Texas Tech’s defense has been dogged for most of the season, and it was for the first seven minutes of Saturday night’s Big 12 Conference game against Missouri.
The Tigers scored on the game’s third play from scrimmage when Marcus Murphy broke loose for a 69-yard run in which the Red Raiders barely got a hand on him. Two possessions later, Kendial Lawrence wasn’t touched at all on a 71-yard touchdown run.
Just like that, the Red Raiders were down 14 points and seemingly on their way to a third consecutive loss at home. But just like that, their defense started playing some of its best football of the season.
Tech pitched a shutout after the five-minute mark of the second quarter and held the nation’s 23rd-ranked passing offense to its lowest output of the season by far. The Red Raiders also shut down Mizzou’s running game after the early going, which played a key role in a 24-17 upset of the 14th-ranked Tigers at Jones AT&T Stadium.
“I’m real proud of how we played defense after the first couple series,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “It didn’t look very good. They’ve got a wide-open offense and really put us in a bind. They’re all over the field, and we had some mismatches.
“I thought our coaches did a good job of moving guys around and putting them on certain players so they could make plays.”
Tech’s play against the pass was especially remarkable. The Red Raiders entered the game allowing 317.4 passing yards per game — the second-highest total in the country — and had given up at least 336 yards through the air in each of the last four games.
But Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert completed only 12 of 30 passes for 95 yards and no touchdowns. Tight end Michael Egnew from Plainview and receiver T.J. Moe, who were among the top 10 nationally in receptions per game, caught a combined 10 passes for 78 yards.
Tech’s young defensive backs, who allowed Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller to post career highs of 11 catches and 171 yards last week, were credited with six pass breakups.
Tech tamed the Tigers’ passing game by dropping seven and eight defenders into coverage for most of the game, but still managed to slow Mizzou’s running game. After rushing for 243 yards on 22 carries in the first half, the Tigers ran the ball nine times for 17 yards in the second half.
“Most people don’t realize how many difficulties we’ve had on defense,” Tuberville said, “but that was about as good as you can play against that type of offense.”
The Red Raiders’ defense, which allowed a mere three first downs and 62 yards in the second half, was especially good when it mattered most. Missouri didn’t convert a third down until late in the third quarter and finished one of 12 in such situations, and it was 0 for 2 on fourth downs.
One of those fourth-down stops came in the waning minutes, after Mizzou had marched into Tech territory.
“We wouldn’t have won the game tonight,” Tuberville said, “had our defense not stepped up.”
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