- Jake Trotter, ESPN Staff Writer
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Texas Tech has traveled to Norman before with Big 12 title implications on the line.
In 2002, the Red Raiders went to Oklahoma with a chance to capture their first Big 12 South title. The Sooners were ranked eighth in the country. But Tech featured senior quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, who was averaging 371 yards passing a game.
“I think we lost 112-7,” said Kingsbury.
The score was actually only 60-15.
But that was only the second-biggest head-kicking the Red Raiders suffered in a meaningful game in Norman. Six years later, Tech returned with the second-ranked team in the country and a chance to lock up the Big 12. Instead, the Red Raiders fell behind five touchdowns before halftime, as the Sooners “jumped” to the conference title and national championship game instead.
Saturday, Tech will have an opportunity to avenge those losses in another game at Oklahoma with much on the line. The Red Raiders are 7-0 and in the tp 10 for the first time since that 2008 season. The Sooners at 6-1 are still very much alive as well in the conference title race.
“It's a huge challenge anytime you go to that stadium,” said Kingsbury, now Tech’s coach. “It’s one of the storied stadiums in college football. Their fans are crazy, hostile, intense. It's a great college football atmosphere.”
This week, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called for a return to the crowd that clearly intimidated the Red Raiders in 2008. Before the game, Stoops told reporters that Sooner fans weren’t “overly ruckus.” The Oklahoman fans responded by creating the craziest atmosphere Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree said he’d ever seen. When the Sooners took a 42-7 lead just before halftime, the crowd went berserk to the House of Pain song, “Jump Around.”
“It’d be awesome if we could recreate that atmosphere, and everybody jump in and do their best to try to affect the game, and, you know, build some excitement and all,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to do our part. It’s a lot easier to be excited when you’re playing well. We’ve got to hopefully give them some things to cheer about and jump in the game.”
In the ’02 and ’08 games, the Red Raiders came in with senior quarterbacks playing the best football of their careers. Kingsbury was the All-Big 12 quarterback. Graham Harrell finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
Both, however, had maybe the worst games of their careers in Norman.
Kingsbury was just 15-of-35 passing for a season-low 187 yards, with 67 of those coming on a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown. The Oklahoma defense forced two safeties, sacked Kingsbury six times and intercepted him twice, while jumping to a 46-0 lead in the third quarter.
It's a huge challenge anytime you go to that stadium. It’s one of the storied stadiums in college football. Their fans are crazy, hostile, intense. It's a great college football atmosphere.
”-- Kliff Kingsbury, on playing at Oklahoma
Harrell didn’t fare much better.
He ended up throwing for 361 yards and three touchdowns. But the Red Raiders punted on their first three possessions, then turned the ball over on downs their next two. The next time Tech got the ball, it was 28-0.
“You know, just everything,” said Stoops, when asked what went right for the Sooners in the two Tech blowouts. “Coverage. Pressure. More than anything, eliminating the run game. I know people find that hard to believe, but it’s a big part of stopping them — being great with their run game and screens. The stuff that happens on the line of scrimmage and [the backfield] is a big part of defending them.”
This trip to Oklahoma, the Red Raiders won’t have a veteran quarterback. In fact, true freshman Davis Webb will be making just his second career road start.
But so far, Webb hasn’t performed like a freshman. In both his starts, he’s thrown for more than 400 yards. And last week, he rallied the Red Raiders from an 11-point second half deficit to knock off West Virginia on the road.
“Not getting the start from Game 1, he took it upon himself to improve it as a player, and he's done that,” Kingsbury said. “He's played better and embraced the challenge.”
The Red Raiders overall have played Oklahoma as tough as anyone in the Big 12. Tech, in fact, has split the past eight meetings, and in 2011, snapped the third-ranked Sooners’ national-best, 39-game home winning streak.
“I think the exciting part for me right now is I know we haven't played close to our best game,” Kingsbury said. “Our best game is still out there.”
The Red Raiders will need to bring their best to Norman this weekend.
Something they’ve failed to do in the past when stakes have been this high.
2dBrandon Chatmon and Jake Trotter