Tech Takes Care Of Oklahoma State 31-15

For the second game in a row the Texas Tech Red Raiders led a ranked opponent 7-6 at the half. Unlike two weeks ago in College Station against the Texas A&M Aggies, however, there was no late collapse by the Tech defense, and the Raiders rolled to a 31-15 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Jones/SBC stadium. The win improves Tech¢s record to 7-4, enhancing the team's luster for the bowl sweepstakes, and improves the Raiders record against the Cowboys in Lubbock to 8-0-2.

After the first two Oklahoma State offensive series in which the Cowboys ran through the Tech defense seemingly at will, many Tech fans must have been having nightmarish de je vus about the 51-21 loss to Texas earlier in the season. OSU, powered by the lightning bolt running of back Vernand Morency, and outstanding blocking by their offensive line, began their first drive on the Cowboy 20 and used 10 straight running plays to march to the Tech three, where the drive stalled and Jason Ricks came on to kick a 20-yardfield goal giving the Cowboys a 3-0 lead.

Sandwiched between another Cowboy drive that went 30 yards and culminated in a 55-yard Ricks field goal early in the second quarter, was a Red Raider drive that netted a touchdown. This drive, Tech's first, went 80 yards and was finished off by a gorgeous pass from Sonny Cumbie to Trey Haverty in the back of the end zone on a fade pattern that gave the Raiders a 6-3 lead that was upped another point by Alex Trlica's successful PAT. Cumbie completed 31 of 46 passes on the day for 281 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, which was returned 68 yards by Oklahoma State's Jamie Thompson in the third quarter for the Cowboys's only touchdown of the afternoon. Haverty caught seven balls for 52 yards.

After this early scoring spate, the remainder of the first half was a defensive struggle with neither offense able to find a rhythm. Oklahoma State, doubtless encouraged by their early success running the ball, did not even attempt a pass until there was only 6:50 remaining in the half. The Raider offense was able to move the ball, but the closest Tech ever got to scoring after its initial touchdown was a missed 43-yard field goal by Trlica at the :52 mark of the first half. Cumbie attributed Tech's lack of offensive production to good ball control by both teams, and poor tempo by the Raiders.

"I think Oklahoma State did a great job on offense of running a lot of time off the clock, and then we kind of played into their hands when we got the ball because we did the same thing, because we ran a lot of time of the clock. In the second half and halftime, we made an adjustment to pick up the pace and pick up the tempo and we did that."

Indeed. The Raiders hung 24 points on the Cowboys in the second stanza to inexorably pull away. Equally important, the Tech defense, which held Oklahoma State to 242 total yards, never really let the Cowboys threaten once the Raider offense finally hit the accelerator. Moreover, the defense accomplished this feat without creating a single turnover. (The Tech defense, incidentally, has gone three straight games without forcing a turnover.) Turnovers or not, the Raiders closed off running lanes, and harassed Cowboy quarterback Donovan Woods on those rare occasions when he dropped back to pass.

"They [the defense] did a great job," said Cumbie. "You can't say enough about how well they played. Mike Smith, he's a guy that's not gonna let you lose. The way he plays, he kind of exemplifies the kind of attitude they have on defense. Everybody rallies around him, and the defense played great tonight. That was the main reason we could get the ball back quickly and score. You gotta give hats off to the defense for the way they performed."

Linebacker John Saldi, defensive end Seth Nitschmann, and cornerback Antonio Huffman were particularly active and physical, and repeatedly beat the Cowboys to the spot on sweeps and options, plays that have burned the Raiders badly for much of the season.

Tech's opening drive of the second half sputtered quickly, and following a 19-yard Prentiss Elliott punt return to the Oklahoma State 44, the Cowboys drove to the Tech seven before stalling. Ricks's 24-yard field goal gave the Cowboys a 9-7 lead with 9:57 remaining in the quarter, and the issue was still very much in doubt.

Enter Jarrett Hicks to counter Jason Ricks. Tech's standout receiver had been completely silenced in the first half, but made his appearance in a big way on the Raiders's second possession of the second half. First, he reeled in a 38-yarder from Cumbie along the sideline. Second, he caught a 27-yard out pass to the OSU two despite falling backwards and blanket double coverage. And third, he hauled in a two-yard fade for a touchdown, beating pass interference in the process. Tech led 14-9 with 8:36 to play in the quarter.

Hicks acknowledged that his own figurative absence from the game had been a bone of contention between himself and head coach Mike Leach.

"Sometimes you kinda rise above yourself. Me and Coach Leach talked about it before that drive and, you know, I had a nice little discussion on that sideline and it was something that, you know, he just motivated me to go out there and make a play."

"We talked about it during halftime and whatnot, to try and get me the ball a little bit more. And it was moreso the stuff that I wasn¢t doing right. So, you know, we talked about it and made some adjustments and got it corrected."

The Cowboys had one last gasp left in them despite Hicks's heroics. Late in the third quarter, following a 24-yard punt return by receiver Danny Amendola to the Tech 46, and still leading 14-9, the Raiders began a drive that looked to finish off OSU. Tech marched quickly as deep as the Cowboy 37, and followed by a holding call on guard Manny Ramirez and a six-yard pass to running back Taurean Henderson, were poised at third-and-nine on the Cowboy 41. Cumbie dropped straight back to pass and fired a shot toward Hicks that was picked off by Jamie Thompson, who took it untouched 68 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed and the score stood at 15-14, Oklahoma State.

According to Hicks, complacency was to blame for the potentially game-altering interception.

"I think we got a little lax. I think we were up at that point and, you know, we really didn't keep our foot on the pedal at that time. And, you know, seeing that happen, we knew we had to buckle down, make some plays and finish it off the right way."

"I've bounced back from a few interceptions this year," Cumbie noted wryly. "That was a play where it was my fault. I could've put it more outside. The guy made a great play. And there's so much time left on the clock, you know. I mean, there's so much football left to play. It's four quarters; we play 60 minutes. With our offense, we can score quick, and we did a few times tonight so, you know, as much as we throw, interceptions will happen."

The Red Raiders certainly made the most of the remaining time, especially the fourth quarter. Tech marched 84 yards on 14 plays to begin the final quarter, and capped it off with a 22-yard Trlica field goal, making the score Tech 17, OSU 15, with 9:43 to play.

Tech's next drive covered 49 yards in four plays and was finished by Hicks, who out-wrestled Cowboy cornerback Robert Jones for a 14-yard touchdown with 6:26 remaining. The Raiders then held their largest lead at 24-15.

Tech's final scoring drive began on the Cowboy 26 after Oklahoma State turned the ball over on downs. Taurean Henderson, who finished the afternoon with 85 rushing yards on 18 carries, did the scoring honors with a six-yard burst making the final score 31-15, Raiders.

Tech will now await word on whether their performance against Oklahoma State (in combination with other factors) will be good enough to earn them a spot in the Alamo Bowl, or even, perhaps, the Holiday Bowl, or whether they will slip to the Independence Bowl.

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