Air raid assault on the horizon as Texas Tech plays Mississippi State in AutoZone Liberty Bowl

LUBBOCK, Texas – The 2021 season will conclude Tuesday for Texas Tech with the 63rd annual Liberty Bowl in a showdown versus Mississippi State. It marks the Red Raiders (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) return to the postseason after a three-year hiatus, meanwhile the Bulldogs (7-5, 4-4 SEC) will make their 12th consecutive bowl appearance. While Texas Tech notched its 39th bowl appearance in program history – T-21st among all FBS programs – it’s the Red Raiders first trip to Memphis for what is the seventh oldest bowl game. 

Television coverage will be provided by ESPN with Dave Neal providing the play-by-play, joined by analyst Deuce McAllister in the booth and Andraya Carter on the sideline. The broadcast can also be found via the ESPN app on any streaming service.

Texas Tech Sports Network will also broadcast the game over 46 affiliates throughout the state of Texas and New Mexico as Brian Jensen will have the call alongside analyst John Harris, sideline reporter Chris Level and engineer Steve Pitts. The radio broadcast can also be heard on XM channel 375, Sirius channel 80 or via the TuneIn app.

BOWL GAME STARTERS

  • Texas Tech will make its 39th bowl appearance in school history Dec. 28 when the Red Raiders face Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. This will be Tech’s first-ever trip to the Liberty Bowl as the Red Raiders are 14-23-1 all-time in bowl games after wins in nine of their last 13 contests. 
  • Texas Tech has historically ranked among the most frequent bowl participants in college football history as the Red Raiders currently rank tied for 21st nationally and tied for third in the Big 12 for all-time postseason appearances.  
  • Texas Tech will be keeping an eye on the record book throughout the AutoZone Liberty Bowl as several Red Raiders could potentially place their name among the all-time greats in school history. In particular, Austin McNamara could snap the Tech single-season mark for punting average as he enters the bowl averaging an impressive 48.4 yards per attempt. 
  • On the defensive side, linebacker Colin Schooler needs two solo tackles to move into the top five in NCAA FBS history as he enters the bowl game ranked seventh with 307 solo stops. Riko Jeffers, meanwhile, is six tackles shy of becoming the 15th Red Raider in history to record 300 career stops.
  • With a win over Mississippi State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Texas Tech will clinch its first winning season since 2015 when the Red Raiders finished 7-6 overall after a loss in the Texas Bowl. The Red Raiders advanced to a bowl in 2017, finishing 6-6 in the regular season before a loss to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.
  • Texas Tech needs to hit the 30-point mark against the Bulldogs to average at least 30.0 points per game for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. The Red Raiders, who averaged only 29.1 points per game in 2020, have not been held under 30.0 points per contest in consecutive seasons since a five-year run from 1996-2000. 
  • Texas Tech will be making only its second appearance in the state of Tennessee as the Red Raiders previously opened the 1997 season at No. 5 Tennessee. The Red Raiders have faced the Vols twice in its history as the two schools also met in the 1973 Gator Bowl. Tech has also faced fellow Tennessee school Vanderbilt once, which ended in a 6-6 tie in the 1974 Peach Bowl. 

TEXAS TECH, MISSISSIPPI STATE SET FOR FIRST MEETING IN 50 YEARS

  • Texas Tech and Mississippi State will face each other for the first time since 1970 at the Liberty Bowl in what will be only the eighth all-time meeting between the two schools. Mississippi State controls the series with a 4-2-1 advantage entering the bowl game.
  • This will be the first time the two schools have ever met in a bowl game as Mississippi State becomes the 34th different postseason opponent for the Red Raiders in program history.
  • The Liberty Bowl will mark the first meeting between the two schools in more than 50 years as Texas Tech and Mississippi State last met in 1970 to wrap a four game home-and-home series. The Red Raiders were 0-3-1 against the Bulldogs during that stretch with each of the two road games taking place in Jackson, Mississippi, south of the Starkville campus.
  • Texas Tech topped No. 18 Mississippi State, 27-20, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools in 1953. The victory was part of an 11-1 season for the Red Raiders, who set the school record for wins that season following a victory over No. 17 Auburn in the Gator Bowl. That bowl appearance is best remembered by the debut of the Masked Rider as Joe Kirk Fulton led Texas Tech onto the field in what is still one of the most-memorable entrances in college football history.

