Weird things happen in Lubbock at night?
Mack Brown thought so, but the No. 19 Texas Longhorns were able to make the biggest play of the game with the game on the line, as sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger hit junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey on a 29-yard touchdown pass to win the game with 21 seconds remaining.
Ten years after the infamous Michael Crabtree catch. Same end zone. Same sideline.
Presenting Lil'Jordan Crabtree:pic.twitter.com/CL9dyeEhVE— Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 11, 2018
Did Humphrey know that, though?
“No I didn’t,” he said. “I guess it’s the LJ corner now.”
Hard to argue with that.
The stakes weren’t as high for the Longhorns on Saturday, but the 41-34 victory did break a two-game losing streak to move to 7-3 on the season and set the program up for a strong finish. And make no mistake, reaching seven wins is no small feat for this program — it hadn’t happened since 2013.
With junior wide receiver Collin Johnson ruled out before the game due to a knee injury suffered in practice on Thursday, Ehlinger relied heavily on Humphrey, his favored target.
“I knew he was going to do it,” Ehlinger said of that last throw. “I have so much confidence in him.”
Humphrey became the first Longhorns wide receiver with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Mike Davis six years ago, a span of 74 games. With eight catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, he set career highs in yards and touchdowns as he proved that no Texas Tech player could consistently cover him.
And though Ehlinger relied heavily on Humphrey, he was sensational, too, setting the Big 12 record for most completions without an interception and completing 22-of-34 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. In the pocket, he held the ball too long at times, which led to some sacks early, but he didn’t turn the ball over for the eighth straight game and completed numerous passes into small windows.
Most importantly, Ehlinger proved cool under pressure once again in leading a late go-ahead drive, just like he did against West Virginia and Oklahoma.
Unlike the game last weekend against the Mountaineers, though, the Red Raiders didn’t have enough time to score.
The Texas Tech offense did score 24 points in the fourth quarter after entering the final 15 minutes with a 27-10 deficit, however, turning a game that was close to becoming a route into a nail-biter.
The comeback came against a struggling Longhorns secondary that suffered more attrition during the game — freshman safety Caden Sterns left with a concussion, sophomore nickel Josh Thompson suffered an ankle sprain when he collided with Sterns, senior cornerback Davante Davis suffered an ankle sprain and was dealing with knee pain, and senior defensive back PJ Locke III played through a sprained toe.
By the end of the game, little-used redshirt sophomore cornerback Donovan Duvernay was making a rare appearance because there weren’t any other healthy players to put out there.
So the fourth quarter was mostly about limiting the damage, which met with a mixed bag of success.
Texas Tech wide receiver Antoine Wesley caught a 57-yard touchdown pass to start the comeback, but the beleaguered Texas defense that was also without starting junior safety Brandon Jones was able to hold the Red Raiders to a field goal on the next possession.
At that point, the Horns still held a 14-point lead, but another gamble from Kliff Kingsbury paid off this time, unlike his fourth-down attempt in the first half in his own territory that led to a Texas touchdown.
On this particular play, Clayton Hatfield was able to execute a difficult onside kick — he hit it straight at Locke and the senior couldn’t successfully catch the ball. Texas Tech recovered.
A potential fumble recovered by the Longhorns was ruled an incomplete pass by Red Raiders quarterback Jett Duffey and a fourth-down conversion came by way of a defensive pass interference on freshman cornerback Anthony Cook.
A big 24-yard pass to TJ Vasher was questionably ruled a catch on the field — it wasn’t clear if he had a foot down or if he controlled the football to the ground — and wasn’t reviewed. When Vasher beat Cook for a two-yard touchdown catch three plays later, the game was officially back on.
The Texas offense went three and out when Ehlinger wasn’t able to connect with Humphrey on a slant on 3rd and 3, setting up an opportunity for the home team to tie the game.
And that was exactly what happened, courtesy of a 47-yard pass to Wesley over coverage from senior cornerback Kris Boyd and a nine-yard touchdown pass to Wesley.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, Ehlinger and Humphrey responded.
Texas had taken that lead heading in to the fourth quarter in large part because of mistakes by Duffey, who threw an interception and fumbled twice.
The first interception marked a huge momentum swing in the game, as it came on the second Texas Tech drive following yet another opening touchdown — the sixth time in 10 games that Texas has given up seven points. Two other opening drives have resulted in field goals.
Under pressure on a play from the Longhorns 3-yard line, Duffey decided not to throw the ball away and instead decided to throw it up in the field of play. Davis intercepted it to set up a 12-play Texas drive that resulted in a 52-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker, the longest of his brief career.
In the third quarter, another steady drive by the Red Raiders resulted in another Duffey turnover, this time a fumble in the red zone when he failed to secure the football and Davis ripped it free before recovering it himself.
Once again, Ehlinger and his offense responded with a long drive resulting in a field goal by Dicker.
On the next Texas Tech drive, it was more of the same from Duffey. Except this time it was Boyd who forced the fumble on the opposite sideline, taking it from Duffey and then drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for spiking it in his face.
The penalty resulted in the loss of valuable field position and hurt the offense on that drive, but those three forced turnovers, the first turnovers forced since the Baylor game, were ultimately enough to enable the winning margin.
So while Todd Orlando’s defense once again came up short in stopping third-down conversions, the ability to create those turnovers made the difference — in the Big 12, it doesn’t matter if the defense can only succeed in one of those areas.
For a third straight week, it wasn’t pretty on defense, but it was enough. Now the Longhorns will have to try to get healthy as the effects of a long season increasingly take their toll. Make no mistake, it’s a banged up group on that side of the ball.
Fortunately, the offensive line is healthy. Ehlinger is healthy. And Humphrey is healthy.
In a night game in Lubbock, the offense won the game in a fashion eerily reminiscent of the 2008 disaster.
Screw the stakes. That feels good.