Once the Red Raiders got on a roll, they were hard to stop.
Texas Tech scored touchdowns on seven-straight possessions and rolled past Eastern Washington University 56-10 Saturday (Sept. 2) at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas, in the season-opener for both teams.
Eastern's defense held the Red Raiders to just 20 yards on their first three possessions, but a 75-yard touchdown pass got TTU untracked. Texas Tech, which led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in total offense and passing yards a year ago, finished with 626 yards, including 449 through the air.
Eastern's offense managed 301 yards of offense, including 207 passing and 10 rushing by Eagle All-America quarterback Gage Gubrud. He had a 22-yard touchdown pass to Terence Grady in the second quarter to cap a five-play, 75-yard drive for EWU.
"Collectively we didn't maintain the consistency," said Eastern head coach Aaron Best, whose team trailed just 7-0 after the first quarter. "The doors were opened but we didn't capitalize in the first half, and then it bled into the second half."
The game marked the head coaching debut of Best, whose NCAA Football Championship Subdivision team was hoping to repeat its success of a year ago when it beat FBS Washington State 45-42 and in 2013 when it knocked off Oregon State 49-46.
"This one is going to sting – they all sting when you lose," added Best. "We aren't used to this. You have to be humbled when you lose, so this is a lesson for our team. They'll learn and grow up from this."
Won-Lost Records . . .
* The game was the season-opener for both teams. Coached by Kliff Kingsbury, The Red Raiders were 5-7 last year and 3-6 in the Big 12 Conference to tie for sixth. The Eagles were ranked fifth in the preseason STATS NCAA Football Championship preseason top 25 rankings, and were one notch higher in the poll of coaches. EWU's finished 12-2 and a perfect 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference a year ago and ended the year ranked fourth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Eastern advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons, and 12th playoff berth overall.
What It Means . . .
.* The game was a starting point for the Eagles as they face a difficult non-conference schedule with 51 returning letterwinners. Twenty-one of 22 starters hit the field against Texas Tech with starting experience under their belts. Six full-time starters return on each side of the ball, plus all of the team's specialists from a year ago. An additional five starters on offense and four on defense had previously started for the Eagles. The lone starting debut came on defense when sophomore Jack Sendelbach started in place of Ketner Kupp (ankle) on defense.
What's Next . . .
* The Eagles open their 2017 home schedule at sold-out Roos Field at 1:05 p.m. Pacific time on Sept. 9 when North Dakota State visits in the opening weekend of the Big Sky Conference/Missouri Valley Football Conference Challenge Series. The showdown with the five-time NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Champions is the second game of a home-and-home series against the Bison. Eastern, which won the national title in 2010 prior to NDSU's incredible run of five-straight, lost 50-44 in overtime on Sept. 10, 2016, in Fargo. Eastern knocked off NDSU 38-31 in overtime in the only previous meeting with the Bison on Dec. 11, 2010, in the FCS Playoffs in Cheney.
Keys to Game . . .
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek was accurate, completing his first 14 passes and finishing 26-of-30 for 384 yards and three touchdowns in just under three quarters of action. His TD passes included strikes of 75 and 68 yards as the Red Raiders scored touchdowns on six-straight possessions on drives of 75, 68, 75, 75, 81 and 85 yards. Texas Tech added an interception return for a score and another touchdown on a 69-yard drive.
Top Performers . . .
Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud completed 22-of-34 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown.
Junior wide receivers Terence Grady and Nsimba Webster combined for 14 catches for 150 yards. Grady had eight for 93 yards and a TD in his first game in two years after redshirting last season. Webster had 57 yards on six grabs.
Junior safety Mitch Fettig led the Eagle defense with eight tackles, with Albert Havili and Jack Sendelbach each recording sacks.
Senior punter Jordan Dascalo averaged 46.8 yards on six punts with a long of 58.
Key Stats . . .
.* The Red Raiders nearly doubled Eastern in average yards per play – 8.3 to 4.2. Texas Tech converted 5-of-10 third downs while EWU was 6-of-15.
Turning Point . . .
* Eastern put its first points on the board in the second quarter with a 22-yard field goal, Eastern gave up a 75-yard pass play to give Texas Tech a 14-3 lead. Eastern gave the ball up on downs on its next possession, then a 68-yard TD strike gave the Red Raiders a 21-3 advantage.
Other Team Highlights . . .
* Six freshman redshirts made their Eastern debuts – Eric Barriere, Talolo Limu-Jones, Calin Criner, Keith Moore, Rudolph Mataia Jr., and Brett Thompson. Three true freshmen made their debuts in an Eastern uniform, including Anfernee Gurley, Johnny Edwards IV and Chris Ojoh. Three other true freshmen were on Eastern's travel squad this week and did not play -- quarterback Nick Moore, cornerback Ira Branch, and wide receiver Andrew Boston.
Milestones & Records . . .
* Kicker Roldan Alcobendas made his only extra point attempt in the game and is now two away from a school record. With a current streak of 64 extra points in a row, Alcobendas is two from equaling the record of 66 set by Jason Cromer from 1988-90. Alcobendas made his last 63 in a row last season to shatter the previous season record of 47.
Notables . . .
* The game was a match-up of the nation's two NCAA Division I passing champions in 2016. The Red Raiders averaged 463.0 yards per game to win the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision passing title by nearly 100 yards (Louisiana Tech averaged 363.4 and Washington State averaged 362.5). Texas Tech finished 5-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big 12 Conference, and was also first nationally in total offense (564.5) and fifth in scoring offense (43.7). Eastern averaged 401.0 passing yards per game to lead the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision for the second-straight season. The Eagles were also second in FCS in total offense (529.6) and third in scoring (42.4).
* The game marked the head coaching debut of Aaron Best, whose debut came versus the same team former head coach Beau Baldwin made his EWU head coaching debut against back on Aug. 30, 2008, in a 49-24 Red Raider victory. Interestingly, Best is a 1996 graduate of Curtis High School in Tacoma, Wash., and Baldwin graduated from the same school six years earlier. Best was making his debut as Baldwin's offensive line coach in that 2008 game, and has begun his 21st season at EWU as either a coach or player.
* Eastern now has a 10-25 record all-time versus Football Bowl Subdivision members, including three victories since 2012. Eastern beat Idaho 20-3 that season, upset No. 25 Oregon State 49-46 in 2013 and then knocked off Washington State 45-42 last Sept. 3.
Head Coach Aaron Best Comments . . .
On Positives: "There were some players who truly had some solid games. One was Sam McPherson – I thought he ran really hard. Terence Grady came up with a few huge catches. On defense we had guys who were playing hard – they were flying around. Players like Mitch Fettig played most if not all the game. A hot day doesn't provide a lot of breathers out there against a pass-happy team. Credit Texas Tech – their quarterback was very efficient and they got the ball out of his hands quick. We just didn't make enough plays."
On Moving Forward From Loss: "We'll look at this film and do what we can with it. This is a good, solid Texas Tech football team, and we'll follow them closely in the Big 12 this season. They have 40-plus new players, but they flew around on defense and they mixed it up well on offense. There were times we let them off the hook with penalties, and offense our first play of 2017 was a fumble. Those are things we will clean up and are eager to clean up."
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