Texas Tech football: Red Raiders hold off TCU thanks to late INT

Texas Tech football: Red Raiders hold off TCU thanks to late INT
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Texas Tech’s defensive back Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (1) intercepts the ball against TCU in a Big 12 football game, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Thursday night in Lubbock, the Texas Tech football team picked up a much-needed win over TCU 35-28 thanks in large part to a pair of interceptions from senior safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, the second of which came on TCU’s final possession as the Frogs were driving to potentially tie the game.

The win moved the Red Raiders to 4-5 on the year and helped keep their hopes of making it to a bowl game alive.  It also ended TCU’s four-game overall winning streak in the series.

Beating the Frogs in Lubbock for the first time since 2013, Tech was able to finally make enough plays down the stretch to win a one-score game.  That’s been a rarity in 2023.

After pulling out wins in all four of their one-score games in 2022, Joey McGuire and Co. had seen their fortunes reverse this season.  Losses this year to Wyoming, Oregon, and West Virginia all came down to one score but in each, Tech was unable to make the winning plays that they made in similar games a year ago.

That changed against the Horned Frogs as the Red Raiders finally came through in the clutch.  Here are some rapid reactions to what went down at Jones Stadium on Thursday night

Taylor-Demerson is the hero that Texas Tech has been missing

One massive problem that has plagued the Red Raiders for the last month has been the inability to force turnovers on defense.  In fact, Tim DeRuyter’s side of the ball had not picked off a pass since the West Virginia game on September 23 and had not forced any turnover at all since recovering a fumble against Baylor on October 7.

Since the defense’s last takeaway, the offense had given the ball away eight times.  That’s why Tech entered the game last in the Big 12 in turnover margin.  But against TCU, Tech won the turnover battle for the first time since the trip to Morgantown.

All night long, it seemed that Taylor-Demerson was destined to get at least one interception.  In the first half, he picked off a pass but the play was nullified due to a roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Ben Roberts.

What’s more, there were two or three more balls that either hit Taylor-Demerson in the hands or fluttered to the ground just out of his reach.  Fortunately, when the game was turning in TCU’s favor, he finally came up with one that counted.

After TCU had erased a 13-point deficit to take a 21-20 third-quarter lead, he snagged an errant Josh Hoover pass and returned it to the TCU 31.  Two plays later, Tahj Brooks would bang his way into the endzone from nine yards out to put Tech in front for good.

Then, on the final TCU drive of the game, Taylor-Demerson came up with the game-saving play.  With the Frogs already having moved the ball to the Tech 44 and still having 0:55 remaining to find the endzone and force overtime, Hoover sent another off-target pass in Taylor-Demerson’s direction and the Red Raider safety was able to quash any Horned Frog uprising.

The former high school running back from Oklahoma now has nine career picks but this was his first two-INT game as a collegiate.  At a time when his team was desperate for a defender to step up and make game-changing plays, that’s exactly what Taylor-Demerson did to seal the win.

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What’s more, there were two or three more balls that either hit Taylor-Demerson in the hands or fluttered to the ground just out of his reach.  Fortunately, when the game was turning in TCU’s favor, he finally came up with one that counted.

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After TCU had erased a 13-point deficit to take a 21-20 third-quarter lead, he snagged an errant Josh Hoover pass and returned it to the TCU 31.  Two plays later, Tahj Brooks would bang his way into the endzone from nine yards out to put Tech in front for good.

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Then, on the final TCU drive of the game, Taylor-Demerson came up with the game-saving play.  With the Frogs already having moved the ball to the Tech 44 and still having 0:55 remaining to find the endzone and force overtime, Hoover sent another off-target pass in Taylor-Demerson’s direction and the Red Raider safety was able to quash any Horned Frog uprising.

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The former high school running back from Oklahoma now has nine career picks but this was his first two-INT game as a collegiate.  At a time when his team was desperate for a defender to step up and make game-changing plays, that’s exactly what Taylor-Demerson did to seal the win.

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Texas Tech’s running back Tahj Brooks (28) runs for a touchdown against TCU in a Big 12 football game, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

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Texas Tech got more out of its star running back than TCU did

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In a game featuring two of the top Power-5 running backs in the nation, it was Texas Tech’s Tahj Brooks who stood out.  Meanwhile, outside of one play, TCU’s Emani Bailey was essentially a non-factor.

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Surpassing the 1,000-yard mark on the season and cracking the top-ten list of all-time Texas Tech rushers, Brooks was again a workhorse.  Carrying the ball 31 times he racked up 146 yards and a TD.  Averaging 4.7 yards per carry despite constantly facing eight and even nine-man boxes, he was the driving force for the Red Raiders once again.

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Meanwhile, Bailey was stuck in neutral for most of the night.  On 19 rushes, he managed only 57 yards.  He did find the endzone twice, once on a nice 16-yard run and once on a two-yard plunge, but other than that, he was held in check by the Red Raider defensive front.

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This was the second-lowest rushing output of the season for Bailey who had only 55 yards against West Virginia earlier this season.  In five other games this year, he had managed to put up for at least 100 yards but against Tech, he was unable to find a rhythm and make a difference.

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That put a ton of pressure on Hoover, a redshirt freshman who was making just his third college start.  Also making Hoover have to try to play the role of hero for TCU was the fact that for much of the game, Tech held a two-score advantage.

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The plan for TCU couldn’t have been to ask Hoover to throw 52 passes, especially given his propensity for throwing picks.  Coming into the night, he had thrown one in every game he had played this year and his two on Thursday raised his season total to seven on just 123 pass attempts (an average of one pick for every 17.5 passes thrown).

