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Cowboys survive trip to Texas Tech with Big 12 and playoff hopes still intact

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Oklahoma State holds off Texas Tech (1:05)

In a back-and-forth battle, Mason Rudolph passes for 376 yards including three touchdowns to lead the Cowboys past the Red Raiders 41-34. (1:05)

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Three red zone trips without points. Three defensive penalties in the end zone. An interception returned for a touchdown.

No. 15 Oklahoma State's list of mistakes at Jones AT&T Stadium is long. Several were costly.

Somehow, the Cowboys found a way to survive and still leave Lubbock with a win.

Thanks to a late touchdown run by quarterback Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State emerged with a 41-34 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday night, keeping their Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff hopes alive for the moment.

A loss would have made the Cowboys (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) 0-2 in the conference and would have been fatal to their playoff chances. While finishing in second place in the Big 12 is OK, because it guarantees a spot in the conference title game, having two losses is not, because the chances of such a team getting into the playoff are minimal.

After a 44-31 home loss to TCU a week ago, the Cowboys had to win on Saturday, no matter how messy. And make no mistake, going into the Jones on a Saturday night against Texas Tech's high-powered offense wasn't easy.

There are issues the Pokes need to shore up and -- fortunately for them -- they'll have time to do so. An off week awaits them and their next game is back home on Oct. 14 against now-winless Baylor. During the bye week, coach Mike Gundy's squad must clean up some of the issues that popped up against the Red Raiders.

One is special teams. Kicker Matt Ammendola had two chip-shot field goal attempts -- one from 22 yards and one from 18 -- clang off the right upright. Combine those misses with a Rudolph interception that was returned 95 yards by Texas Tech defensive back Damarcus Fields for a touchdown, and the Cowboys came away empty-handed on three separate red zone trips, which nearly cost them the game. The Red Raiders also recovered a surprise onside kick early in the fourth quarter, but Cowboys defensive end Jordan Brailford intercepted a pass by Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek, helping the Cowboys survive that mishap unscathed.

While the Cowboys had a respectable showing defensively -- they held the Red Raiders to just 384 yards, 203 below their average coming into Saturday's game -- it wasn't without mistakes. On three separate occasions, the Cowboys committed penalties in the end zone: two pass interference penalties and one holding penalty. There was also a face mask penalty after the Red Raiders' onside kick recovery that could have been costly, if not for Brailford's clutch interception.

In the end, the Cowboys' powerful offense was too much for the Red Raiders. Rudolph shook off the early pick-six and passed for 376 yards and three touchdowns. His best work was on the ground, though, completely fooling the Texas Tech defense on two different occasions, which allowed him to walk into the end zone for a touchdown. The second one proved to be the game winner.

The Red Raiders (3-1, 0-1) couldn't corral running back Justice Hill (30 carries, 164 yards) or receivers James Washington (nine catches, 127 yards) and Marcell Ateman (six catches, 114).

Coach Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech squad looks improved -- the defense held Oklahoma State out of the end zone for a five-drive stretch in the second half that allowed the Red Raiders to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Shimonek (330 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception) needs a little help, but it appears Texas Tech will be a tough out for most of the league.

Meanwhile, Gundy & Co. can exhale as they return to Stillwater with work to do.