The Independence Bowl started similarly to the Red Raider’s 2023 season; deflating. Texas Tech fumbled the opening kickoff and Cal scored a touchdown on their very first play of the game. However, Joey McGuire was able to get his team settled down. The Red Raider defense made life difficult for the Bears as the Texas Tech offense got hot. In the end, it was the Texas Tech Red Raiders who left Shreveport as the Independence Bowl winner by the score of 34-14.
Morton, Offense Was Crisp
For the first time since September, Texas Tech quarterback Behren Morton looked healthy. Early on, he looked “too” healthy as his first few passes were coming in hot on some of his receivers. But with each drive, he continued to get into a rhythm that Cal never was able to throw off. Morton would finish the game 27-for-43 for 256 yards passing, three touchdowns, and one interception. While Morton certainly shined in this one, the rushing attack was far from MIA.
Tahj Brooks, the first-team All-Big 12 running back, chipped in with 21 carries for 99 yards and one touchdown. Brooks wasn’t carrying the rushing attack solo either. Specifically, at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, Cam’Ron Valdez broke a couple of critical third-down runs that kept the chains moving. Valdez finished the game with 12 carries for 35 yards. With Morton clicking and the rushing attack providing efficient balance to the offense, the Red Raiders were often in manageable third-down situations. They converted 50% of them going 9-for-18 on the game. With so many sustained drives, the Red Raiders owned the time-of-possession advantage by seven minutes. Texas Tech scored the last 27 points of the game.
Red Raiders Defense Owned Line of Scrimmage
Cal head coach Justin Wilcox must have wondered what changed after the first quarter. The Bears had 183 yards of total offense. They averaged 5.9 yards per carry and quarterback Fernando Mendoza was a perfect 7-for-7 passing. They held a 14-7 lead but seemingly had more momentum going into the second quarter. But the remaining three quarters were a vastly different game for Cal. The Texas Tech defense gained complete control of the line of scrimmage. Cal running back Jaydn Ott could not find any room to operate. Ott finished the game with just 42 yards on 15 carries. Cal, who averaged 181.1 yards per game during the regular season (33rd best in the nation) finished with just 69 yards on the ground.
With the rushing attack of the Bears getting locked down, it forced the offense into the hands of their freshman quarterback. Mendoza would finish the game 22-for-33 passing for 284 yards and only one touchdown. Mendoza was under constant pressure. The pass rush of the Red Raiders got home for six sacks. Mendoza looked like every bit of a quarterback with just five starts to his name. He ended up turning the ball over four times (three interceptions), all of which came in the 2nd half.
Being Independence Bowl Winner Salvages Season
Hoising up a trophy as the Independence Bowl winner will not completely make up for falling short of the lofty pre-season expectations the Red Raiders had. The post-season debrief can wait though. The Red Raiders were 3-5 going into November. There was a real chance for this season to go completely unhinged. Instead, Texas Tech rallied to win their final four of five football games. They now own a three-game bowl-winning streak. Assuming McGuire wraps up the 2024 recruiting class as currently constructed, it will be the second consecutive year with the Red Raiders signing a top-25 recruiting class. The build happening in Lubbock, while not linear in the win-loss column, continues to trend in the right direction.