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Houston surrenders 4th and 20, falls to Texas Tech 33-30 in overtime heartbreaker

The Cougars had the Red Raiders on the ropes several times. Yet, they couldn’t come out victorious for the second consecutive year.

NCAA Football: Houston at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

For the second week in a row, Houston erased a 14-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter. For the second week in a row, Houston sunk a field goal in the final minute to secure its first lead of the second half. For the second week in a row, Houston’s defense allowed the opponent to drive the length of the field and kick a time-expiring field goal on the other end. For the second week in a row, Houston was involved in a multi-overtime affair.

But what didn’t happen for the second week in a row was a Houston victory. The No. 25 Cougars’ trip to Lubbock felt like an exact replica of what they endured the previous week at UTSA. However, the postgame locker room scene was not jovial, as Houston squandered several golden opportunities to lock up a key non-conference victory over Texas Tech. The Red Raiders emerged on a 9-yard scramble by quarterback Donovan Smith in second overtime, shattering the Cougars’ dream of an undefeated regular season in 33-30 fashion.

Dana Holgorsen’s team was presented with multiple opportunities to leave Lubbock victorious. With under a minute to go, Smith mailed a deep ball into double coverage and it was intercepted by Houston free safety Gervarrius Owens, who maneuvered down to the 21 on a lengthy interception return. The Cougars did not produce significant yardage or drain clock following the takeaway, setting up Bubba Baxa with a 35-yard field goal. Baxa’s successful kick provided Houston a 20-17 advantage — just 37 seconds away from victory.

Just like last week when UTSA flew down the field in two passes spanning 55 yards, Texas Tech pulled a similar punch. Smith used his mobility to immediately cross midfield on the Red Raiders’ final drive of regulation. Then, the quarterback connected on two quick passes, allowing kicker Trey Wolff an opportunity at a game-tying 47-yard field goal splitting the hashes. Texas Tech’s kicking game had been shaky up to that point with a pair of misses, but Wolff nailed the clutch kick to send Houston to overtime for the second consecutive game.

Houston’s second missed opportunity to seal a victory was even more gut-wrenching than allowing Texas Tech the tying field goal in 37 seconds. The Cougars took the ball first in overtime, as expected, considering Holgorsen cited in his weekly press conference that the team that possesses the ball first had won 54 percent of games in the past three seasons. Houston capitalized on the opportunity, as wide receiver Matthew Golden cut from sideline to sideline on a screen, finishing by the left corner pylon with a touchdown.

The Cougar defense rose to the occasion initially in the first overtime period, taking down Smith in the backfield twice to force a 4th and 20. But then the unthinkable happened. Probability suggested that fourth down would be Texas Tech’s final gasp, but Smith rolled out and connected with wide receiver Jerand Bradley near the sideline, who sprinted just past the sticks for an unlikely 21-yard first down pickup. The Red Raiders knotted the score at 27 two plays later.

Houston v Texas Tech
Texas Tech WR Jerand Bradley finished with six receptions and 50 yards against Houston. But no reception was more crucial than his 21-yard snag in overtime to extend the game.
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

In third overtime, Houston was stuffed near the goal line and resorted to a 20-yard field goal attempt. However, the defense couldn’t contain Smith when it was the Red Raiders’ turn, and he ran free into the end zone for a walk-off touchdown. Smith’s overtime heroics allowed Texas Tech to knock off Houston for the second consecutive year and fifth-straight meeting, dating back to 2010.

The Cougars found themselves in a 17-3 hole at halftime. After climbing back from a similar deficit in the opener at UTSA, they managed to do the same in Lubbock — primarily by means of their defense. On consecutive possessions to start the final stanza, Houston forced a Texas Tech turnover on downs and came up with the tying pick-six. On the pick-six, nickelback Jayce Rogers jumped a route and raced uninterrupted to the end zone to tie the score at 17, and neither team would score again until Houston’s field goal stemming from Owens’ interception.

Houston’s defense stifled the Red Raider rushing attack to 2.7 yards per carry, collected two pivotal takeaways, and generated five sacks and 13 tackles for loss — but all that dominance was not substantial due to the inability to stop Texas Tech’s offense in the game’s most crucial situations. Defensive end Derek Parish was especially monstrous as a member of the Cougar front four, tallying a career-best four sacks, six tackles for loss, and a team-high 10 tackles in the defeat.

Offensively, there was a lot left to be desired as the No. 15 scoring offense from a year ago failed to manage more than two touchdowns in regulation. The running game saw moments of promise as USC transfer Brandon Campbell led the charge with a new career-high of 80 yards on 16 attempts. But quarterback Clayton Tune’s downfield accuracy wasn’t at its best as the senior quarterback completed just 20-of-39 passes, amounting to under seven yards per attempt. Tune often faced heavy rushes from the Texas Tech defense, which bottled up his mobility and caused quick incompletions to become commonplace.

On the other sideline, Texas Tech’s quarterback and running back experienced similar performances in the box score. Smith averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt with a litany of incompletions, while the Red Raiders’ lead halfback Tahj Brooks posted an 80-yard outing identical to Campbell. The one difference between the offenses involved quarterback mobility. Despite taking five sacks, Smith still finished with a positive 28 rushing yards and extended plays with his legs in the most dire situations.

Smith put the Cougars’ hope at an undefeated regular season to rest, while leaving Houston’s New Year’s Six bowl quest in jeopardy — as no AAC team has ever qualified for the New Year’s Six with multiple losses. Holgorsen’s squad rebounded with poise after an early-season loss to Texas Tech in the year prior by winning 11 straight and qualifying for the AAC Championship Game. Houston aims to repeat this storyline in 2022 as it prepares for its home opener in Week 3 against another Big 12 opponent in Kansas.