For the second time this season, a defensive touchdown signaled doom for West Virginia in a Big 12 contest.
In the fourth quarter of Saturday’s matchup between WVU and Texas Tech, Red Raiders defensive back Zech McPhearson recovered a fumble by West Virginia wide receiver Sam James and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown. That score put TTU ahead 34-27 with 8:44 to play, and the home team never rescinded its advantage, winning by that score.
Head coach Neal Brown, a former Texas Tech offensive coordinator, said he was “not happy” after the loss.
“They won the fourth quarter, they won the game,” Brown said. “We lost the fourth quarter, we lost the game.”
The setback for WVU (3-2) was similar to its other loss this season at Oklahoma State. In that game, the Mountaineers also gave up a defensive touchdown and allowed the Cowboys to record over 300 yards of total offense. Despite entering this game as the nation’s leader in total defense, WVU gave up 348 yards to the Red Raiders.
The victory for Texas Tech (2-3) ends a three-game losing streak in 2020 and a six-game Big 12 losing streak that dates back to a victory over the Mountaineers last November.
WVU trailed Texas Tech 20-10 in the final minutes of the second quarter, but cut into the deficit with an Evan Staley field goal on the final play of the first half, making it 20-13.
Then, on Texas Tech’s first play from scrimmage in the second half, defensive lineman Dante Stills recovered a fumble forced by teammate Jeffery Pooler Jr. Three plays and 24 yards later, the Mountaineers tied the score at 20-20 on a Jarret Doege touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Banks.
Texas Tech responded with a nine play, 73-yard scoring drive to regain a one-score lead, but then the Mountaineers benefitted from another big momentum play.
After appearing to go three-and-out, sophomore Winston Wright earned a sneaky conversion on a fake punt on fourth down, putting the Mountaineers back in business at midfield. Wright contributed again with a 38-yard reception on the next play, and running back Leddie Brown eventually capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run, knotting the score at 27-27.
Then, with the Mountaineers driving in the fourth quarter, James put the ball on the carpet, and McPhearson put the game away with his scoop-and-score touchdown. The fumble was West Virginia’s lone turnover of the game.
“The fumble we had in the fourth quarter, that wasn’t the reason we lost the game, but that was the turning point,” Brown said. “We had two or three possessions — at least two, I know of that I can remember — where we had an opportunity to get it done and we didn’t. We just didn’t get it done. Not pleased. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to win these types of games.”
West Virginia out-gained Texas Tech 438-348, but those 348 yards mark a season high for yards allowed in a game by the Mountaineers. The Red Raiders also gained 179 rushing yards.
“We didn’t play as well defensively,” Brown said. “This group, coming in, I knew was gonna give us a little bit more trouble, and they did, so credit to them.”
Doege completed 32 of his 50 attempts for 347 yards and a touchdown in his return to his hometown. His go-to target in the outing was Wright, who caught nine balls for a season-high 126 yards.
Brown, West Virginia’s junior running back, netted 77 rushing yards on 21 carries, a season-low.
Mountaineer wide receivers combined to commit seven drops in the game.
WVU played most of the competition without senior linebacker Tony Fields, who was ejected in the first half for targeting. Fields hit TTU quarterback Henry Colombi as he slid, and while he wasn’t initially flagged for targeting, he was subsequently penalized and disqualified after a review.
Fields, who entered the contest as West Virginia’s tackling leader, recorded three stops against the Red Raiders.
“As a head football coach, I don’t have a clear understanding of the targeting penalty,” Brown said. “I don’t have a clear understanding of how it was reviewed. I feel bad for the officials on the field, I feel bad for the review. I don’t know.”
In his first start for the Red Raiders, Colombi completed 87.6 percent of his passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. He also netted 40 yards on the ground and rushed for another score.
The loss is West Virginia’s first in Lubbock since 2012.
WVU will return home Saturday for a Halloween showdown with Kansas State.