AMES, Iowa — Tales of defensive improvement for Texas Tech have become far more than just lip service.
The Red Raiders escaped Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday with a 24-13 win against Iowa State by riding a stellar defensive effort — and enough timely plays on offense — to a victory that helped them erase their Cyclone demons of the past two years.
“It’s a long time comin’,” said Kerry Hyder, the defense tackle who notched two sacks and a key fumble recovery.
Forget bending, the Tech defense rarely even budged while surrendering only 189 total yards, 73 of those through the air. If the Red Raiders (4-0) drop from their No. 1 national ranking in defense, it won’t be far.
The Cyclones (3-1) had leads Saturday night, but they never seemed in charge. Not with Hyder and the defensive front wreaking havoc. Not with Tech's linebackers running to the ball en masse, staying in their lanes against the tricky Cyclone option.
Not with a secondary making as many big plays in one game as it did seemingly all last season.
“The defense has worked hard,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “Last week all we did was work on fundamentals, technique. Players have done a good job of just staying with it. We haven’t panicked.”
A unit that struggled to force turnovers last season came up with a pair of huge ones to turn the tide in the fourth quarter. With Tech leading, 14-13, Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz connected with tight end Ernst Brun up the seam for what appeared to be a big gain.
But safety D.J. Johnson leveled a punishing hit on Brun, jarring the ball from his grasp. Cornerback Cornelius Douglas corralled his second interception of the night at midfield and returned it all the way to Iowa State 9-yard line.
“D.J. came and just smacked him,” Douglas said. “The ball popped up. I got the little present. I tried to house it, but they got me.”
After a holding penalty, Tech quarterback Seth Doege hit his favorite target on the night, Eric Ward, for a 19-yard touchdown that gave the Red Raiders a 21-13 lead.
Ward caught nine passes for 122 yards, and Doege overcame a slow start to throw for 331 yards and a three scores.
The Cyclones mounted a drive past midfield on their next series, but as Jantz rolled right to evade a rush, he fumbled the ball — “He made a number of plays that hurt our team,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said — and Hyder recovered it at the Iowa State 49.
A few big runs by Kenny Williams (82 yards rushing) then set up a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Bustin, who made up for an earlier miss by sealing the victory for the Red Raiders, one that seemed in doubt until the fourth quarter.
While Tech didn’t dig itself as deep a hole as it did in two previous lopsided losses to Iowa State, the Red Raiders didn’t do themselves any favors to start the game. Doege threw an interception in the first quarter that Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein returned 87 yards for a touchdown.
The Red Raiders were driving again in the first half when Doege again threw across his body into the waiting arms of safety Jacques Washington.
Despite the early struggles, Doege said he was determined not to revert back to his habit last year of letting the bad plays drag him down.
“It’s just something I’ve worked on,” he said, "trying to be mentally stronger than I was last year. Just going out there and not throwing it in the tank when something bad happens.”
Tech finally got on the board late in the second quarter. On third-and-goal from the 11-yard line, Doege connected with Jakeem Grant on a crossing route over the middle. The pint-sized receiver did the rest, beating Klein on a sprint to the corner pylon.
The score didn’t come easy. A few players earlier, tight end Jace Amaro caught a pass and was given a touchdown after he dove over the edge of the end zone, but a replay clearly showed Amaro stepped out of bounds at the 3-yard line. On the next play Doege took a sack 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and a trick play on second down went nowhere.
But Tech managed to come up with the big play to Grant in a game where the offense relied on a number of them to steal momentum. Tech’s second touchdown — a 4-yard pass from Doege to Darrin Moore with one minute left in the third quarter — was set up by a 47-yard catch-and-run from Javon Bell, who caught the ball on a tunnel screen over the middle and used his speed to do the rest.
The speed also showed up on defense, where the Red Raiders demonstrated sound discipline against the Iowa State option attack. A 36-yard run up the middle by White in the first quarter and a 21-yard run from Jantz on a broken play in the third, were the only big gains the Cyclones were able to muster.
That was a far cry from a season ago, when the Red Raiders surrendered 368 yards rushing to these Cyclones.
“This year,” Hyder said, “We just came right at them and hit ’em in the mouth.”
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