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Oklahoma State Survives At Texas Tech

It was another wild prime-time game in Lubbock, and OSU found a way to come out on top.

Photo by Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire

Oklahoma State Survives At Texas Tech

Saturday night in Lubbock, you delivered yet again. Texas Tech entered the game 4-1 against AP top 15 teams when playing at night in Lubbock, and the Red Raiders gave Oklahoma State all they could handle in this one. The Cowboys appeared to be the superior team, especially in the first half, but poor red zone play kept the game closer than it should have been.

With that said, Texas Tech deserves credit for taking advantage of the OSU miscues and making enough plays to give themselves a chance to win. They proved that the 3-0 start was no fluke, and the defense is clearly improved even though the overall stat lines may not show it. OSU moved the ball seemingly at will between the twenties as the Tech defense was focused on not giving up big plays. However, the defense only allowed touchdowns on 50 percent (5-10) of the Cowboys’ red zone trips.

The middle of the pack in the Big 12 is going to be a war of attrition this season, and Texas Tech proved in this game they are more than capable of finishing in the top half of the league. Oklahoma State, on the other hand, clearly has the talent to win the Big 12, but lack of execution and undisciplined play need to be corrected if they are going to achieve the goals this team set forth in the preseason. This was the second straight game for the Cowboys in which they could not get out of their own way, and they were fortunate to escape Lubbock with a victory.

The game got off to as good a start, as OSU could have hoped coming off a disappointing home loss. The OSU defense forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, and the Cowboys followed it up with an efficient touchdown drive capped off with a James Washington 14-yard touchdown catch. Tech was forced to punt on their ensuing possession, and OSU was once again on the march and in the red zone. With a chance to take the crowd out of the game early, Mason Rudolph overthrew an open Jalen McCleskey in the flat. The errant pass was picked off by Tech cornerback Damarcus Fields and returned to the house for a 95-yard touchdown.

OSU returned took the ball to the Tech 5-yard line following the pick-six, but the Tech defense held strong to force a field goal attempt. Tech was more than happy to concede a field goal, but OSU kicker Matt Ammendola, who has been shaky this season, clanged the 22-yard kick off the right post. The Red Raiders answered with a touchdown drive that took just over four minutes off the clock to capture the lead 14-7 with a Dylan Cantrell catch at the pylon.

The rest of the half went back and forth. OSU scored two straight touchdowns to retake the lead 21-14, and Tech responded with an 11-play drive in which they purposely ran as much time as possible off the clock to prevent OSU from getting the ball back. However, the move ended up backfiring on Kingsbury. The Red Raiders had first and goal from the OSU 2-yard line after a defensive pass interference in the end zone, but by this point there was only 12 seconds remaining in the half. The Red Raiders were able to run two plays but could not punch it in. They settled for the chip shot field goal, and OSU took a 21-17 lead into halftime.

The Cowboys opened the second half with a two-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive. Quarterback Mason Rudolph caught the Tech defense off guard with a read-option keeper, and Rudolph ran for the 8-yard score unchallenged. In a key sequence of events, Tech top playmaker Keke Coutee was knocked out of the game after a big hit from OSU safety Tre Flowers dislodged what would have been a huge gain and first down on second and 22. This led to Tech going three-and-out deep in their own territory, and the punt was blocked setting up OSU with the ball at the Tech 9-yard line. It looked like OSU was going to break the game open, but once again the Tech red zone defense came through to force a short field goal, which was converted this time around to extend the Cowboy lead to 31-17.

On Tech’s next possession, a defensive pass interference and a couple big plays from wide receiver Cameron Batson took the Red Raiders to the OSU 3-yard line. Tech tried to pick up the touchdown with two runs up the gut, but the OSU defensive line won the battle up front as they did most of the game. A dropped pass by Batson left Tech with fourth and goal at the 3-yard line. With 6:22 left in the third quarter, Kingsbury elected to kick the field goal rather than go for the touchdown trailing by 14. OSU came back with a field goal of their own when their drive stalled in the Tech red zone yet again to make it 34-20 Cowboys late in the third.

Texas Tech opened a thrilling fourth quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run from Justin Stockton to put the stamp on a 70-yard drive. Not only that, OSU cornerback Rodarius Williams was called for a personal foul facemask after the play, which meant the penalty was enforced on the kickoff. With Tech kicking off from the 50-yard line, Kingsbury smartly called for the on-side kick, and it was executed perfectly. It did not appear that the Cowboys were caught off guard. They had two wide receivers in Marcell Ateman and Tylan Wallace on the front line, but Wallace appeared to jump in and knock the ball away from Ateman who had the first shot at the ball. Tech defensive back Kevin Moore came up with ball in the scrum, and Tech was in business with the ball on the OSU 35-yard line and only down seven.

With all the momentum on the side of the Red Raiders, Nic Shimonek threw an interception to OSU defensive end Jordan Brailford, who had dropped back after reading the play-action. It appeared Shimonek was trying to get the ball to fullback Mason Reed but under threw the pass. Texas Tech showed a lot of resiliency, however, by forcing a three-and-out when OSU had another chance to pull away in this game. Texas Tech completed the comeback with a touchdown on their next possession to even the game at 34-34.

