Texas Tech Football: Defining Moment No. 4 of the 2014 Season

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2014 Defining Moment #4: Patrick Mahomes concussion and fumble against Texas.

 

Davis Webb would not play again in 2014 after suffering an ankle injury against TCU, and thus Patrick Mahomes stepped onto center stage. Mahomes made a statement during the last three games of the year and positioned himself as the front-runner for the starting QB job heading into spring ball. However, Mahomes’ 1st career start was a brief one and it virtually ensured that Tech would have a losing season.

During my time as a member of the Texas Tech family, especially my early days as a student (my first year was 1999, the last year of Spike Dykes’ career), I’ve often heard locals and old-timers say, “If we lose every game but beat Texas, it’s a good season.” These people have lived through some fairly lean Texas Tech football seasons and have come to accept mediocrity so long as they could put one over on UT (or A&M). That mentality changed during the Leach tenure and all Red Raiders should have much higher expectations, but in a season like 2014, a win over UT would have made the bitter reality of a losing season substantially easier to swallow.

Pat Mahomes’ first career start meant fans would get to see Mahomes after a week of first-team reps in practice not coming off the bench in an emergency situation or blowout. The excitement around Mahomes’ starting debut gave Tech fans hope heading into the game against a mediocre Longhorn team with a strong defense but a glorified linebacker at quarterback in Tyrone Swoopes.

Late in the first quarter, Tech was gifted a touchdown when a pressured Swoopes tried to throw on the run and fumbled. Brandon Jackson gathered the ball at the goal line and scored to put Tech up 6-3 after a missed extra point. The stadium was alive and thirsty for burnt orange blood.

The Horns, who much like Tech, were young and mentally weak, were reeling. Mahomes looked poised and was moving the ball well though the offense had yet to produce points.  It was clear that the Red Raiders had an excellent opportunity to beat Texas with Mahomes at the helm.

However, the mood of the stadium and the fate of the 2014 season changed on one play. On 1st and 10 from their own 25, Tech ran a zone-read run with Mahomes and Deandre Washington. Mahomes kept the ball and tried to get around the left side of the offensive line. Texas corner Quandre Diggs was playing coverage on Jakeem Grant in the slot. Grant took a lazy release off the line at the snap never making Diggs think that he might have to cover Grant.

Any football coach emphasizes the importance of receivers taking a solid release off the line even on running plays forcing the defenders to cover the receivers as they sprint down field, which also takes defenders out of the box. Tech coaches preach to their receivers that blocking in the run game is just as important as catching the ball. The 5’6” Grant will never be mistaken for Jason Witten when it comes to downfield blocking, but he must at least make an attempt to block his man or run him out of the play.

In the video below, pay attention to Grant’s lazy release off the ball. The play was designed to go right to the place where Grant should have taken his defender downfield leaving open running room.

Rather, Diggs knew that Grant was not a threat so he stayed home and delivered a violent but legal hit to Mahomes jarring the ball loose. Texas recovered the ball but Mahomes didn’t recover his sensibilities. Enter third-string QB, true freshman walk-on Vincent Testaverde Jr.

Texas would score on a Jonathan Gray run on the ensuing drive, and Tech never threatened again because the offense was rendered impotent with Testaverde in command.

How this changed the season

 

Entering the UT game, Tech still had an outside shot at a bowl birth, but a victory over a beatable Longhorn squad was essential. If Tech could have beaten UT and Iowa St. (which they did), and upset OU or Baylor (which they almost did), they could have avoided a losing season. The concussion Diggs delivered to Mahomes put those hopes to rest before half time. Tech’s loss to UT would require them to win their last three games to earn a bowl bid, a dream that officially ended with their loss to OU in Tech’s next game.

Beating the Longhorns at anything means something more to Texas Tech. (I once heard a friend proclaim that he didn’t care if it was team duck racing, so long as we beat UT, he’d celebrate.) Part of the reason is because Tech has only done that 15 times in program history (the most recent being the magical Crabtree final-minute score in ’08). But the other reason that it means so much is because Tech revels in an opportunity to humble their in-state “big brother”. Now that A&M is off the schedule, Tech only has one chance per season to upend a “traditional” Texas football power, thus gaining respect and reminding the rest of the state that we know how play football out here on the Caprock.

The arrogance from UT — a school with more advantages and resources than any team in America — is nauseating. Name a school that does less with more. When Tech has a year to crow over beating UT and all of their blue-chip recruits, we walk a little taller and the sun shines a little brighter. Unfortunately, Tech has not been able to capitalize on the worst stretch of UT football in over a decade and this year’s Longhorn squad was the most vulnerable Texas team to come to Lubbock in recent memory.

Nov 1, 2014; Lubbock, TX, USA; A special Texas Tech Red Raiders helmet design sits in the end zone before the game with the Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

We will never know if Mahomes could have beaten UT in his first career start but it would have been nice to find out. His strong performances against OU and Iowa St. combined with his heroics against Baylor make one think that he could have become one of the few Tech quarterbacks to engineer a win against the Horns. But fans immediately knew that when Vincent Testaverde Jr. took his first snaps as a collegiate player, Tech would have to wait another year to get win number 16 against Texas.

Watching Mahomes stumble around after the hit was painful  but it was also symbolic of Tech’s 2014 season. Throughout the season the program, players, coaches, and fans alike felt dazed and bewildered after being blindsided by a season that would end with a 4-8 record.

The game took the same pattern as too many in recent memory. Feeling no threat from the Tech offense led by its third different quarterback of the season, one with an NFL father but no collegiate snaps under his belt, UT simply pounded away at the Tech defense with the run game. By the middle of the second half, Tech’s thin defensive front seven was worn down and unable to provide any resistance to UT’s running backs, Johnathan Gray (whose father played at Texas Tech) and Malcom Brown.

Losing to an incredibly average UT team was yet another disappointment in the 2014 season. Tech fans must endure another year of insults and degradation from UT fans (most of whom have never set foot on any college campus, much less 40 acres, but are Longhorn fans because they bought a UT t-shirt at Wal-Mart or someone gave them a hat with the Longhorn logo bought at a truck-stop in Amarillo). Tech lost an opportunity to beat UT and at least salvage one positive from the dismal season. Worse yet, Tech would have to win the remaining three games of the season to make it to a bowl.

When Mahomes stumbled to the sidelines on the arms of the training staff, it could be said that the direction of the program and the mind-set of the fan base was equally as disoriented as Mahomes.  What had started with high hopes had been dealt a crippling blow that caused the fans to fall into a state of cynicism and pessimism completely opposite of the feelings surrounding the program after the 2013 season, and Tech’s bowl win over Arizona State.  The harmony brought to Lubbock by Kingsbury’s hiring had ended and the fans began to voice their doubts about every aspect of this program.  It was the first sign that the fans were not following the plea that Kingsbury made at his introductory press conference when he asked all Red Raiders to “Ride Together.”

Up next: Moment #5 – Patrick Mahomes’ second half heroics against Baylor