The moments were ripe for nervous letdowns. Against TCU and Kansas, Texas Tech went on defense first in overtime and soon found itself trailing by a touchdown after an opponent’s quick strike.
For the Tech offense, that meant answer with a trip into the end zone or walk off the field with a bitter loss.
Tech, of course, achieved the former in both games and went on to win them in additional overtime periods.
The calm under fire in those situations is a key reason No. 23 Tech, picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 at the start of the season, is 7-3 (4-3 in Big 12) and in fifth place heading into a 2:30 p.m. Saturday showdown against Oklahoma State (6-3, 4-2) in Stillwater, Okla.
“I don’t know what it is about overtime games and this football team,” Tech quarterback Seth Doege said, “but it almost seems like we relax even more.”
Even on third-and-10 in the first overtime on Saturday, when you had two chances to pick up a first down or suffer a devastating home loss to the Jayhawks? The nerves didn’t creep up then?
“You know, we didn’t panic at all,” Doege said. “We felt like we had a great play call, and if we executed it, it was going to be big for us.”
Tech did execute, as Doege found top target Eric Ward across the middle in the face of a Kansas blitz. Ward took the pass all the way to the 1-yard line, and Eric Stephens finished the drive off with a leap into the end zone on the next play.
The Red Raiders scored on their next overtime possession on Stephens’ 3-yard pass to Darrin Moore. That put the onus on the Tech defense, though players on that unit, too, said they felt no pressure.
“It was like, ‘Look, we’ve got to make a play,’” Tech safety D.J. Johnson said. “‘It’s time to make something happen.’ We had people step up that were able to do that.”
Johnson was one of the players who stepped up, swatting away a fourth-down pass in the end zone to preserve the victory. The biggest play of the series, though, came from Blake Dees. The sophomore linebacker, aided by a number of teammates who helped string out the play, burst through the line of scrimmage to tackle Kansas running back Tony Pierson — he of the 202-yard rushing performance — for a 4-yard loss. That forced Kansas to use its weak passing game on fourth-and-9.
“They had been running that play on us all day and killing us with it,” Dees said. “I saw it happening again, so I widened out in the box and shot the gap. My family was there, and they were jumping for joy.”
Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said he has been impressed with the poise his team has shown in playing five overtime periods this season, especially given that the Red Raiders, in both instances, had to quickly get over the feeling they should have put the games away in regulation.
“We play looser (in overtime) for some reason,” Tuberville said. “I think we’ve got more confidence in each other. Offense and defense feel like we can play looser. I think we focus better. We haven’t had a penalty in either of the (five) overtimes.”
Tech also has not been afraid to open up the playbook during the extra sessions, twice using trick plays to score touchdowns. But Tech’s ultimate reason for success during these heated moments, Doege said, is the chemistry the team has formed.
“I want to say that it’s just the fact that we’re such a good team and we like each other,” Doege said, “that when it comes to big-time moments like that, we can just relax and play.”
Now, Tuberville said, Tech just needs to find a way to bottle those performances and spread them across the four quarters of regulation.
“Yeah,” he said, “wish we started in overtime.”
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