The big-play equation has been rather lopsided for Texas Tech in recent weeks.
The Red Raiders aren’t stopping them, and they’re not making many, either.
During a 41-34 double-overtime win against Kansas on Saturday, a game Tech entered as a 26-point favorite, Kansas ripped off runs of 44, 49 and 69 yards, providing scoring opportunities for a Jayhawks offense that, up until Saturday, had struggled mightily to score.
In fact, Kansas’ 34 points were the most it had scored in a game since Oct. 1 of last year, also against Tech.
“You can’t really give up that many rushing yards,” said Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team gave up a season-high 390 yards on the ground. “We knew they couldn’t throw it, and we put them up there and we kind of gambled. They broke a couple of them.”
The biggest breakdown came on Kansas’ final possession of regulation. Quarterback Michael Cummings had spent most of the day pitching the ball on the option to speedy running back Tony Pierson, who rushed for 202 yards. But on fourth-and-3 from his own 36-yard line, Cummings faked the pitch and took off down the left side for a 44-yard run that brought the ball all the way to the Tech 20.
If not for a defensive stand inside the 15-yard line, the run might have set up the Jayhawks to earn a stunning win in regulation.
“They were creasing us,” defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said, “and the option game, we weren’t picking up the pitch man. The quarterback was finding seams when they didn’t pitch it. That was the biggest part.”
But Texas Tech survived the big plays Saturday, something it wasn’t able to do against Texas one week earlier, when quarterback David Ash used two huge passes to Mike Davis to pace the Longhorns to a 31-22 victory.
Up until that point, Tech was one of the country’s best defenses at limiting plays of 20 yards or more. Even in a 55-24 loss to Kansas State three weeks ago, the Red Raiders yielded only three such plays.
The last two weeks have been a different story, and it’s not only on the defensive end.
The Red Raiders often moved the ball with ease against the Jayhawks, racking up 29 first downs and 508 passing yards. Plays in the 15- to 20-yard range were commonplace, as quarterback Seth Doege found big outside receivers Eric Ward and Darrin Moore beyond the first-down sticks with regularity.
The home-run plays, though, have been noticeably absent. Tech has only produced one play of 30 or more yards in its last three games, a 32-yard touchdown pass from Doege to Ward in the loss to Kansas State.
Though the Red Raiders have moved the ball well, the lack of quick-strike, long-range scores have forced them to grind out drives, a handful of which have ended in the red zone with only field goals — or no points at all — in recent weeks. Against Kansas, Tech had three drives inside the KU 15, and one to the 23, that came away with a combined six points.
“I think it’s just not making plays when it’s time to make plays,” Doege said.
Part of the reason for Tech’s lack of big-play offense recently may be the loss of some its personnel most capable of making such plays. Tight end Jace Amaro (unspecified injury) has not played since Tech’s 49-14 win against West Virginia on Oct. 13, a game in which he had catches of 27, 39 and 61 yards. Speedster Javon Bell had three catches of at least 31 yards before suffering a season-ending foot injury before the West Virginia game.
However they get it done, winning the big-play battle will be key to the Red Raiders’ hopes of closing the season with the three straight victories it needs for a 10-win season.
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