Texas Tech storms back from early deficit to beat Houston 38-21

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Houston quarterback Clayton Tune (3) runs the ball against Texas Tech defensive lineman Nelson Mbanasor (91) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)

HOUSTON — Texas Tech overcame a shaky start in its opener Saturday, scoring 31 unanswered points to beat Houston 38-21 in its season opener.

The Red Raider defense was marvelous, holding the Cougars scoreless in the second half and allowing just one score after the first two drives of the game.

Texas Tech picked off Houston quarterback Clayton Tune four times. One of those interceptions was returned by Riko Jeffers for a touchdown. The Cougars did not have much more success on the ground, managing just 87 yards on 34 carries.

Still, it took a couple of drives for the Red Raider defense to settle in. Houston put together a 16-play touchdown drive to open the game. Dana Holgorsen followed that with an onside kick that Tech could not recover, setting up another touchdown. Houston had a 14-0 lead before the Texas Tech offense even took the field.

The onside kick delayed Tyler Shough’s Texas Tech debut. He did not field a snap until there were less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter, but the Oregon transfer impressed once he did get on the field. 

Shough was under pressure for many of his dropbacks, but still completed 17 of 24 passes for 231 yards and ran in a touchdown. 

It helped that he had Erik Ezukanma on the other end of his throws, who followed up his All-Big 12 2020 season with a monster performance in week one. He racked up 179 yards on seven catches, picking up lots of yardage after the catch and going up to win jump balls over defensive backs on the outside. 

Those two connected on a 50-yard bomb late in the fourth quarter, setting up a game-sealing touchdown pass from Shough to Xavier White. 

Ezukanma’s first big play of the game came on Tech’s first offensive possession. He took a screen pass 39 yards and nearly flipped into the end zone for a long touchdown, but was ruled just short. The drive came up empty after Xavier White lost a fumble on the next play.

No worry for the Red Raiders. With Houston backed up against its own end zone, the Tech defense forced a three-and-out and Tahj Brooks broke off a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the next drive. 

Brooks started in place of the injured SaRodorick Thompson and showed out. He finished the evening with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. 

A Houston touchdown before halftime gave the Cougars a 21-7 lead before the break. 

That’s when the Texas Tech defense turned it on. 

After Shough shook off a couple of tackles to score a touchdown on a quarterback keeper, linebacker Jeffers intercepted a Tune pass and brought it back for a game-tying touchdown. 

Two possessions later, safety Eric Monroe picked off a tipped pass in Houston territory, leading to a go-ahead field goal by Jonathan Garibay. 

Monroe joined Jeffers, Wisconsin transfer Reggie Pearson Jr. and Adrian Frye as Red Raiders to pick off Tune Saturday.

Texas Tech needed one more big defensive play to seal the game, and Colin Schooler provided it. One a 3rd-and-1 with Tech ahead 24-21, he shot through the line of scrimmage to dump UH running back Mulbah Carr in the backfield, forcing a punt.

Shough’s touchdown to White and Brooks’ second touchdown scamper put the game out of reach.

Matt Wells hit the transfer portal hard over the last two seasons to improve his defense, and the fruits of his labor paid off Saturday night. 

Defensive transfers made plays all over the field. Pearson and Monroe caught interceptions, Schooler made key tackles and Tyree Wilson put pressure on Tune.

With a solid outing from Shough and a lights-out performance from the defense, Texas Tech showed Saturday that it is on track to make its first bowl game in the Matt Wells era, and could make some noise in the Big 12.

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