A wild, back-and-forth game that started as a defensive struggle turned into offensive fireworks late as the Texas Tech Red Raiders narrrowly managed to outlast a injury-plagued but game Texas Longhorns football team, 48-45, on Thanksgiving Day in Austin.
The 48 points scored by the Red Raiders were the most in the long series between the two schools and the first home loss for the Texas against Texas Tech since 1997. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury's team sealed the game when a line-drive onside kick attempt went off several players in white jerseys before eventually falling in the hands of another.
The loss wasted a tough effort by a team that entered the game missing numerous starters and then lost even more players during the game.
Offensively, it took some time for Longhorns play caller Jay Norvell to fullly realize that he was indeed facing one of the worst run defenses in the country in the Red Raiders, but when he did, freshman Chris Warren responded by turning in a record-setting effort.
Warren entered the game with only 18 carries for 88 yards on the season, but with senior running back Johnathan Gray and sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman both out with injuries and fellow freshman Kirk Johnson injured early in the game, it was basically all Warren all evening as he set a freshman record with 25 carries for 276 yards and four touchdowns.
As the offensive line and lead blockers began to assert dominance, the holes started getting bigger and bigger for Warren by the fourth quarter, softened by his powerful runs and numerous broken tackles. Then junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes joined the party with a 46-yard touchdown run on a 3rd and 3 to take a 38-34 lead with just under eight minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, when the game was on the Swoopes tried to hit senior wide receiver Daje Johnson on a long route on 4th and 7 and the pass fell long. It was a questionable play call to say the least and Texas Tech appeared to then put the game away with a fake victory formation trick play taken right ouf of Auburn's playbook:
A key play in that offensive sequence by Texas was a penalty on freshman offensive tackle Connor Williams for supposedly being too far down field, even though it looked like he was within three yards. As a result, Texas had to face a long down and distance on third down and was not close enough to the marker on fourth down to call a run.
Back to those injuries though -- at one point in the third quarter, the injury list for Texas looked like this:
Updated Texas injury list tonight: QB1, RB1, RB2, RB4, RG1, NT1, DT1, DT2, SLB1, MLB1.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 27, 2015
So when Texas Tech came out in the second half with a 12-play, 91-yard touchdown drive mostly on the ground, it wasn't because of some incredible ofefnsive adjustment, it was merely in response to a defense that was hemorrhaging players up the middle by the minute.
But just when it looked like the team might cave going down 14 in the third quarter, redshirt freshman cornerback John Bonney forced a fumble, freshman wide receiver John Burt had a nice gain on an RPO after breaking the initial tackle, and freshman running back Chris Warren continued his impressive performance by making an excellent cut deep in the hole to score from 21 yards out and swing the momentum.
And just when it looked like the defense had been a game-changing mistake when a cornerback blitz led to a short pass and long run after the catch by Lauderdale when he made senior cornerback Duke Thomas, sophomore safety Jason Hall, and freshman cornerback Davante Davis. However, the defense inflicted three consecutive negative plays to force a field goal that was hardly a gimme.
Once again, Warren largely did the rest, reading a fantastic block by senior H-back Alex De La Torre and turning the corner for a 23-yard touchdown run to pull the Horns to within three.
The first half featured just as many shenanigans.
Folks, welcome to 2015 Texas Longhorns football:
Just after Texas took a 3-0 lead over Texas Tech, this incredible, unbelievable play happened. That's wide receiver Devin Lauderdale lighting up freshman cornerback Holton Hill and star wide receiver Jakeem Grant finding himself in the right place at the right time on the dead run.
In year that has seen the Horns lose games on a missed extra point and fumbled punt snap, this was just another shocking play. Bad things happen to bad teams, but c'mon...
On the day of institutionalized gluttony, the football gods were gluttonous in defensing Texas pain in a first half that ended with a 17-10 Texas Tech lead.
After redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard left the game following a hard hit and headed to the locker room, junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes had sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Joe running free down the sideline for a potential 83-yard touchdown. He was wide open, but Swoopes put just a little too much on the ball and it went off the diving hands of Joe for an incompletion and fitting image of Swoopes' disappointing career in Austin.
The defense continued a streak of strong play on the next possession, but another Swoopes bomb, underthrown this time, went awry when tiny Nigel Bethel simply ripped the ball away from senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson.
At least it stopped there, as the wet conditions came into play again when Lauderdale wasn't able to haul in a long touchdown pass over his shoulder to limit the damage.
So there was that. At least.
This was the fourth-longest run in school history and surely one of the most unbelievable:
All of the broken tackles. All of them!
Of course, the pendulum had to swing back after that. And it did when junior tight end Caleb Bluiett fumbled a short catch that was initially ruled down by contact but eventually overturned. Texas Tech quickly converted on a drive capped by a short touchdown run from quarterback Pat Mahomes after scrambling for the drive's biggest play.
After an attrition-filled first half, the Horns will be without redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard for the rest of the game. Senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson couldn't play due to a stomach issue and sophomore running back Kirk Johnson to an ankle injury. Senior linebacker Peter Jinkens and freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson also left the game in the first half.
And between 5:00 p.m. and kickoff, rain moved into the area and started downpouring much sooner and more heavily than expected. On one warm-up throw for Heard that FS1 caught on camera, the ball slipped out of his hand as he attempted to release it. More rain is heading towards DKR for the second half.
So the conditions have been difficult and with the passing game relatively difficult to execute, Texas turned to some trick plays early, running a wide receiver reverse to freshman John Burt that got stopped for a loss and several plays with both junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and Heard in the same backfield. Swoopes threw a pass to Heard, took a handoff from the starter, and faked a sweep to Heard, but lost yardage when he tried to bounce the ball outside.
A bend-but-don't-break mentality for the Longhorns defense paid off on the first drive when the Red Raiders moved the football in short bursts, but eventually threw an interception to junior safety Dylan Haines on fourth down. Haines now ranks second all-time in interception return yardage, an incredible accomplishment as a former walk on. Not only that, he's done it in less than two full seasons as a starter.
The seventh loss puts the Longhorns in need of a road win against the Baylor Bears coming up in order to even have an outside shot at bowl eligibility. With Warren emerging and the team showing more mental and physical toughness, there were some positives to take away from this game. The season is set to end in a few days, in all likelihood, and the offseason will be full of speculation and staff changes.
So while this was another flawed performance for a bad football team, it was one that the Longhorns can build on, even with all the frustration and disappointment of another close loss at home.