Texas gears up to play in Big 12 house of horrors

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Red Raiders fans are some of the most boisterous in the Big 12, and many don boy paint in lieu of clothing for home games. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Andrew Rogers | Daily Texan Staff

We remember the sequence of the day’s events all too well.

In 2008, the No. 1 Texas Longhorns marched into Jones AT&T Stadium on the high plains of Lubbock looking to keep their undefeated season and national championship aspirations alive.

Awaiting them were the fifth-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders, salivating at the chance to ruin Texas’ undefeated season while keeping their own dream season intact. ESPN’s College Gameday was in attendance, and for the night, all eyes were fixated on a tiny West Texas town to see who would prove to be victorious.

Colt McCoy and the Longhorns got off to a slow start as their first play from scrimmage was blown up by the Red Raiders, resulting in a safety and the game’s first points. A pair of Hunter Lawrence field goals in the second quarter got Texas on the board, but Graham Harrell and company put together a 22-6 halftime lead for the Red Raiders. Texas fought its way back in the second half, finally erasing the deficit with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter thanks to an 11 play, 80-yard drive capped off by a four-yard touchdown run by Vondrell McGee. The Longhorns had silenced the raucous crowd, and appeared as though they had put an end to the Red Raiders fairy tale season.

On the ensuing drive, Graham Harrell took the ball at the 38-yard line and began to march. Texas safety Blake Gideon nearly clinched the game by intercepting a deflected pass at the Texas 14-yard line, but couldn’t secure the catch, giving the Red Raiders one more chance with eight seconds remaining from the 28-yard line. One more shot was all they needed, and the sequence that followed will forever be remembered.

Harrell dropped back and hit superstar wideout Michael Crabtree six yards outside the end zone. Crabtree broke through the tackles of Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown and, surrealy, walked into the end zone. Game, set and match.

The Red Raiders had won what was dubbed the biggest football game in school history, leaving the Horns and their fan base with a gutted, empty feeling. Texas was left out of the BCS National Championship game due to a three-way tie breaker in the Big 12 that awarded the appearance to Oklahoma, making the scar from the game a deep and agonizing reminder of what could have been.

Jones Stadium has long been a difficult road venue for Big 12 teams to venture to. In 2002, the fourth-ranked Longhorns lost 42-38 to an unranked Tech team. In 2007, it was the Oklahoma Sooners who felt the pain of playing in Lubbock, as they waltzed in with the third-ranked team in the country, and left with a 34-27 defeat. The No. 14 ranked Missouri Tigers headed to Jones Stadium in 2010 and they were also upset 24-17. And just three short weeks ago, the newest member of the Big 12 found out how difficult of a place Lubbock is to play, as the fifth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers were decimated to the tune of 49-14, all but crushing their biggest goals and aspirations.

Prolific quarterback play makes road games to Tech even more treacherous. Current quarterback Seth Doege is merely building upon the tradition set in place by the likes of Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons, Sonny Cumbie, Cody Hodges and Harrell. All were near the top nationally in total passing yards, helped by Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. When Leach was forced out in 2009, it was assumed by some the Red Raiders’ offense would weaken. Not so. Under coach Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech has had the nation’s No. 15 offense (2010), the No. 13 offense (2011) and the No. 11 offense (2012).

It is fitting the Longhorns get to travel 400 miles to West Texas the weekend after Halloween, because Lubbock has become a haunted house for Big 12 title contenders. A smaller venue that puts a hellacious crowd right on top of the football field, Jones Stadium is no place to get caught overlooking what is often a very scrappy bunch of farm-raised kids. One twist: for the first time in awhile, it is the Red Raiders who will be favored.