Saturday in Lubbock, the Texas Tech football team pitched an unlikely second-half shutout against Houston to claim a 49-28 win. The Red Raiders now sit at 2-3 on the season and 1-1 in Big 12 play. Here are some rapid reactions to what we saw at Jones Stadium.
The Texas Tech defense overcomes huge injury woes
While there was no reason the defense should have given up 28 points to the Cougars in the first half, it must be understood that Tim DeRuyter’s side of the ball was woefully undermanned on Saturday. Without both starting middle linebackers, Jesiah Pierre and Jacob Rodriguez, true freshman Miquel Dingle and redshirt freshman Ben Roberts had to man the middle of the field. What’s more, early in the game, senior safety, Dadrion Tayor-Demerson was lost for the afternoon pressing true freshman, Chapman Lewis into action.
Relying on three freshmen to man the backbone of your defense is never ideal and in the first half, all three of those young players made critical mistakes in pass coverage to give Houston easy scores. Fortunately, the second half was a different story.
Eventually, senior Bryce Ramirez also moved from being an edge rusher to playing inside LB and he seemed to provide a calming influence to the defense. However, Houston also seemed to play into Tech’s hands with their offensive game plan after halftime.
Why did Houston stop attacking with the pass?
Former Texas Tech QB and current Houston starter, Donovan Smith, looked unstoppable in the first half with four TD passes. However, in the second half, the Cougars stopped attacking the Red Raider secondary.
It did appear that the Red Raiders stopped playing as much man defense after the break but still, given Taylor-Demerson’s absence, Dana Holgorsen’s team should have continued to air it out. Instead, after Tech went up 42-28 in the middle of the third quarter, Houston, the worst rushing team in the conference, decided to run the ball on nine of their next 15 plays encompassing two drives that would lead to no points.
That made no sense given the way the first half played out. When trailing by two scores, why go away from what helped you score 28 big first-half points to start doing what your offense is worst at?
Texas Tech runs early and often
On the other hand, Tech won this game, in large part, because of the dominance of the Red Raider ground game. Tahj Brooks had 106 yards and two TDs on 22 carries while Cam’Ron Valdez had 106 yards and a TD on just five carries.
While this was Brooks’ third-consecutive game with 100 or more yards, it was exciting to see Valdez make an impact for the first time in 2023. Slowed by injuries thus far, he came into the game with only 20 yards on six carries but he had a breakout game on Saturday and his big-play ability helped turn this game.
In the 3rd quarter, he set up Behren Morton’s second TD pass of the game by flipping the field with a 53-yard run that also had a personal foul penalty tacked onto the end thanks to a horsecollar tackle. That helped give Tech its first double-digit lead of the day, 42-28.
Then, in the fourth quarter, his 41-yard TD run sealed the win. If Tech is going to major in the ground game moving forward, Brooks needs someone to ride shotgun with him and it appears that Valdez might be ready to be that guy.
Morton is solid after not practicing all week
When the Texas Tech radio broadcast said in pregame warmups that QB Behren Morton had not thrown a pass all week after hurting his shoulder against West Virginia, I feared that he might be rusty and out of sorts just like he was last Saturday.
However, Morton was solid as a bus driver on a day when the goal was clearly to nurse him through the game without further injury. He completed 14/22 passes for 166 yards and two TDs but most importantly, he did not turn the ball over.
More will be needed of him at times moving forward but given the unusual circumstances surrounding his right shoulder injury, he was as good as we could have expected. It was proof that the young gunslinger can play a composed and smart game when needed.
Special teams keep Texas Tech in the game early
For years, it has felt like special teams were always a pitfall for the Red Raiders. On Saturday, though, the kicking game helped keep Tech neck-and-neck with Houston early on.
Drae McCray returned Houston’s first kickoff of the game 102 yards for a TD to knot the score 7-7. Then, when Tech finally forced the first U of H punt of the game in the second quarter, Loic Fouonji blocked and recovered the punt for a TD to give Tech its first lead of the day, 28-21.
It was a nice rebound game for Fouonji, who also had a 25-yard TD catch to tie the game at 21-21 just moments earlier. Also, the kicking game gave Tech a nice break at the end of the second quarter as a long Cougar FG try clanked off of the left upright as time expired allowing the home team to maintain a 35-28 lead at the intermission.
Texas Tech has only one penalty
One week after committing nine penalties for 96 yards against West Virginia, Tech was fantastic in that regard against Houston. The Red Raiders were flagged only once (at least on flags that were accepted by the Cougars) for five yards. That had to be a focus all week and it appears that McGuire’s message was received.
Houston, on the other hand, had four penalties for 46 yards with two of them being late critical holding calls brought about by the attacking Red Raider pass rush. Though Tech didn’t sack Smith on Saturday, the defense did get just enough pressure in the second half to make him uncomfortable and to draw some timely penalties on the Cougar offensive line.
This was a much-needed win as Tech got its first victory of the year over an FBS team. Next week takes the Red Raiders to Waco to face a very beatable Baylor team.