By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
LUBBOCK, Texas – When a fox made an appearance behind the TCU bench in the third quarter, the evening’s Level Of Strange was cranked up to 11. And the appearance of an omnivorous mammal barely made the top 10 list of Things You Didn’t Think You’d See.
Yes, Texas Tech has a coach the ladies think is foxy. And both teams’ defensive coaches spent the game trying to out-fox each other. But enough with comparing Jones AT&T Stadium to Animal House.
The Red Raiders are now 3-0 after winning in the most unlikely of fashions. A team averaging 51 points per game wound up on the right side of the scoreboard because its defense was stout enough to keep the Horned Frogs (1-2) frustrated. For anyone who watched the game in person or on ESPN, Texas Tech’s 20-10 victory fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch.
“We're just about winning the ballgame,” Kingsbury said. “I mean, that's it. I don't know what type of game that was, but we won and we'll take it. … Pretty bizarre. … Our kids played their hearts out and found a way to win an ugly game.”
Texas Tech won its Big 12 Conference opener because a freshman quarterback threw a game-winning touchdown pass, capping a drive that stemmed the Horned Frogs’ cresting momentum. The freshman wasn’t Baker Mayfield, the walk on who had been impressive in two starts.
Mayfield directed the Red Raiders’ first touchdown drive on its opening possession and had a solid first half. But after attempting his first 100 passes without an interception, he was picked off three times. In the second half, he was totally befuddled when TCU switched to a 4-1-6 alignment that flooded the passing lines with defensive backs.
And after TCU (1-2) had finally forged a 10-10 tie with 6:28 remaining, Tech’s momentum was nonexistent. With Mayfield struggling, the Red Raiders’ first five possessions produced 20 plays and eight yards.
On Texas Tech’s first play after the Frogs’ B.J. Catalon had tied the game with a 17-yard TD run, Mayfield completed a pass but suffered a leg injury. He limped off and was replaced by freshman Davis Webb. All he did was complete 3-of-4 passes for 77 yards and a 19-yard scoring pass to Brad Marquez with 3:48 remaining to make it 17-10.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Kingsbury said. “He stepped up in the right way and was ready for that moment.”
Thus far, dear reader, the account of this game has yet to deal with the happenings that would have been appropriate if occurring under a full moon.
* Webb’s touchdown pass came after it appeared he had thrown a 49-yard scoring pass to running back DeAndre Washington. Webb’s swing pass was deflected but Washington gathered it and sprinted up the Tech sideline … but he dropped the ball just before he crossed the goal line.
After a replay review, the officials rescinded the TD and awarded the Red Raiders the ball at the half yard line (because the ball hadn’t gone through the end zone and had been ruled dead.)
But wait. Texas Tech also had been assessed a celebration penalty on Washington’s play so the ball was moved back to the 15-yard line. Four plays later, on third down, Webb lofted a beautiful spiral to Marquez, whose fade route beat TCU’s Kevin White.
"It was a beautiful ball from Davis Webb," Marquez said. "Those kinds of balls you don't drop."
* The official statistics have TCU’s Brandon Carter with three punt returns for 39 yards. Carter had a 58-yard return to the Texas Tech 15 truncated to 30 yards by a clipping penalty. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, Carter returned a punt 69 yards for an apparent game-tying TD.
However, the officials conferred and ruled that Carter had made an invalid fair catch signal. That wiped out the touchdown and gave the Frogs the ball at their own 31. They drove for Catalon’s TD in nine plays in 4:52
* After Texas Tech took its final lead, TCU had ample time to mount a rally. Two false start penalties helped stall the drive and when the Frogs kicked it away, a kick catch interference penalty (15 yards) helped set up Ryan Bustin’s clinching 37-yard field goal. The Horned Frogs had 13 penalties for 115 yards.
"We're losing games because of mental mistakes and those are mistakes that kill you, that's what happened tonight,” TCU safety Sam Carter said.
TCU was flagged for seven false start penalties.
"It's a real easy concept,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “You have to pay attention to detail. We cannot have as many penalties as we did. It’s time for us to grow up.”
* The teams combined for five turnovers – TCU intercepted three passes, Texas Tech picked off two. None of those turnovers led to points.
* TCU ran 11 more plays, had a 35:46 to 24:14 edge in time of possession and limited the Red Raiders to 43 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
* Texas Tech led 10-0 at halftime, the first time the Red Raiders had pitched a shutout in the first 30 minutes against a Big 12 opponent since 2009 against Kansas State.
* Mayfield, who entered the game second nationally in total offense, completed his first seven passes. His short pass to Kenny Williams turned into a 50-yard TD when Williams broke two TCU tackles and gave the Red Raiders an early 7-0 lead. The Horned Frogs spent the first half with a sputtering offense and a defense trying to hang on.
Those roles reversed in the second half. The Red Raiders’ two touchdown drives totaled 150 yards on 15 plays. The rest of the game, they gained 186 yards on 56 snaps (3.3 yards per play).
As the crowd of 58,702 – which included a record number (16,092) of students – left the stadium, the fox returned and claimed a spot in the bleachers behind the south end zone.