Oklahoma State again drove the field with minimal resistance, but the Red Raiders once more implemented the “bend but don’t break” defense. OSU was stopped at the Tech 2-yard line after a poor snap from the replacement center, who took over for the injured Brad Lundblade in the first half. Mike Gundy opted to play it safe and kick the field goal even though his kicker had already missed from 22 yards earlier in the game. Ammendola had made two short fields since then perhaps giving Gundy confidence, but the conservative play call was repaid with yet another clang off the right post.

The OSU defense stepped up following the deflating missed field goal and forced a Tech punt after only five plays. The Cowboys took over at their own 21 with 3:21 left in the game. In yet another game in which the Cowboys were their own worst enemy at times, seniors who came back to school to win a championship stepped up with the game on the line. On a key third and five, Rudolph floated one in the air for 6’4” Marcell Ateman who went over the top of his man to bring down the catch of the game. Rudolph then connected with James Washington on an out route and drew a 15-yard facemask penalty to put the Cowboys just inside the Tech red zone. Rudolph caught the Red Raiders cheating again with the read-option keeper and scored the 16-yard go-ahead touchdown with just 1:12 remaining.

The Red Raiders had plenty of time to answer and got the ball to midfield with just under a minute left. OSU was dropping eight men into coverage, and Nic Shimonek had nowhere to go with the ball. However, on fourth and 10 the Cowboys sent the pressure, and Tre Flowers broke up the attempt to Cameron Batson to seal the 41-34 win.

TEAM STATS

MATCHUP OSU TTU
1st Downs 32 25
3rd Down Eff 6-11 5-12
4th Down Eff 0-0 0-1
Total Yards 597 384
Passing 376 330
Comp-Att 27-48 29-46
Yards Per Pass 9.9 7.2
Interceptions 1 1
Rushing 221 54
Rush Att 44 26
Yards.Per Rush 5.0 2.1
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 8-78 8-63
Possession 30:39 29:21
PASS LEADERS C/ATT YDS AVG TD INT QBR
OSU – M. Rudolph 27/38 376 9.9 3 1 91.0
TTU – N. Shimonek 29/46 330 7.2 1 1 68.2
RUSH LEADERS CAR YDS AVG TD LONG
OSU – J. Hill 30 164 5.5 0 24
TTU – J. Stockton 12 28 2.3 1 8
RECEIVING LEADERS REC YDS AVG TD LONG
OSU – J. Washington 9 129 14.1 1 30
TTU – C. Baston 6 84 14.0 0 26

EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK

OSU won the battle up front most of the game. Texas Tech only managed 54 rushing yards (2.1 yards/rush), and the Red Raiders were held 200 yards below their season total offense average.

A lot has been made of the OSU struggles in the red zone, but really both schools struggled. OSU just had the self-inflicted mistakes with the pick-six and two missed field goals. OSU and Tech combined for six field goal attempts from the 10-yard line or closer (OSU had 4 and Tech had 2). This was very surprising considering this matchup is usually a shootout where touchdowns are paramount.

I was especially surprised at Kliff Kingsbury’s reluctance to go for touchdowns as opposed to field goals. They passed up 4th and 1 at the end of the first half and 4th and 3 late in the third. I understand needing the points for some momentum in the first half, but I expected Tech to go for it in the third quarter. Tech was the underdog and had nothing to lose. They were pulling out trick plays and on-side kicks masterfully, yet were unwilling to go for touchdowns. Tech’s lack of success in goal and short situations certainly played a role in Kingsbury thinking the risk had low probability of success.

Key injuries played a factor in the game but hopefully not the season for each team. OSU starting center Brad Lundblade left the game in the first half with an apparent leg injury leaving an already thin offensive line in even worse shape. Keep in mind right tackle Zach Crabtree is playing with turf toe and is obviously not 100%. Texas Tech wide receiver Keke Coutee’s exit early in the second half was a big blow to the Red Raider offense. He is the best player in space and is the most effective with the WR bubble screen. Tech needed him with the ground game struggling and late in the game with OSU playing max coverage.

OSU starting cornerbacks need to improve if OSU is going to compete for a Big 12 title. They are getting beat one-on-one too often and are committing pass interference penalties on a regular basis in the red zone. They have been getting picked on by TCU and Tech in the red zone and it will continue as long as they are the weak link in the defense.

Texas Tech clearly tried to use TCU’s strategy from last week to limit the OSU offense. They actually slowed their pace and tried to milk as much time off the clock as possible to tire the OSU defense and keep Rudolph off the field. However, it looked at times that this took Tech out of their rhythm. It also possibly cost them a touchdown at the end of the first half.

Although, the Red Raider defense could not do much to stop the Cowboys offense, they did great (relatively speaking) in the red zone. They stacked the box and played man on the outside, which is something they could not get away with the last couple seasons. They were able to stop the run and their defensive backs held up in coverage pretty well resulting in pressure on Rudolph.

Tech certainly didn’t plan on Rudolph being mobile though. With Tech playing man on the outside and the front focusing on Justice Hill, Rudolph was able to gash Tech for two big-time scores and a few other runs throughout the game. From Rudolph’s post-game comments, it sounds like he was he’s been asking the coaches for the option to pull the ball and run. Rudolph hasn’t run a whole lot in his career, but when he does it is generally really effective. It is scary for a team to have to run the quarterback, but it will probably be necessary especially if OSU continues to struggle in the red zone. Condensed fields are giving this explosive offense problems.

And here is the play of the game. Who knows how this game or season ends up for the Cowboys without this catch.

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