s best performers to this point in the season, dropped easy receptions that would have converted third downs. Giles dropped another that would have gone for a nice gain, too. Then there was Keke Coutee dropping a pass in the end zone, which forced the Red Raiders to settle for a field goal instead.
What it all boils down to is that most shopworn of coaches’ clichés--Texas Tech does not know how to win. Instead the Red Raiders find ways to lose. But as tough as that is to stomach, perhaps it is better than being a defenseless punching bag. Maybe there is some solace in that.