The absence of Mike Leach at the Valero Alamo Bowl overshadowed a dramatic victory by Texas Tech and its interim coach Ruffin McNeill. Here’s how the Red Raiders claimed an impressive 41-31 triumph over Michigan State.
How the game was won: The game turned when interim Texas Tech offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley decided to bench Taylor Potts after he sustained a finger injury on his non-throwing hand with about 8 minutes left. Steven Sheffield came off the bench to direct two consecutive scoring drives, wrapping up the victory with two gutsy fourth-down conversions on the game-clinching drive.
It’s notable: McNeill becomes the second interim coach in the last seven seasons to beat Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The first was Nebraska’s Bo Pelini in 2003.
Turning point: After Tech had claimed the lead on Sheffield’s 11-yard TD pass to Detron Lewis, the Tech defense provided the clinching play two plays later. Franklin Mitchem provided the interception of Kirk Cousins that iced the victory.
Player of the game: Sheffield came off the bench to direct Tech’s game-winning drive, completing 6 of 6 passes for 80 yards, capped by his scoring pass to Lewis for the go-ahead touchdown. Sheffield finished by hitting 9 of 11 passes for 88 yards as he directed two late scoring drives. His late charge gave his team the victory, even as Potts threw for 384 yards and two TDs to earn Most Valuable Player honors.
Unsung hero: Leading Texas Tech wide receiver Alex Torres struggled with only two catches and had a critical drop late in the game. But on the next play, Torres made a critical 6-yard gain on fourth-and-5 that kept the drive alive, setting up the touchdown to ice the victory.
Stat of the game: Tech rolled up 580 yards of total offense, including 472 passing yards. The Red Raiders averaged 461.8 yards of total offense and 380.7 passing yards with Leach.
Record performance: Lewis produced a career-best 10 receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns to help power Tech’s victory.
What it means: McNeill might have become this season’s version of West Virginia’s Bill Stewart by claiming an impressive victory as an interim coach. But how he did it was the most striking part of his team’s performance, confidently converting two pivotal fourth-down plays with the swash-buckling nature his boss similarly brought to coaching. Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers still might want to go for a coach with more experience, but McNeill showed some moxie along the sidelines that appears to make him suited for a head-coaching shot somewhere.