Dec 28, 2021; Memphis, TN, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Donovan Smith (7) warms up prior to the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Liberty Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech runs past Mississippi State in Liberty Bowl

Donovan Smith ran for a touchdown, threw for another and directed an impressive performance for Texas Tech’s offense in a 34-7 rout of Mississippi State on Tuesday night at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.

Smith completed 15 of 28 passes for 252 yards and Texas Tech (7-6) completed its first winning season since 2015 by totaling 512 yards of offense against former coach Mike Leach, who was 84-43 with the Red Raiders from 2000-09.

The Red Raiders racked up a season-high 260 rushing yards and scored three rushing TDs in their final game under interim coach Sonny Cumbie. The former Texas Tech quarterback, who led the team to an upset of Aaron Rodgers and California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl, is headed for the head-coaching job at Louisiana Tech.

Red Raiders running back Tahj Brooks gained 107 yards on 16 attempts, including a 19-yard TD run early in the first quarter. SaRodorick Thompson gained 80 yards on 14 carries and had a 1-yard TD run midway through the fourth.

J.J. Sparkman caught a 14-yard TD near the end of the third quarter and Jonathan Garibay booted field goals of 31 and 26 yards in the first half as the Red Raiders easily won the first meeting between the schools since 1970.

Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers was 32 of 53 for 290 yards. He was unable to throw for 300 yards for the 11th straight game and also faced constant pressure as the Bulldogs (7-6) turned in a disappointing showing after winning four of their final six regular-season games.

Lineman Tyree Wilson recorded two of Texas Tech’s four sacks and the Red Raiders also intercepted Rogers once and recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.

The Red Raiders needed just seven plays and 2:20 to take a 7-0 lead on Brooks’ TD and went up 10-0 lead on Garibay’s first field goal with 3:03 left in the opening period. Garibay kicked another field goal with 13 seconds left in the half to give the Red Raiders a 13-7 lead.

Smith’s TD run with 9:03 left in the third made it 20-7, and consecutive sacks by Wilson set up Sparkman’s leaping catch with two seconds remaining in the third for a 27-7 edge.

Thompson’s TD run early in the fourth made it 34-7 shortly after Rogers was intercepted in the red zone by defensive back Eric Monroe.

–Field Level Media

Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach said players who opt-out of bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft are selfish.

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Mississippi State’s Mike Leach seeks revenge vs. Texas Tech in Liberty Bowl

Mike Leach spent a decade patrolling the sideline at Texas Tech and overseeing a prolific offense in a tenure that ended controversially.

Leach, now in his second season guiding the Mississippi State program, will oppose his former team in the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday night at Memphis. It will be the first meeting between the schools since 1970.

Leach rose to prominence when he coached at Texas Tech from 2000-09, producing an 84-43 record. He led the Red Raiders to a bowl game in every season, including an upset of Aaron Rodgers and California in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when Sonny Cumbie — now Texas Tech’s interim head coach — was his quarterback.

After being fired from Texas Tech due to misconduct, Leach resurfaced at Washington State from 2012-19 before taking the job at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs finished 7-5 this season, winning four of their final six games after absorbing a 49-9 loss to Alabama on Oct. 16. They knocked off three ranked teams in 2021.

After Mississippi State went 4-7 last season, the Bulldogs improved this year with an offense that averaged 30.9 points per game. They are led by quarterback Will Rogers, who threw for a Southeastern Conference-leading 4,449 yards. Rogers also threw 35 touchdowns, second in the SEC to Heisman winner Bryce Young’s 43, and he never threw for fewer than 294 yards in a game this year.

“I’m the quarterback in this offense for Coach Leach,” Rogers said. “I think that my job is to win games. It’s cool to throw for 500 or 600 yards, but ultimately I get judged and this team gets judged on if we win a game or not.”

Texas Tech (6-6) is playing its final game under Cumbie, who took over for the fired Matt Wells on Oct. 25. Joey McGuire was hired last month to be the Red Raiders’ head coach in 2022, and Cumbie will depart for the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.

The Red Raiders, who are in a bowl game for the first time since 2017, ended the regular season with four losses in five games.

“Our players, you can’t give them enough credit for everything they’ve gone through for the season,” Cumbie said. “All that is stuff you reflect on after (the Liberty Bowl), and hopefully when you reflect on it (postgame), you’re feeling good about how things went.”

Texas Tech averaged 30 points per game and saw three players split time at quarterback, including Donovan Smith. The freshman will make the start after completing 70 of 111 passes for 929 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions.

Smith will not be throwing to top target Erik Ezukanma, who declared for the NFL draft after totaling 48 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. Ezukanma opted out of the bowl game.

–Field Level Media

Dec 31, 2020; Memphis, TN, USA; Army Black Knights linebacker Arik Smith (53) sacks West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Jarret Doege (2) for fumble during the first half  at Liberty Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia rallies to top Army in Liberty Bowl

Backup quarterback Austin Kendall threw two second half touchdown passes Thursday, including the game-winner to T.J. Simmons with 5:10 remaining, as West Virginia rallied for a 24-21 victory over Army in the Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tenn.

Taking over for starter Jarret Doege, who was 15 of 25 for 159 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble, Kendall had an instant impact. He connected with Mike O’Laughlin on a 3-yard scoring strike with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter that pulled the Mountaineers within 21-16.