A NEW EXPERIENCE FOR MANY

  • The trip to a bowl game will be a new experience for the majority of the Texas Tech roster as only two Red Raiders saw action in their last postseason appearance at the 2017 Birmingham Bowl. DaMarcus Fields earned the start at corner for the Red Raiders in the loss as he made four stops to go along with a fumble recovery. Riko Jeffers, meanwhile, added three tackles from his linebacker position. 
  • The bowl experience was a key talking point for Sonny Cumbie when he took over as interim head coach. During one of his first team meetings in the role, he asked the Red Raiders to raise their hands if they had played in a bowl game previously. When the majority of the room kept their hands down, Cumbie signaled that would be the goal for the remainder of the season, one the Red Raiders ultimately achieved with their win against Iowa State. 
  • In addition to both Fields and Jeffers, an additional 13 Red Raiders have been part of a bowl-bound program prior to transferring to Texas Tech. That list includes transfers Tyler Shough (Oregon), Eric Monroe (LSU), Henry Colombi (Utah State), Jacob Morgenstern (Duke), Chadarius Townsend (Alabama), Tyree Wilson (Texas A&M), Malik Dunlap (N.C. State), Jesiah Pierre (Florida), T.J. Storment (TCU), Marquis Waters (Duke) and Brandon Bouyer-Randle (Michigan State), McLane Mannix (Nevada) and Colin Schooler (Arizona).

TEXAS TECH-MISSISSIPPI STATE CONNECTIONS

  • There are several significant ties between the two schools in the Liberty Bowl, none more recognizable than the connection between the two head coaches. Mississippi State will be led by Mike Leach, who served as Texas Tech’s head coach from 2000-09 and coached the Red Raiders’ interim head coach Sonny Cumbie for the duration of his college career. Leach remains the winningest head coach in program history as he compiled an 84-43 record with a bowl appearance in each of his 10 seasons. 
  • Leach is the first former head coach to face Texas Tech from the opposing sideline since David McWilliams did so with Texas during the 1987-91 seasons. McWilliams was the head coach at Texas Tech for only one season (1986) prior to accepting the role at Texas. 
  • Speaking of bowl appearances, Cumbie led the Red Raiders to one of their most memorable wins in school history to wrap his career in 2004 as Texas Tech downed No. 4 Cal, 45-31, in the Holiday Bowl. Cumbie, with Leach as his head coach and offensive coordinator, threw for a Texas Tech bowl record of 520 yards and three touchdowns in the win, which came over a Cal program that featured future NFL greats in Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. 
  • Overall, the Liberty Bowl will have five graduates of Texas Tech University on either of the two staffs as Texas Tech’s features interim head coach Sonny Cumbie (2004) and outside receivers coach Joel Filani (2006), while Mississippi State’s staff includes former Red Raider great Darcel McBath (2008). Texas Tech also has two other support staff members that are alumni in Associate A.D. for Football Administration Antonio Huffman (2006) and assistant director for player development Sammy Morris (1999).
  • Texas Tech boasts only one player on its roster from the state of Mississippi in junior defensive back Cam White, who hails from Flora, which is roughly 120 miles from the Mississippi State campus. White previously played at Northwest Mississippi before transferring to Texas Tech prior to the 2020 campaign.

HEADING HOME 

  • The trip to the Liberty Bowl was a welcome selection for one Memphis native on the Red Raider football roster, junior defensive back Rayshad Williams. A product of Whitehaven High School in Memphis, Williams will be playing in his hometown for the first time as a college student-athlete as he previously starred at UCLA prior to transferring to Texas Tech this offseason. 
  • Williams, an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection after starting in 11 games at cornerback this season, has been tabbed “Jazzy” as a nickname by defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who cited his hometown as the reason. Williams was a top-25 recruit in the state of Tennessee as part of the 2018 class following a memorable high school career where he helped lead Whitehaven to the Class 6A state title as a junior in 2016. 
  • While it may not be their hometown, Texas Tech does have two staff members who previously resided in the birthplace to rock ‘n’ roll as associate head coach and secondary coach Derek Jones was on the University of Memphis staff as the cornerbacks coach in 2007, while defensive line coach Paul Randolph served in a similar role for the Tigers from 2016-18 prior to accepting his position at Texas Tech. 

