Bowl eligible: Red Raiders defeat UCF 24-23

The Texas Tech football program is headed to a bowl game for the third-straight season for the first time since 2008-10 thanks to a 24-23 win over Central Florida on Saturday night in Lubbock. Here are some quick thoughts on what we saw in an entertaining game at Jones Stadium.

Joey November has Texas Tech on the rise again

Let’s start with a big-picture takeaway.  Somehow, Joey McGuire has proven once again to be able to milk the most out of his team in the final month of the regular season.  Tech is now 3-0 in the eleventh month this season after going 3-1 in November last season.

It is refreshing to see the Red Raiders start to transform into a program that gets better as the season progresses.  For most of my time as a Red Raider, that hasn’t been the case.

In fact, prior to McGuire’s arrival, the last time Tech managed to have a winning November was in 2015 when Tech played only three November games going 2-1.  Prior to that, you have to go back to 2010 when Tech went 3-1 but in that year, two of those wins came over FCS program Weber State and Houston (long before the Cougars would join the Big 12).

What’s more, McGuire is finding a way to post winning records in conference play.  Now at 5-3 in Big 12 games, he’s guaranteed his second-straight winning record in league games.

Prior to last season, Tech hadn’t managed to do that since 2008-09.  That was four coaching changes ago.

McGuire is far from perfect as a coach.  He is still finding his legs as a game manager and he doesn’t have this team competing for titles yet.

However, he does have the knack for coaxing everything he can out of his teams, even late in the season when injuries mount and games are tougher to win.  On Saturday, he was without starting defensive end Steve Linton and leading receiver Myles Price for the entire game and starting safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson and starting DT Jaylon Hutchings (your two best defensive players) for half of the game, and yet, he got his team to fight and claw its way to a win.

For ages, this was a team that faded as the season wore on, especially during the Kingsbury and Tuberville eras.  I’m not sure what McGuire does to achieve different results and how he’s turned this trend around in two years but it sure is refreshing to see the Red Raiders find a way to win games in November.

Tahj Brooks says goodbye to Texas Tech fans in fitting fashion

Playing his final game in Lubbock, senior running back Tahj Brooks went out in the most fitting way possible.  When the game was on the line and everyone in the stadium knew that he was getting the ball, Tech’s best player was unstoppable.

Starting with the final play of the TD drive that put Tech ahead 21-14 near the end of the third quarter, a play that saw Brooks score on a 13-yard run, he would carry the offense.  Over the next two drives as Tech was trying to hang on to a lead while also milking the clock, Brooks would run 12 times for 64 yards against eight and even nine-man boxes.

On the final drive, with Tech needing to burn 5:30 off the clock to nurse home a one-point lead, he ran seven times for 34 yards while picking up four first downs.  UCF knew Brooks was coming their way and they could do nothing about it.

How refreshing is it to see that from the Red Raiders?  For years, the roles have been reversed with Tech being the team that was completely incapable of stopping the run with the game on the line.  Also, how many times has the ground game failed this program when it was necessary to run the clock down to preserve a win? This year, though, Tech has managed to grind out wins over Baylor, Kansas, and UCF by running the ball through defenses that were geared up to stop the run.

Brooks ended the night with a career-high 182 yards to go along with his ninth TD of the year.  Averaging 7.3 yards per carry, he was also efficient as he needed only 24 carries to get his numbers.

This was a fitting sendoff for one of the best players in recent program history, one who cemented his legacy as a Red Raider with another huge night.  It was the only way he could end his Red Raider home career.

Special teams turned this game for Texas Tech

The Red Raiders have the kicking game to thank for this win.  Specifically, they have UCF kicker Colton Boomer to thank.

Of course, the deflected extra point try off of Boomer’s foot in the fourth quarter was the defining moment of the game.  However, he also doinked a 32-yard field goal off the upright in the third quarter to prevent his team from reclaiming the lead.

