November 4, 2008

Bowden: Texas Tech's win was no upset

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When the football team in the state of Texas – with all of the money, tradition, resources and recruits – loses to one of the other football teams in the state that only dreams of having those advantages, it's supposed to be an upset.

But I've seen upsets before and I know what they look like. Saturday night's game in Lubbock didn't look anything like an upset.

An upset is when the better team runs up and down the field, but shoots itself in the foot with a couple of costly turnovers and a few foolish penalties. Or when the favorite stuffs the challenger's running game and blankets their receivers, but falls asleep on a couple of deep balls and gets fooled on a trick play.

In an upset, you walk away from the stadium mumbling to yourself that if these teams played again 10 more times, the favored team would win every one of them.

But that isn't what happened Saturday night.

Texas Tech won the battle of the quarterbacks, the battle of the offensive lines and, maybe most important of all, the battle of the defenses. Texas Tech beat Texas every which way you can beat a team, and when Texas tried to come back at the end of the game and show folks how a great team finds a way to win, Tech beat them at that game, too.

The final score of 39-33 is the only stat that really matters, but it doesn't begin to tell you how dominant the Red Raiders were.

They had:

• 579 total yards of offense to Texas' 374.
• 474 passing yards to 274.
• 105 rushing yards to 81.
• 31 first downs to 18.
• 81 offensive plays to 62.
• Four sacks to two.
• 50 percent success ratio on third downs to 33 percent.
• 36:52 to 23:07 advantage in time of possession

As a coach, when I graded my teams after a game, the first thing I would do was go through the game and put a "plus" or "minus" after every play, depending on whether I thought our offense or defense won that particular play. If we ended up with about two-thirds of our grades being pluses, we knew our team had played well enough to win the game – and we usually did.

Every now and then, though, we would grade out well but still lose. That is because the few minuses resulted in big plays for the other team, such as deep balls, long runs, blocked kicks or turnovers. That is usually what happens when there is an upset. That is not what happened Saturday night.

Does that mean that Texas Tech is the best team in the Big 12? Absolutely.

Well, for this week, anyway.

The Red Raiders are 9-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally, and they are the only team left in the Big 12 that is undefeated in conference play. Based on Texas' body of work over the first eight games of the season, which included wins over Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State, I had them as the undisputed No. 1 team in the Big 12 - as well as everywhere else in the country. Since I have gone to great lengths to explain why this victory for Tech was not an upset, it just stands to reason that Tech is the best team in the conference.

The most important thing to note, though, is that the Red Raiders' rise to the top of the league and No. 2 in the latest BCS poll is based upon one thing – execution.

They did not win this game because they had better people on the field than Texas – although it is closer than what many people want to admit. They did not win it because they had more tradition or because their coaches are paid more money or even because there were 56,000 screaming crazies in The Jones rockin' as it has never rocked before. They won the game because they executed better than Texas – period.

I thought Oklahoma had the best team in this conference until I watched Colt McCoy execute his offense flawlessly in the Red River Rivalry. Then I watched Missouri beat Nebraska and I thought the Tigers were as close to perfect as any team I ever had seen. Then Texas took down Missouri with a first-half performance that I still can't put into words. Now Texas Tech must face an Oklahoma State team that has achieved offensive nirvana by averaging more than 250 yards per game rushing and passing. Then, after a week off, Tech must travel to Oklahoma to play the Sooners, who still may be exactly what we thought they were when the season began – the best team in the conference.

If Texas could have executed against the Red Raiders as they did against Oklahoma and Missouri, it might have won this game and still be on track to play for the national championship. Now Texas Tech has the same opportunity.

It's just a matter of execution.

Other interesting tidbits from the game:

• I thought the safety on Texas' first possession set the tempo for the rest of the game. There were plenty of other opportunities to win or lose that game, but I never like to hand the ball off 7 yards deep to a tailback when I am coming off the 1-yard line – especially when you have been struggling to run the ball all season.

• I do not believe Texas used poor clock management at the end of the game by leaving 1:29 on the clock. They were struggling most of the day on offense, and there was no guarantee they would even score the go-ahead touchdown. They also had great momentum at the time, and I would not have done anything to slow it down. It still took an incredible play with one second left to win the game.

• If anybody in the country executes the slip screen to the three-receiver side better than Texas Tech, I'll eat my 10-gallon hat.

• Graham Harrell is an NFL-caliber quarterback in a great system offense – so there.

• Michael Crabtree will be one of the top 15 picks in the 2009 NFL draft.

• Is it me or did Texas Tech look as if it was running the spread offense and Texas was running a conventional offense that was spread out? If you looked up "spread offense" in Webster's dictionary, there would be a picture of Mike Leach with a pirate hat on and a patch over his eye. Aaarrr!

• Two coaching points that made Tech's passing game more effective than Texas' on Saturday night was the way Tech receivers came back for the ball and the way Harrell was able to slowly back up and stay with his pass routes.

• Texas Tech appears to have some speed problems in the secondary because when the Red Raiders got beat deep, they really got beat – including a first-quarter post route that Jordan Shipley dropped.

• Since I'll be back in Lubbock for the Texas Tech-Oklahoma State game this week, I wonder if I will be making all these observations about the Cowboys' explosive offense next week.

Terry Bowden is college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site. Click here to view previous articles. To send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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