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Tech knew where TCU wanted to go with the ball and TCU knew where Tech wanted to go with the ball.  However, Brooks was the only running back in this game who proved capable of breaking tackles and carrying the load when everyone in the stadium knew he was getting the rock.  Bailey, on the other hand, looked like just a guy, and that put the TCU offense in a bind that ultimately cost them the game as Hoover couldn’t deliver them a win.

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Texas Tech’s quarterback Behren Morton (2) throws the ball against TCU in a Big 12 football game, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

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Texas Tech QB Behren Morton looked more like his old self

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It was another night in which Behren Morton’s stats won’t jump off the page.  Completing 28-36 passes for 282 yards and two TDs, he didn’t match the 353 yards that Hoover threw for.

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However, Morton was by far the better QB.  Most importantly, he had no interceptions, and only once or twice did he even put the ball in any type of danger.

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Also, he pushed the ball down the field better than Hoover.  Morton’s average yards per completion was 7.8, a full yard better than Hoover’s.

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It was that ability to make longer throws that Tech fans loved to see from Morton.  Due to a sprained throwing shoulder suffered in the West Virginia game, he had not been able to throw in practice for essentially six weeks.

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Because he was playing hurt against Houston and Baylor, the passing offense had been predicated on swing passes and intermediate throws and when Morton did try to go deep, it was obvious that the strength simply wasn’t there.

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After sitting out the BYU game and having an open week prior to Thursday night, he seemed to get some much-needed recovery time, though.  Morton had a noticeable zip on his passes and he connected with Drae McRay on a critical 44-yard strike early in the 4th quarter to put Tech up 35-21.

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While he still doesn’t seem to be 100%, he is as close as he’s been since taking over as QB1 and that could make all the difference for the Red Raider offense.  He wasn’t spectacular on Thursday but he looked more like the player we’ve come to expect him to be and that might have been the most encouraging development of the evening.

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Texas Tech’s head coach Joey McGuire walks along the sidelines during the Big 12 football game against TCU, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

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Texas Tech fans had better just get used to Joey McGuire’s risky analytics decisions

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If I ever get ahold of the analytics book that Joey McGuire and his coaching staff live by, I’m going to burn it so thoroughly that there won’t even be ashes left.  However, it is clear that McGuire is as dedicated to that strategy as the Pope is to Catholicism and we had all just better learn how to live with the highs and lows that come about as a result.

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For the game, Tech went for it only three times on fourth down.  However, the one failed attempt could have been massive.

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With Tech leading 20-14 in the third quarter, McGuire had the offense go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Red Raider 34-yard line.  On the play, Tech decided to have Brooks take the direct snap against a nine-man box and TCU easily snuffed it out for no gain.

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It would take the Frogs only five plays to find paydirt on the ensuing possession to take what would be their only lead of the game.  That could have been a huge turning point and it was reminiscent of an earlier gamble that did contribute to a close loss.

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Against Oregon, McGuire rolled the dice on a 4th-and-2 from its own 33, and a Tyler Shough run didn’t pan out.  That would lead to an easy Oregon field goal, a score that would loom large in a game that saw Tech trailing by a point late in the 4th quarter before the game-clinching pick-six sealed the loss.

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I hate McGuire’s analytics obsession.  I don’t care that at times it has led to big wins.  Too often, his refusal to use common football sense is putting this team in a bad situation.

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This Red Raider team isn’t talented enough to continually overcome being put in perilous circumstances by its head coach’s decisions.  Sure, at times, as was the case against TCU, it all works out for the best but the rewards aren’t always worth the risk, regardless of what some stupid book of numbers put together by math nerds says.

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However, McGuire is going to live and die by that dang book.  We had better just get used to it and learn to live with the results, even when they don’t pan out.  Fortunately, that didn’t cost the Red Raiders another win on Thursday night.

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Texas Tech’s head coach Joey McGuire holds up the Saddle Trophy after the team’s win against TCU, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, at Jones AT&T Stadium.

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McGuire continues to beat teams that Texas Tech fans care about

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There is no question that TCU isn’t a good team.  They are now just 4-5 on the year and they are a far cry from being what they were a year ago.

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However, this was still an important win for Tech because it is another in-state team that Red Raider fans care about beating.  Those types of wins have become staples of the McGuire era.

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In just his two years on the job in Lubbock, McGuire has beaten Texas, Houston, Baylor, and TCU.  Those in-state conference wins carry more weight with the fan base than wins over Iowa State or Kansas, for instance.

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When you throw in last season’s win over Oklahoma, McGuire has now picked up five conference wins over teams either from Texas or teams that are considered marquee programs in the nation.  Don’t overlook the importance of that.

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Far too often, McGuire’s predecessors weren’t able to beat the teams the fan base desperately wants to have bragging rights over.  Matt Wells never beat Texas, TCU, or OU while only beating Baylor once.

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Kingsbury only beat Texas twice in six tries and never beat OU.  What’s more, he beat TCU and Baylor only four times in total out of 12 tries.

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McGuire doesn’t have a sterling record as Tech’s head coach.  He’s now just 12-10 overall and 10-10 against FBS opponents.

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However, he’s making his wins count by ensuring they come against programs that this fan base cares about beating.  Mike Leach and Spike Dykes became legends in Lubbock because they beat Texas A&M with consistency and they scored the occasional dramatic win over Texas.

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Since then, Tech’s head coaches have spit the bit in important series, and that caused each to eventually lose favor with the fan base.  McGuire still has a ways to go to become the next Dykes or Leach but he is winning games against programs that are satisfying to beat.  Getting Tech back into the win column against TCU was another example of his ability to give the Red Raiders some wins that are worth crowing about.

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