Texas Tech football: Hidden moments in heartbreaking loss to Oregon

Texas Tech football: Hidden moments in heartbreaking loss to Oregon
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Texas Tech fans react to a touchdown against Oregon, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

There will always be plays we remember from games as tightly contested and intense as Saturday’s showdown between the Texas Tech football team and Oregon.  In many ways, it was reminiscent of a recent big-time non-conference basketball game the university hosted; one that is still talked about by Red Raider fans despite not going our way.

Think about how similar this year’s visit from Oregon was to the 2020 Texas Tech home basketball game against Kentucky.  Just two months prior to when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports for several months, the No. 15 Wildcats came to United Supermarkets Arena in the most anticipated game that arena has ever hosted.

Just like Saturday’s football game, it was an electric atmosphere from the tip as one of the premier programs in college sports made its first trip to the South Plains.  Unfortunately, that game was also a winnable contest that Tech couldn’t close out.

Tech trailed by just one point with 18 seconds to play as 94% free-throw shooter Davide Moretti toed the line.  Unfortunately, he would miss his first attempt before sending the game to OT by making his second.

In OT, the game was tied at 74 before two Kentucky free throws and a subsequent Moretti turnover would send the Red Raider faithful home disappointed.  Also, there was a signature moment earlier in the game when the Wildcats hit a half-court heave to beat the first-half buzzer, a play that would loom large for the remainder of the afternoon.

Plays that like are easy to remember.  There were plenty of unforgettable moments in Saturday’s football game against Oregon as well.

The overruled Malik Dunlap interception in the endzone and the Tyler Shough pick-six at the end of the game are plays we won’t soon stop talking about because they were defining moments of a game against a national brand that may not ever come to Lubbock again.  Those were also instances that everyone will point to as being when this game got away from the Red Raiders.

However, there were several hidden moments on Saturday night that tipped things in Oregon’s favor.  Those plays are also worth analyzing because they helped contribute to the disappointing loss, even if we didn’t know it at the time.  So here are five hidden moments in the 38-30 loss to Oregon that played a huge role in what was an agonizing night for Red Raiders everywhere.

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On the play, wide receiver Jordan Brown came from the left of the formation to the middle of the field and there was not a defender within 15 yards of him.  However, Tyler Shough never even looked Brown’s way.

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Though he was never under pressure on the play and had a clean pocket, Shough threw a quick out to Mason Tharp for just four yards.  It was a strange decision from Shough given that the big tight end was tightly covered on his route near the sideline.

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Often, Shough is maddening because, when he has time, he doesn’t go through his progressions when he has time, but when the pocket is collapsing, he seems happy to hold onto the ball and look downfield until it’s too late.  Of course, coverage often plays a role in those decisions but on the play, Tharp was covered and Brown was as wide-open as any receiver was all night.

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Had Shough found Brown, that drive likely would have moved to near the 50.  It would have also given the defense more rest after Oregon’s 17-play TD drive.  It is also easy to envision Brown making the lone Oregon defender behind him miss in the open field, which would have led to a touchdown.

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Plus, if Shough gets the ball to Brown, then it would have at worst put Tech in a field position where any 4th-down gamble would have made sense.  Instead, three plays later, Oregon would take over possession inside the Tech 35 on their way to a crucial field goal.

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Shough sacked at Oregon 20 to force Texas Tech to settle for three points

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Our final hidden moment is one that prevented the Red Raiders from continuing another drive that had moved deep into Oregon territory.  In the end, Tech would have to settle for a FG and that would be important in a game that was a one-point affair when the decisive play happened.

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Trailing 28-27, Shough and the offense had driven to the Oregon 20 with 6:36 to play.  Facing a manageable 2nd-and-8, Shough dropped back to pass and was sacked for a crippling 7-yard loss.

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A play later, needing 15 yards to keep the drive going, Shough would again face pressure and would throw the ball away while on the run to avoid another loss of yardage.  That forced Gino Garcia to kick a 45-yard FG to put Tech in the lead.

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This was Tech’s chance to wind the clock down and score a TD to really put the Ducks behind the clock.  Remember that the new NCAA rules keep the clock rolling after first downs until the final two minutes of each half meaning that Tech could have drained most of the clock dry on that possession by picking up another couple of first downs.

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Instead, Tech had to settle for just a two-point lead while giving Oregon more than enough time to answer.

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On the play, Shough wasn’t at fault.

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In fact, he was in the process of delivering the football when he saw Oregon DT Popo Aumavae bearing down on him after absolutely abusing Red Raider center Rusty Staats.  While Shough could have let the ball fly in the face of the pressure, Aumavae might have been able to deflect the pass which could have led to an untimely interception so it’s tough to blame Shough.

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Staats has not been as advertised in his first two games as a Red Raider after transferring in from Western Kentucky this offseason.  Numerous low snaps in Wyoming caused problems for Shough and this play in week two also put his QB in an awful spot. Tech needs better from him.

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Because of this sack, Oregon would get the ball back with 5:13 to play and that would be more than enough time for Nix to drive his team to the eventual game-winning FG.  It’s a shame that Tech couldn’t drain more time off of the clock but plays like this and the others on this list are what separates a close loss from a close win.

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