Kendall then found Simmons for his second touchdown of the day, a 20-yard pass that finished off a 65-yard drive and enabled West Virginia to finish the year at 6-4. Kendall hit on 8 of his 17 passes for 121 yards.

The Black Knights (9-3), who took the place of Tennessee in the game after the Volunteers bowed out last week due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program, could have tied the game with 1:50 remaining. But kicker Quinn Maretzki yanked a 39-yard field-goal attempt wide left.

Army had one final chance to win or force overtime, but West Virginia’s Josh Chandler-Semedo intercepted Christian Anderson at the Mountaineers’ 26-yard line with 29 seconds remaining.

Army’s Tyhier Tyler rushed 24 times for 76 yards and three scores, while Anderson completed 4 of 6 passes for 57 yards.

West Virginia initiated scoring late in the first quarter, tapping into a field position advantage created by its defense after it stopped Army on a 4th-and-2 at the Mountaineers’ 38. Tyler Sumpter’s 31-yard field goal capped a seven-play, 48-yard drive.

The Black Knights finally found traction on their next possession, eating 74 yards and more than seven minutes on 14 plays. Tyler ran off right tackle for a 1-yard touchdown.

West Virginia grabbed a 10-7 edge in the second quarter when Doege found Simmons for a 5-yard scoring strike at the 4:21 mark.

Just before the half, Doege was sacked by Army’s Malkeim Morrison and stripped of the ball, with Ryan Duran recovering at the West Virginia 7 for the Black Knights. That turned into a 6-yard touchdown keeper by Tyler two plays later that gave Army a 14-10 halftime lead.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; West Point, New York, USA; Army Black Knights quarterback Christian Anderson (4) runs with the ball against the Air Force Falcons during the second half at Michie Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army rushes to step in, will face West Virginia in Liberty Bowl

When West Virginia coach Neil Brown gathered his coaches and players for practice on Dec. 21, they were preparing for a Liberty Bowl matchup with Tennessee on New Year’s Eve in Memphis.

Then 2020 intervened.

“We started the day preparing for one opponent and will end it preparing for another, but that’s how crazy 2020 has been,” Brown said.

Tennessee pulled out of the bowl game after coach Jeremy Pruitt and multiple players tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily enough for the Liberty Bowl, it had a better team ready to step in.

Army went from being an outrageous snub to being an attractive catch at 9-2. The Commander-in-Chief trophy winners after a 10-7 defeat of Air Force on Dec. 19, the Black Knights were originally ticketed for the Independence Bowl after winning their sixth game on Oct. 24.

But when the Shreveport-based bowl had to cancel because so many prospective opponents opted out, it left Army in a lurch not of its own making.

Coach Jeff Monken made it clear that he thought his team was getting the short end of the stick, and aside from a handful of ESPN talking heads who had no trouble lugging the Power 5 conferences’ water while leaving Group of 5 schools parched, Monken was preaching to the choir.

As the old saying goes, better late than never. The Knights have their bowl bid, and West Virginia (5-4) has a new, more formidable opponent.

“I have great respect for the Army football tradition and the sacrifice the cadets make daily for our country,” Brown said. “Coach Monken and his staff have done a great job at West Point.”

The Knights own 43 wins in the last five years under Monken, a disciple of former Navy and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

Much like Johnson, Monken believes in triple-option football, a staple at the military academies for most of the last 30 years.

Army finished fourth in the nation this year in rushing, averaging 281.3 yards per game despite having only one player rush for more than 500 yards. But it had four players between 401 and 502 yards, a testament to the balance it possesses.

Most importantly, the Knights played excellent defense, permitting just 14 points per game. Nearly a fourth of their allowance came in a 38-12 loss last month at Tulane. Their other loss was to Cincinnati, 24-10, in September. Cincinnati is now 9-0 and ranked No. 8 in the CFP poll.

“This is going to be a tremendous challenge for us to have any opportunity to win the game,” Monken said. “It’s exciting for our players. They came here to play big-time football against top-level opponents, and I’m glad they have the opportunity to play one in West Virginia.”

The Mountaineers could have easily been 7-2 were it not for one-possession losses at Texas Tech (34-27) and Texas (17-13) in a three-week span. Their final regular-season game with Oklahoma was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

West Virginia’s offense is led by Jarret Doege (2,428 yards, 13 TD passes) and Leddie Brown (945 rushing yards, nine TDs).

This will mark the first time the programs have met in 59 years. Army leads the series 2-1.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Vols pull out of Liberty Bowl due to positive tests

Tennessee was forced to pull out of next week’s Liberty Bowl after coach Jeremy Pruitt and several players tested positive for COVID-19, ESPN reported Monday.

The Volunteers (3-7) were slated to play West Virginia (5-4) on Dec. 31 in the Memphis bowl game.

The team’s tests were conducted Sunday with the positive results coming back after Tennessee had accepted the bowl invitation. Tennessee then re-tested the positives and did a whole new round of testing, per the report. The positive results and contact tracing rendered the Vols with not enough players and coaches to play the game.

The Vols finished their regular season last week against Texas A&M without assistant coaches Jay Graham and Derrick Ansley reportedly because of COVID-19 issues.

ESPN reports that the Liberty Bowl could select Army (9-2) or Mississippi State (3-7) to replace the Vols. Mississippi State is slated to play Dec. 31 in the Armed Forces Bowl, which could be a landing spot for Army if the Bulldogs head to the Liberty Bowl.

–Field Level Media