Texas Tech football: Could UT game follow a familiar winning script this year?

Texas Tech football: Could UT game follow a familiar winning script this year?
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Nov 26, 2015; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receivers Jakeem Grant (right) and Ian Sadler (12) react after a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns during the second quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Friday will see the end of an era for the Texas Tech football program as the Red Raiders will face the Texas Longhorns for the final time in the regular season and perhaps for the final time ever.  It’s a series that dates back to 1928 and one that has been played annually since 1960 but with UT headed to the SEC next year, it is coming to an end on Friday.

Along the way, the meetings with Texas have provided plenty of memorable moments for the fans in scarlet and black.  There was the 1955 game when Tech spoiled the party as Texas played its first-ever game at night.  That day, the Red Raiders stunned Texas 20-14 in Austin thanks to a pair of TDs from Don Schmidt, one of which came from 78 yards out.

In 1968, Tech finally beat UT in Lubbock for the first time after five straight losses in the Hub City to open the series.  That 31-22 win featured an 84-yard punt return TD by Larry Alford and three TDs by Roger Freeman.  Following that game, Texas would begin a streak of 30 consecutive wins.

The 1974 game was Texas Tech’s first televised contest.  The 26-3 Red Raider win in Lubbock came about because of an aerial display as Lawrence Williams caught three TD passes.

In 1976, Billy Taylor gave us one of the most iconic photos in Tech history as his dive over the UT defense and into the endzone for the game-winning score in the 4th quarter was perfectly captured on film making the 31-28 win in Lubbock unforgettable.

1998 saw a pair of running backs named Ricky Williams square off with each going for over 148 yards and a TD in Lubbock.  However, Tech QB Rob Peters would steal the show by authoring a game-winning 82-yard TD drive in the final two minutes, one that was capped off by his QB sneak into the endzone, for a 42-35 win.

In 2002, Kliff Kingsbury played his final home game in Lubbock throwing for 473 yards and six TDs.  That day, it was a late double pass from Kingsbury to Mickey Peters to Wes Welker on 3rd-and-9 with just over two minutes to play that would help seal the 42-38 win over the No. 2 Longhorns.

Then, in 2008, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree would connect for a TD with one second left as No. 7 Tech would knock off No. 1 Texas in Lubbock for the program’s 500th all-time win.  That would vault Tech to No. 2 in the national polls, the highest any Red Raider team has ever been ranked.

However, it is the 2015 Red Raider game in Austin that is worth focusing on today.  That night in Austin, Tech pulled off a 48-45 win, the program’s first victory at Royal-Memorial Stadium since 1997.

Interestingly, there are more than a few similarities between that Red Raider team and the 2023 version.  So let’s revisit that classic game and discuss if this year’s team can follow that season’s recipe for an upset in the state capital.

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On the other hand, when it comes to the way they view coaching the game, there are some similarities.  Mostly, each coach believes in being aggressive and taking chances.

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That paid off for Kingsbury in 2015 in Austin.  Though he only went for it once on 4th down (an attempt that failed) he asked his sophomore QB to throw the ball 39 times in the rain.

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What’s more, his trick play was a huge gamble, one that could have backfired on him and turned the tide in Texas’ favor.  Coming just one play after taking over on downs at the UT 40, Kingsbury could have played it safe and tried to nurse home a 41-38 win by milking the remaining 2:51 off the clock. He went for the kill though.

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On the other hand, it was a rather safe play in that it was a running play so the clock kept moving.  It also was a first-down play so it didn’t have to work to keep the drive alive.

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Still, plenty can go wrong on any trick play.  Imagine if Mahomes and Grant had fumbled the unusual exchange of the football and Texas would have recovered.  People around West Texas and the nation would have skewered the head coach for such a call.  Still, Kingsbury always said that “fortune favors the bold” and early in his career, he coached that way right or wrong.

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That is also how McGuire coaches.  He’s one of the nation’s most aggressive coaches as Tech has gone for it 34 times on 4th down, second most in the conference to Baylor.

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It will be surprising if McGuire isn’t ultra-aggressive this week.  He knows his team is a massive underdog and he knows the significance of this game given the impending end of the series.

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Last year, he was 6-8 on 4th down against Texas in Lubbock, and that led to an OT win.  Don’t expect any difference this year because Tech has no reason to play it safe, and even if it did, McGuire isn’t wired that way.

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Sep 24, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian watches his team from the sideline during a game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman via USA TODAY NETWORK

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There are some major differences between this year and the 2015 Texas Tech win in Austin

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For all the similarities between the 2015 matchup and this year’s game in Austin (both were night games by the way), there are some notable differences as well.  Most importantly, this year’s Texas team is lightyears better than the 2015 team.

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After losing to Tech at home that year, Texas dropped to 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play.  Just one year later, the Horns fired head coach Charlie Strong after he went 16-21 in three seasons in Austin.

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Now, Steve Sarkisian has the Horns on the rise.  They enter this game at 10-1 overall and ranked 7th nationally.

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Should Texas win, they will play in the Big 12 Championship game and if they win that, they could find their way into the College Football Playoff with some help.  It’s just not the same type of UT squad that Tech was able to topple eight years ago.

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Of course, Tech isn’t the same either.  Most important is the difference in the defense that the Red Raiders will deploy.

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In 2015, Tech had the second-worst defense in the nation statistically.  Giving up 547.7 yards per game, the Red Raiders ranked ahead of only Kansas in total defense.

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This year, the Red Raider defense has been a strength.  Ranked 73rd nationally, Tech is giving up 382 yards per game and has not allowed 30 points to an opponent in the last four contests.

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That side of the ball will be tested on Friday, though.  Texas is putting up 454.2 yards per game (4th-most in the Big 12) and the Horns have a wealth of talent at the skill positions.

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However, last week, Tech held the Big 12’s top offense, UCF, to just 23 points despite giving up 483 yards of offense.  It was the red zone where Tech made stands by keeping Central Florida out of the endzone from inside the five at the end of the first half and forcing a FG try in the second half when the Knights reached the 15 (a FG that was missed).

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Perhaps that will be the recipe again this week.  Texas has NFL talent all over the offensive side of the ball but if the Red Raiders can stiffen near the goal line and force the Horns to settle for three points more than they are able to get seven, Tech could upset Texas in Austin again.  If that happens, it will be one of the biggest wins in program history for a number of reasons.

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