OFFENSIVE NOTEBOOK

  • Texas Tech has been among the most explosive teams in the country this season as the Red Raiders are tied for second in the Big 12 and 10th in the FBS after totaling 22 plays of at least 40 yards. Tech also ranks tied for seventh for plays of 50 yards or longer with 13 to this point and then tied for 14th with four plays of at least 70 yards. 
  • Texas Tech has put points on the board in 90.9 percent of its red zone appearances this season (40-of-44), which ranks 14th in the FBS and fourth in the Big 12 entering bowl season. The Red Raiders have found the end zone in 31 of those red zone appearances as Tech has failed to put points on the board only four times – via an early fumble against Houston, a fourth-down stop versus both TCU and Iowa State and then the end of the half at Oklahoma. 
  • McLane Mannix’s final reception against Baylor pushed him to 2,002 receiving yards for his career, giving Texas Tech three 2,000-yard receivers entering the Liberty Bowl as he joins fellow wideouts Erik Ezukanma (2,165) and Kaylon Geiger Sr. (2,149).
  • Myles Price had a career day versus Iowa State as the sophomore hauled in nine passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. His nine catches in the win marked the most by a Red Raider this season and the most since KeSean Carter hauled in 11 in the 2019 season finale at Texas. Price, who ranks third on the team with 35 receptions for 451 receiving yards this season, nearly snapped his career-high by 100 yards as his previous high mark was his 79 yards last season versus West Virginia.
  • Kaylon Geiger Sr. has two 100-yard performances this season, giving him 11 now for his career between his time at Troy and Texas Tech. Since the start of the 2019 season, Geiger ranks tied for fifth among FBS receivers for 100-yard performances, trailing only the 17 from Purdue’s David Bell, the 13 from UTEP’s Jacob Cowing and the 12 from former Alabama standout DeVonta Smith (currently with Philadelphia Eagles) and Memphis’ Calvin Austin III.   
  • Eric Ezukanma has found the end zone via the ground game twice this season as he scampered nine yards to score at Kansas on Oct. 16 before going 45 yards on Oct. 23 against Kansas State. He is the first Red Raider wide receiver to rush for at least two touchdowns twice in a season since Jakeem Grant had the same total to close his career in 2015. He has 138 rushing yards as a receiver this season.
  • Travis Koontz hauled in his fourth touchdown of the season in the regular-season finale against Baylor as he took a screen pass 75 yards to the end zone. Koontz is now tied for the team-high with four touchdown catches this season as he is looking to become the first Red Raider tight end to share at least the team-high for receiving touchdowns since Texas Tech moved to a spread offense in 2000. 
  • Texas Tech posted season highs for yards per play (7.9) and explosive plays of at least 20 yards in the win over Iowa State despite facing a Cyclones defense that entered the game allowing 18.2 points per game and only 282.4 yards per game. 

DEFENSIVE NOTEBOOK

  • Seven different Red Raiders have picked off a pass so far this season as Texas Tech currently ranks fifth in the Big 12 with nine interceptions. Dadrion Taylor-Demerson leads the group with three after picking off his third pass of the season against Iowa State. The Red Raiders haven’t had seven different players with an interception in a season since 2017 when 10 players picked off a pass. 
  • Texas Tech’s nine interceptions this season are already four more than its entire total from the 2020 campaign. It took the Red Raiders a total of 10 games for its five interceptions a year ago. 
  • Texas Tech’s improved depth defensively has been evident this season as only four Red Raiders have started in all 12 games. That list defensively includes linebackers Colin Schooler and Riko Jeffers as well as defensive linemen Jaylon Hutchings and Tyree Wilson.
  • Eric Monroe and Reggie Pearson Jr. both recorded career highs for tackles in the regular-season finale against Baylor as Monroe led the team with 13 stops followed by Pearson with 11. It marked the fourth career outing with 10 or more tackles for Monroe, all of which have occurred at Texas Tech. Pearson recorded his second-career game with at least 10 stops as he previously had 10 against Nebraska in 2019 while still at Wisconsin. 
  • Monroe will look to close his most-successful collegiate season in style at the Liberty Bowl as his 80 tackles this season are one shy of his career total entering this year. Monroe currently ranks second on the team with 80 tackles this season, trailing only Colin Schooler’s 97. He has compiled 49 of his 80 tackles over the last five games, which leads the team. 
  • Tyree Wilson has recorded 7.5 of his 11.5 tackles for loss in the last seven games as he set a career-high 2.0 against both Kansas and Kansas State. Both of his tackles for loss against Kansas went for sacks, giving him a team-leading 5.0 now on the season. It marked the first time in Wilson’s career where he had two solo sacks in a game. Among his Big 12 counterparts, Wilson ranks tied for 11th in the league with his 11.5 tackles for loss. 
  • The Texas Tech secondary stepped up in a big way against Kansas, limiting the Jayhawks to only 128 passing yards a week after surrendering just 104 in the loss to TCU. It marked the first time the Red Raiders had kept a Big 12 opponent under 130 passing yards in consecutive games since facing Oklahoma State (94 yards) and Oklahoma (118 yards) late in the 2005 season. The Red Raiders matched their season-high with seven pass breakups against Kansas. 
  • Speaking of the secondary, Texas Tech boasts three of the top-five leaders currently in the Big 12 for passes defended as DaMarcus Fields and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson rank tied for second in the league with 10 followed by Rayshad Williams in a tie for fourth overall with nine of his own. If Williams is able to break up a pass against Mississippi State, it would mark only the second time since 2005 where the Red Raiders had three different players in double digits as Tech also did so in 2008 with the likes of Daniel Charbonnet, Jamar Wall and Darcel McBath.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium from the air. 2010 photo. By Zorin09, CC BY 3.0, https commons.wikimedia.org

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