As the 2012 football season crosses West Texas and climbs the Caprock toward the Panhandle, Lubbock lies squarely in the foreground.
Nov. 2, 2012
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
LUBBOCK, TX – On the road to Lubbock, particularly if you take the cut-through highway from Brownwood to Sweetwater through Winters, you will pass farm fields which will share the history of an oil pump jack and the surreal image of what seems a sea of wind turbines.
It is part of your journey to determine what is real, and what isn’t.
And as the 2012 Texas Longhorn football season crosses West Texas and climbs the Caprock toward the Texas Panhandle, Lubbock lies squarely in the foreground.
It has been 50 years since Texas and Texas Tech played their first league game in Jones Stadium in Lubbock. In the Mack Brown era, the two schools have met 14 times, and the three Red Raider wins have all come here. The Raiders edged the Longhorns in 1998, 2002 and 2008. Since the home team’s victory in 2002, Texas has won eight of the last nine games - the only exception being the heart-breaking last second loss that knocked the Longhorns out of the chance to play for the national championship four years ago.
There is a touch of irony in this current meeting. On most of the trips to Lubbock, the Longhorns have been favored. In this one, the Red Raiders are picked to win by a touchdown over UT. The last time Texas came here with the media so ensconced in the Red Raiders’ corner was in 2004. That season, following a shutout loss to Oklahoma and a narrow victory over Missouri, Texas entered the game ranked No. 8. Texas Tech was coming off of a huge victory over Nebraska, and though the Raiders were ranked only twenty-fourth, the media leaned heavily toward Tech, clamoring that Texas quarterback Vince Young should be moved to wide receiver.
Obviously, as history tells us, it didn’t work out that way. In a 51-21 victory, the game marked the arrival of Young as a force in college football - a run that wouldn’t end until the Longhorns’ victory in the BCS National Championship game a year later.
The Texas-Texas Tech series began as an annual affair when the Raiders officially began playing football as a member of the Southwest Conference in 1960. Fifty years ago, the ‘Horns made their first trip to Lubbock in one of the stranger scenarios of the series. First, half of the stadium lights went out with a power failure. Then, Texas Tech head coach J.T. King thought he would catch the Longhorns napping on the opening play of the game. Long an advocate of field position, he won the toss and chose to receive. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he had his kick returner punt the ball back toward the Texas goal - a play that was perfectly legal then. The strategy failed, however, when the kick failed to get the desired roll, and Texas drove for an easy score in a 34-0 shutout.
In 1968, Tech picked up its first win in the series in Lubbock, 31-22, but as far as history recalls it, the night was a significant win for Texas. For all practical purposes, it was the night that the Wishbone Offense was born. Texas had unveiled the new formation - which had a fullback and two halfbacks lined up behind the quarterback and operated out of a triple-option attack - the week before in a 20-20 tie with Houston. Trailing at the half in Lubbock, Darrell Royal made the decision to replace starting quarterback Bill Bradley with junior James Street. Just as Vince’s story would begin years later, so Street’s legend began that night - even though his second half comeback failed to overcome the Red Raider lead. Starting with the next week, Street took the Longhorns to victory in 20 straight games, part of a 30-game winning streak that produced two national champions at the end of the decade of the 1960s.
The series in the 1970s and 1980s began to even out some, as the Red Raider program went through a coming-of-age period during the arrival of former Longhorn assistant Spike Dykes - who had a knack of knocking off both Texas and Texas A&M, the two schools folks at Tech would rather beat than anybody else.
The shifting of the conference affiliations has returned TCU to the Texas Tech radar. Historically, those two schools waged some pretty strong battles for recruits in West Texas. Though an emerging Angelo State has become attractive to lots of Austin high school graduates who seek to leave home for college, Texas Tech still has a following in the state’s capital city.
Saturday’s intriguing matchup brings in two Big 12 teams with identical records. Both are 6-2 on the season, and 3-2 in league competition. In a tremendously balanced league, both teams hold out remote hopes of getting into position to claim a share of the league title in the revamped conference format where the teams all play each other.
For the Longhorns, the game is the first of the final third of a season that has featured two dramatic last minute come-from-behind wins and a frustrating (though exciting) last minute loss to West Virginia. It is another step that Texas hopes to take as it continues its road back from a 5-7 season in 2010. Rebuilding is never easy, it doesn’t ever come as quickly as you would like. The wind turbines along the road are a testimony to that. They can churn out lots of energy, and folks are working daily to get it channeled into the right place.
And when Texas ends its day here on Saturday, the folks in burnt orange hope that Lubbock is in the rear view mirror - a challenge dispatched as if it were gone with the wind.