Early stops by Tech D give Red Raiders chance to win late

Texas Tech players and fans celebrate after the Red Raiders outlasted No. 24 Houston 33-30 in overtime Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Texas Tech players and fans celebrate after the Red Raiders outlasted No. 24 Houston 33-30 in overtime Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Donovan Smith had to work magic late in Texas Tech's 33-30 double-overtime victory Saturday against Houston at Jones AT&T Stadium.

The sophomore quarterback won the game with a 9-yard touchdown run at the end of the second overtime, and he helped the Red Raiders overcome a 20-17 deficit in the last minute of regulation and a fourth-and-20 situation in the first overtime, throwing a 21-yard pass to Jerand Bradley on the latter.

But the Red Raiders' defense had to rise up or Tech would not have had those chances. Three times in the first three quarters, Tech foiled Houston on deep thrusts into Red Raiders territory. Tech also made the Cougars settle for field goals late in the fourth quarter and in the second overtime.

"We play defense in West Texas," Tech coach Joey McGuire said, "and that's what we hang our hat on. And the defense was saying that."

The Cougars reached the Tech 7-yard line early in the second quarter but had to settle for a field goal.

The key play in the sequence came when UH quarterback Clayton Tune threw what looked to be a touchdown pass to Nathaniel Dell in the middle of the end zone, but safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson knocked the ball from the receiver's grasp at the last possible moment.

Tech also came up with a turnover on downs after Houston reached the Tech 31 just before halftime and forced the Cougars to settle for a field goal after they made it to the Tech 15 late in the third quarter. Just before the field goal, Tech linebacker Kosi Eldridge got an unobstructed run at Tune and didn't miss, wrapping him up for a sack of 15 yards.

Eldridge finished with six tackles. A sub-player and backup the past three years, Eldridge won a starting job in August.

"If he's not in class, he's up here with the defensive staff," McGuire said. "I've walked in there and he's sitting in there going through the game plan with the defensive staff. He's going to keep playing faster and faster and making more plays because he just has such a good feel for the defense."

Texas Tech linebacker Kosi Eldridge (6) celebrates his sack of Clayton Tune during the Red Raiders 33-30 double-overtime victory against Houston on Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Texas Tech linebacker Kosi Eldridge (6) celebrates his sack of Clayton Tune during the Red Raiders 33-30 double-overtime victory against Houston on Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Rough day up front

Tech's offensive line got all it wanted from Houston, which had 100 tackles for loss with 44 sacks last season. Houston sacked Tech quarterback Donovan Smith five times, four by defensive end Derek Parish, and was credited with 13 tackles for loss.

"We've got to fix it," McGuire said. "And we knew that (Houston had) 44 sacks on last year's defense, and three of those guys were on that defense: (Parish and defensive ends Nelson Caeser and D'Anthony Jones). We're definitely fixing to play an opponent (next week at North Carolina State) that is very good up front. They've got 10 returning on defense, and so there's some things we've got to get better at."

The Cougars doled out 117 yards, allowing only 2.7 yards per carry.

In addition to the line's struggles, Tech left guard Weston Wright left the game in the second half with a left ankle injury and didn't return. Wright is the Red Raiders' most experienced offensive lineman with 33 career starts.

Top guard backup Jacoby Jackson was already in the game when Wright got hurt. Starter Landon Peterson re-entered in his right-guard spot, and Jackson switched from right guard to left guard.

McGuire said it was an ankle injury — McGuire hopes nothing more than a mild injury and not a high-ankle sprain that could call for more recovery time.

Early turning point

Nathaniel Dell, Houston's first-team all-conference receiver last season, returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. However, it went for naught because officials flagged Cougars linebacker Mannie Nunnery for roughing punter Austin McNamara.

The personal foul was good for an automatic first down. The Cougars' defensive line, which was manhandling the Tech offensive line at that point, recorded a tackle for loss, a sack and a stop for no gain on the next three plays, but Cougars cornerback Alex Hogan was flagged for unnecessary roughness, giving the Red Raiders another automatic first down.

Hogan, a former Tech cornerback who transferred to UH, shoved receiver Nehemiah Martinez after a play ended.

Later in the first half, Dell returned a punt for 34 yards, and Clayton Tune hit him with a 63-yard pass on the first play of the second half, setting up a touchdown.

Dell finished with seven receptions for 120 yards, his seventh 100-yard game since the beginning of last season.

Quick hits

Starting cornerback Adrian Frye, dealing with a bruised quadriceps he suffered in the season opener, was limited to special teams. Malik Dunlap took his place on defense.

Dunlap was credited with two tackles and two pass breakups, including a pass into the end zone he knocked away in the second overtime. That forced Houston to settle for a field goal. ...

Former Tech receiver-return men Tyrone Thurman and the recently retired Danny Amendola were on hand at Jones AT&T Stadium. Thurman was in town for a reunion of Spike Dykes-era players and coaches Friday night. ...

Freshman receiver Coy Eakin (pulled groin muscle) didn't suit up for the second game in a row. Offensive guard Michael Shanahan and wide receiver Chadarius Townsend were among others who were out. ...

The defensive end depth was thin for Tech in the season opener, but the Red Raiders got back Bryce Ramirez, Joseph Adedire and Robert Wooten. None suited up for the first game. ...

Trey Wolff's 25-yard field goal in the first quarter and 47-yarder with three seconds left in regulation were the first he'd made since the Nov. 7, 2020 game at TCU. Wolff was 20 for 22 in 2019 and lost the job when he made only one of his first five in 2020. Jonathan Garibay handled all the team's field-goal attempts last season. ...

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Texas Tech notebook: Early stops by Tech D give Raiders chance to win late