Saturday night, the Texas Tech football team rode a wave of youth to a dominant 34-14 win over Cal in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl to cap off a 7-6 season. It was the second-straight blowout bowl victory for head coach Joey McGuire who became the first man in program history to lead the Red Raiders to bowl wins in his first two seasons in charge.
During the first quarter, though, it didn't appear that McGuire's team was ready to put its best foot forward in Shreveport, Louisiana. Receiver Drae McCray fumbled the opening kickoff back to the Golden Bears and then, on the first snap of the game, the Red Raider defense gave up a 25-yard TD pass down the middle of the field to fall into a 7-0 hole.
Tech would then answer by going three-and-out on its first true possession and some feared that the Red Raiders were going to play the role of the team that was unmotivated to be at this exhibition game. However, on Cal's second series, a key play deep in Red Raider territory changed the whole tone of the game.
After driving 10 plays and 81 yards, the Golden Bears faced a 4th-and-2 at the Tech 5-yard line. Going for it, instead of taking the almost certain field goal to take a 10-point lead, the Bears lost two yards when their star running back Jaydn Ott was stopped in the backfield by Red Raider linebacker Ben Roberts who shot through the line like a missile to make the play.
Though Cal would end the 1st quarter up 14-7, that play seemed to calm Tech down and infuse some much-needed energy into Joey McGuire's team as after that, Tech would outscore the Bears 34-7. What's more, given how Tech played with its food in the second half after taking a 24-14 halftime lead, the difference between the two teams was even greater than the final score would indicate.
So let's take a look at how the Red Raiders managed to pick up the win and it would only be fitting to look at the youth movement that carried the night.
Texas Tech saw several young players come up huge
Prior to the game, we talked about the fact that the high number of transfer portal entries would force the Red Raiders to rely on a number of young players to step up. That's exactly what happened as some fresh faces played key roles in this lopsided win.
Most notable was the wave of defensive linemen who harassed Cal QB Fernando Mendoza all night long. Freshman Amier Washington was the star of the night with three sacks and a forced fumble as he announced his arrival to Texas Tech football fans.
Dooda Banks, a sophomore from Wichita Falls, Texas, continued his late-season ascension with a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Sophomores Joseph Adedire and Charles Esters III had a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss respectively.
Between those four players, Tech got 13 tackles as we got a look at the future of the Tech defensive line. Next year, program stalwarts Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford Jr. will no longer be around to anchor the defensive front and many were wondering how well Tech would be able to overcome those departures. By the looks of it, there are plenty of talented youngsters ready for their moment to shine.
On offense, redshirt freshman Coy Eakin was the team's leading receiver with seven grabs for 106 yards and a TD as he continued to show a strong connection with QB Behren Morton. He had to step up with both Myles Price and Jerand Bradley, two of Tech's top three receivers in terms of yards in the regular season opting out of the game to enter the transfer portal.
The 2023 Texas Tech football team was an old squad, especially on defense. That's why Saturday's emergence of so many young players was great to see as it helped calm concerns over what the 2024 team will look like, especially on defense.
Next year, the wave of new talent McGuire has brought into the fold through his first two recruiting classes will be asked to form the backbone of the team and no one knows how well those players will perform. However, if Saturday was an early indication, the kids are ready for their moment.