Texas Tech slams Leach, Bulldogs for 34-7 Liberty Bowl win

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Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks (28) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Mississippi State in the first half of the Liberty Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

MEMPHIS, Tennessee – Mike Leach was unable to get his revenge on Texas Tech Tuesday at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Texas Tech turned in a dominant all-around performance in a 34-7 victory over Leach’s Mississippi State Bulldogs.

The win was the Red Raiders’ first bowl victory since 2013. They finished their season 7-6, their first winning record since 2015. 

The game was a battle between two men who are familiar with each other. Leach is the winningest coach in Texas Tech history, and Tech’s interim head coach Sonny Cumbie was the starting quarterback for one of his 10 seasons.  

At his pre-game press conference Monday, Leach admitted that he still feels Texas Tech “cheated” him out of $2.6 million after they fired him in 2009, and that animosity carried over onto the field. Tuesday’s chippy contest featured plenty of chirping and a skirmish in the third quarter after Tech wide receiver Kaylon Geiger was shoved out of bounds.

Cumbie did not make any pre-game headlines, but he put together a ground-and-pound attack that the Bulldogs had trouble stopping. 

The Red Raiders ran the ball down Mississippi State’s throat early in the game, marching 80 yards down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. All 80 yards came on the ground, including the final 19 on a run by Tahj Brooks. After a Bulldog punt, TTU strung together a similar drive. Brooks, SaRodorick Thompson and quarterback Donovan Smith ran the ball effectively, setting up a field goal. 

Of Texas Tech’s 72 plays, 44 were rushes. Brooks led the way with 107 yards and Thompson chipped in 80. 

Mississippi State finally got on the board with a touchdown early in the second quarter, but that would be the only points they mustered. 

The Red Raider secondary played a crisp game, playing tight coverage on Mississippi State’s pass-catchers and making plays on the ball when it came their way. Adrian Frye and Damarcus Fields each had key first-half pass break-ups on third down and the Red Raiders led 13-7 at halftime. 

It took a key Bulldog mistake for Tech to score three of those points. Punt returner Austin Williams dropped a punt and Texas Tech recovered it in the red zone, leading to the field goal.  

The stifling defense continued into the second half. Up 20-7 in the third quarter, defensive end Tyree Wilson sacked Will Rogers on consecutive plays on third and fourth down to force a turnover on downs. On the next Mississippi State drive, Rogers was intercepted by safety Eric Monroe. The Bulldogs did not score again until…

Texas Tech’s offense hit a brief lull after it took a 10-0 lead. Its first two drives amounted to 10 points, but its next five combined to produce three – which were set up by Mississippi State’s muffed punt. 

In the third quarter, Smith pulled the offense out of its funk. Backed up against his own five-yard-line, Smith hit tight end Travis Koontz up the seam for 39 yards. Two plays later, he found a wide-open Jerand Bradley for 52 yards and finished the drive himself with a run into the end zone. 

The next two drives were more of the same. Smith escaped the pocket and lofted a touchdown pass to JJ Sparkman to make the score 27-7. On the next drive, Smith went to Myles Price for a 48-yard gain, setting up a Thompson touchdown. The Frenship product finished the game 15-28 passing for 252 yards and a touchdown. 

Tuesday was the last game Sonny Cumbie will coach for Texas Tech before he begins his new job as Louisiana Tech’s head coach. It’s safe to say he went out in style. 

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