LAWRENCE, Kan. — Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville succinctly summed up Saturday’s Big 12 Conference opener against Kansas with two words.
“Déjà vu,” Tuberville said. “Start slow, end fast. One of these days we’re gonna start fast.”
The Red Raiders spotted Kansas 20 first-quarter points before storming back for a 45-34 victory at Memorial Stadium.
Tech trailed 27-24 at halftime — the third time the Red Raiders have been behind at the break this season — but outscored the Jayhawks 45-7 after falling behind three touchdowns.
The game was also reminiscent of Tech’s 2004 trip to Lawrence in which the Red Raiders trailed 30-5 before coming back to win 31-30.
Tech (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) committed 17 penalties for 154 yards, converted on just seven of 17 third downs and had no running game to speak of through the first half.
The last of those three factors was probably the most surprising.
Georgia Tech ran for 604 yards and racked up 768 yards of total offense — both single-game worsts for Kansas — two weeks ago in a 66-24 blowout of the Jayhawks (2-2, 0-1).
Tech ran the ball only 11 times for 36 yards in the first half.
“We felt like coming into the game we would be able to have success,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of the running game. “And then early in the game we got stuffed and we were having success passing the ball.”
Tech dialed up the tempo in the second half and exposed the Jayhawks’ thin defensive line. The running game opened up as a result.
The Red Raiders rushed the ball 29 times in the second half, and Eric Stephens finished with a game-high 124 yards — 86 of which came in the final two quarters.
“They ran the ball a lot more,” Kansas junior safety Bradley McDougald said. “Guys were more focused on the passing and we were doing a good job on getting stops there. They did come out and run the ball more, which hurt us.”
Brown said Kansas showed some defensive fronts it hadn’t previously used that eliminated Tech’s ability to run the ball up the middle.
Once Tech figured out the new formation and switched to Brown’s fast-paced, NASCAR offense, the game all but turned into a laugher.
The Kansas offense stalled, and Tech led 45-27 entering the fourth quarter.
Sophomore split end Eric Ward continued to impress, catching four passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He is the first Tech player to have multiple touchdowns in three consecutive games since Michael Crabtree in 2008.
Ward’s two touchdowns were the highlights of the game, too.
The first was a 40-yard catch and run that cut the gap to 20-14 early in the second quarter. Ward caught a short pass from quarterback Seth Doege, spun out of a tackle and got a block from Cornelius Douglas on his way to the end zone.
The second score was Tech’s last of the game and the backbreaker for the Jayhawks. Doege hit Ward on a fade route over Kansas cornerback Greg Brown. The ball was tipped into the air and Ward caught it on his back after hitting the ground.
“I saw it come out,” Ward said. “I just had to look it all the way in. That’s just a basic thing we always work on is concentration. I think I did a good job concentrating on the ball.”
Doege finished with 366 yards on 29-of-46 passing with three touchdowns. The junior quarterback also threw his first interception of the year.
The defense made adjustments, including trading out true freshmen linebackers Blake Dees and Sam Eguavoen for Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert, and had three interceptions — two by free safety D.J. Johnson
Kansas, though, may be the last opponent on Tech’s schedule that will still lose a game with the Red Raiders’ laundry list of mistakes.
Tech has allowed 1,040 yards of total offense in its last two games combined, including 581 yards on the ground.
Tuberville said he’s getting used to giving the same speech at halftime when Tech is trailing.
“We figured that we could beat this team if we came in and played our game with the weapons that we had,” Tuberville said. “But you got to do it and it didn’t look good. You don’t like spotting teams 20 points and there’s not many teams the rest of the way that we can spot a lot of points and have a chance.”
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