As for the blocked extra point, the credit actually belongs to young Texas Tech defensive tackle Dooda Banks.  A 6-foot-5, 305-pounder from Wichita Falls, the sophomore was able to get his long arm in the kicking lane just perfectly enough for the ball to deflect off of his elbow and flutter wide left.

Meanwhile, Tech got a critical field goal from Gino Garcia who continues his strong play.  Drilling a 51-yard FG in the fourth quarter to answer a UCF field goal on the previous drive, he gave Tech just enough breathing room as it turned out.

Also, don’t overlook the important kickoff return by Tech’s Drae McCray at the end of the first quarter.  With Tech down 14-0 and having stalled out on two offensive drives, he set up the team’s first score by returning the ball 54 yards to the UCF 46.  He would also end that drive with a 14-yard TD catch, just his second TD grab of the season.

Finally, Austin McNamara was elite once again.  Averaging 47 yards on his two punts, he downed both inside the 20.

His second punt was downed at the UCF 19 and one play later, Tech was able to intercept a pass at the Knights’ 41.  Five plays after that, Tech would have its first lead of the game on Brooks’ TD run.

Credit special teams coordinator Kenny Perry for making the third side of the ball almost elite this year.  Once again on Saturday, the kicking game was tilted in Tech’s favor and that tipped the scales in what was a very even contest.

Gus Malzahn’s brain cramp saves Texas Tech

One huge moment in this game came on the final drive of the first half.  With the game tied at 14, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn had a huge brain cramp that cost his team an almost certain three points, and that was critical in a one-point Red Raider win.

Throughout the first half, Malzahn was forced to burn all of his timeouts when his team was disorganized or running out of time on the play clock.  Thus, when the Knights got to the Tech five-yard line with a first-and-goal, they were pressed to make the most of the 34 seconds on the clock.

However, Malzahn made a strange call on second down with just 12 seconds remaining.  He called for a shovel pass into the teeth of the Tech defense.

The Red Raiders were able to sniff it out and make the stop.  Thus, when the defense took its sweet time to get up off of the pile, UCF had no time left to spike the ball and stop the clock in order to set up for a field goal.

For much of the season, McGuire has been openly questioned for his game management but last week, he won the Kansas game with the way he orchestrated the final two possessions. On Saturday, it was Malzahn’s bungling of the end of the first half that led to a Red Raider win.

By wasting all of his timeouts early in the half and then trying to get too cute on second-and-goal of the final drive, he set his team up to fail.  That’s certainly going to be something he will have to answer for this week.

Texas Tech has started to win one-score games again

In college football, only the elite teams like Georgia, Michigan, or Ohio State seem to blow out their opponents just about every week.  The rest of the teams in the nation continually find themselves in one-score games that can often come down to one random play here or there.

Tech was 4-0 in such games last year but started out 0-3 in 2023.  The OT loss at Wyoming, the heartbreaking home loss to Oregon a week later, and the 20-13 loss at West Virginia were all tough to handle and made many question if last year’s success in close games was just a fluke.

Now, though, Tech has won three one-score games in a row.  The TCU game was salvaged by a late INT by Dadrion Taylor-Demerson.  The Kansas game came down to Garcia’s field goal.  Saturday’s win was sealed by a deflected extra point.

In all three games, one bounce of the ball could have changed things but that doesn’t matter.  The reality is that Tech has rebounded from a disappointing start to the season and displayed pride in fighting back to bowl eligibility by scratching out some one-score wins.

Much of that credit goes to McGuire for being able to keep his team engaged even after all of this year’s preseason aspirations were dashed.  However, credit must also go to the players for being willing to fight for the logo on their helmets and for knowing that they are still trying to build a new foundation for the program.

This is an old team and that experience has shown up in November’s close wins.  This team is fighting like hell to make the most out of what’s left in the season and it has earned a 13th game in the process.  While just getting to six wins won’t be worthy of a parade down Broadway, it is a credit to the players on this team for staying in the fight and not cashing in the chips when the team was 3-5 overall heading into the open week at the end of October.

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