Texas Tech Football: Defining Moment No. Two of the 2014 Season


Moment 2. The final two minutes of the first half against Arkansas

The second defining moment of the Texas Tech football season occured  when the Arkansas Razorbacks came to Lubbock for the first time since 1991. It was a classic matchup of opposites as Brett Bielema’s ground and pound offense tried to keep the ball away from the Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid.

However, an odd first half unfolded in Lubbock. Tech was gifted a rare turnover when their first punt bounced into an Arkansas player and Tech recovered leading to their first score and a 7-0 lead. But what was more unexpected was Bielema’s boneheaded first-half game plan that included two trick plays, neither of which worked, and tried to feature the arm of quarterback Brandon Allen rather than putting the game in the hands of the five yetis that made up the massive Arkansas offensive line.

The second trick play Bielema called is where the game turned. For some reason, Arkansas decided to try a reverse on which the ball was given to the running back that would then toss it to the wide receiver headed the other way. Tech had already shown an inability to stop the Hog’s running game, and Arkansas was marching towards a score that would have made the game 28-21 in their favor at half with Arkansas receiving the second half kick-off.

But on the Tech twelve-yard-line, Bilemea’s trickery backfired.

While no fan is going to bemoan the creation of a turnover, especially Tech fans whose defense is as capable of forcing turnovers as my 93-year-old grandmother is of doing pushups, the rub on this play is that the ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Tech corner Justis Nelson who should have been able to grab it and easily score. Instead, Nelson did what every Pop Warner coach preaches, he simply pounced on the ball and went into the fetal position. This is great technique for a junior-high player, but a college athlete — a cornerback no less — should be capable of grabbing a ball at waist height and taking off. There were no Arkansas players within ten yards of Nelson and he would have had a convoy of teammates to guide him and block for him down the field for the score. Instead, he did the safe thing ignoring his head coach’s mantra “Fortune favors the bold”.

However, Tech was in great shape. The capacity crowd was worked into one of those notorious Jones Stadium frenzies and they were ready to explode if Tech could cash in on the ensuing drive and take a lead into halftime. With 1:58 left and holding all three timeouts, Webb and the offense were set up well… until Davis Webb forgot that Tech was wearing black. The following video shows what Webb and the Tech offense did with their opportunity to seize momentum of the game. (Warning: not for the easily nausiated)

The Arkansas linebacker, Spaight, returned Davis Webb’s gift to the Tech twelve. On the next play, Bielema did not repeat his earlier mistake. Jonathan Williams took a straight handoff into the end zone and Tech went in to half time down seven knowing it had to give the ball back to the Razorbacks to open the third quarter.

How this changed Tech’s season

 It is obvious that Tech lost this football game in the last two minutes of the first half. The plan for the Raiders was to take advantage of a suspect Arkansas secondary and get enough stops to hopefully build a two-score lead, which would force Arkansas out of their comfort zone: the power running game. Also, keep in mind that Arkansas had not beaten a team from a “power five” conference in over a year at that point so the Razorbacks’ confidence was fragile at best.

As this season would ultimately reveal, the psyche of the Red Raiders was also incredibly fragile. This team was unable to handle adversity throughout the season and they allowed one mistake to snowball into an avalanche on numerous occasions. The events of these two minutes emboldened the Arkansas players and crushed the psyche of the young Tech team. Webb’s mistake also took the Jones Stadium crowd out of the game. Being ahead let Bielema do exactly what he wanted to do, chew up chunks of yards on the ground and keep Tech’s offense off the field.


More importantly, it relieved him of his desire to try the trick plays that had backfired on him in the first half. Throughout the remainder of the game Arkansas threw only when they felt that Allen was becoming bored, which was less than five times in the second half. Unable to stop Arkansas, Tech had no home field advantage because those in scarlet and black saw the writing on the wall and most were in their trucks and headed home by the middle of the fourth quarter.

This momentum swing had long-lasting effects on this season. The 2014 Red Raiders were a very young team with only six seniors playing a major role. After being criticized by their fans, the media, and each other for their uninspiring and worrisome showings in their first two games, the inexperienced Tech team needed a win against an SEC team to reassure themselves that they was capable of competing in the Big XII. Instead, two sophomores, Nelson and Webb made mistakes that swung the tide of the game and the season. Tech entered its off weak embarrassed, shaken, and bruised after being physically dominated on national television.

Not only did Tech lose the game versus Arkansas that day but in less than a week they would lose their defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, who was fired (or resigned, depending on whose semantics you want to use) for showing up to a team meeting inebriated according to multiple reports, though this story has not been substantiated by the university of Wallerstedt. Either way, Tech was facing a bye week that would then be dedicated to adjusting to a new defensive coordinator rather than trying to fix the problems exposed by the Razorbacks.

Had Tech won this game, they would have entered conference play confident and needing to win only three of the next nine games to earn a bowl bid. However, it seems that this loss did more psychological damage to the young Red Raiders than anyone expected. The dark clouds than had begun forming over the program after the first two weeks of uninspiring play produced a flash flood of negativity that would carry Tech to its worst record in the Air Raid era. In 2014, Tech was prone to making mistakes and possessing little resiliency. The momentum shift at the end of the first half of this game would be a precursor to the rest of the season as mistakes and missed opportunities seemed to bleed the fight right out of the Red Raiders on too many occasions.

Up Next: Moment #3 – Davis Webb’s late first-half interception against WVU.