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Shough's hot hand helps Texas Tech rout FIU

Don Williams
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Yes, there's more to the Texas Tech pass-catching corps than the man who was the FBS receiving leader after two games.

And, no, Tyler Shough doesn't have tunnel vision for Erik Ezukanma alone.

The Tech quarterback threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night, leading the Red Raiders to a 54-21 victory against Florida International in their non-conference finale at Jones AT&T Stadium.

FIU (1-2) tilted more coverage toward Ezukanma, Tech coach Matt Wells said, and Shough responded by spreading the ball among 11 receivers.

"Tyler got in a rhythm," Wells said. "We did a nice job of protecting him. He spread it out, and a lot of guys caught balls."

Shough didn't even target Ezukanma until the final minute of the first half, by which time Tech was well on its way to its first 3-0 start since 2017. The transfer from Oregon hit pass plays of 50-plus yards to Kaylon Geiger and Dalton Rigdon, threw two touchdown passes to Travis Koontz and one each to Trey Cleveland and Mason Tharp.

Texas Tech quarterback Tyler Shough (12) set up to pass during the Red Raiders' 54-21 home victory Saturday against Florida International. Shough threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns.

It was altogether different from the first two weeks when Ezukanma caught an FBS-best 13 passes for 322 yards — and no else more than four for 28 yards. 

"It was just part of the progression," Shough said. "Guys are getting open. The past couple of games, EZ was getting open and sometimes he was the first read, so I'm not going to pass him up and vice versa."

Tech celebrated its past at halftime, unveiling the names of star receiver Michael Crabtree and yesteryear great Elmer Tarbox on the stadium wall for the Tech football Ring of Honor. And in an outburst reminiscent of the Crabtree era, the Red Raiders scored six touchdowns and two field goals in a nine-series stretch wrapped around halftime.

On Shough's next-to-last series, he hit Tharp for 25 yards each on back-to-back plays — the second one good for the first career TD for the 6-foot-9 freshman.

Jonathan Garibay kicked the second of his two short field goals on the following series, making it 47-21.

Shough finished 26 of 35, setting his career high for passing yards and matching his career high of four TD passes he achieved last year for Oregon at Washington State. Backup quarterbacks Henry Colombi and Donovan Smith each got a series in the fourth quarter, Colombi capping his with a 19-yard touchdown run.

Geiger caught six passes for 121 yards, Koontz six for 53.

Senior safety Marquis Waters snapped Tech out of a sluggish start. FIU had a 7-0 lead and possession at the Tech 38-yard line after Adrian Frye flubbed an attempt to pick up a punt off the turf.

"He thought it hit one of our guys," Wells said, "and that's why he went aggressively at it."

On the next play, Waters undercut a route by tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, picked off Max Bortenschlager's pass and set sail 72 yards down the home sideline for a tying touchdown.

"Every game we need a spark," said Waters, who scored his first TD since high school.

Shough and company took it from there, unleashing a 28-point second quarter. The Red Raiders scored four touchdowns in a little more than 12 minutes to build a 35-14 halftime lead.

Shough threw a 4-yarder to Koontz on 3rd-and-goal, hit Rigdon for 59 yards down to the 1, setting up a go-ahead TD by SaRodorick Thompson, dropped in a 28-yard TD to Cleveland and flipped another scoring pass to Koontz, a 1-yarder at 5 seconds before halftime.

The pair of scoring passes to Koontz, both off play-action fakes, and the one later to Tharp made it a three-TD night for the tight ends.

"That kind of fires me up," Wells said. "We've been saying around here we want to feature those guys at tight end."

Texas Tech wide receiver Kaylon Geiger catches a 52-yard pass over a Florida International cornerback during the Red Raiders' 54-21 victory Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium.

Cleveland came down with his touchdown on a throw to the back of the end zone. And he did it with penalty flags flying on cornerback Henry Gray, who had an arm across Cleveland's chest and shoulders as the ball came in. The play stood upon review.

"Great catch. Phenomenal (concentration)," Wells said. "Tyler put it in a spot where it was him or nobody, and he went up and made it and it was a big-time catch."

FIU athletics director Pete Garcia, a friend of Tech AD Kirby Hocutt and deputy AD Tony Hernandez from when they all worked at Miami, helped Tech out of a scheduling jam two years ago by agreeing the game. 

FIU will receive a $1.4 million game guarantee, and the Panthers had designs early on making their trip to the South Plains count for more than that. They prolonged Tech's early season tendency toward slow starts, running 22 plays for 119 yards in the first quarter to the Red Raiders' seven for 36.

On FIU's second series, Bortenschlager hit passes for 34 and 30 yards, the latter converting 3rd-and-13, and D'vonte Price went 3 yards for a 7-0 lead.

The two teams traded punts, but disaster struck for Tech. The Panthers' Caleb Lynum jumped on the loose ball that Frye tried to field, putting the Panthers in business again.

Waters' pick-six on the next play touched off a 38-7 burst by the Red Raiders. 

Price, who entered as the FBS' ninth-leading rusher, finished with 51 yards on 15 carries, his long gain for 13. 

Notes: Tech outgained FIU 584 yards to 251. ... Thompson, playing for the first time since he underwent shoulder surgery in April, carried four times for 11 yards. ... Tech RB Tahj Brooks, who had back-to-back 100-yard games in Thompson's absence, finished with 47 yards on nine carries. ... Tech DBs Eric Monroe, Dadrion Taylor-Demerson and Frye all returned to action after they left the previous week's game against Stephen F. Austin with injuries. ... Frye, after his early mishap fielding a punt, had runbacks of 17 and 39 yards, but the latter was wiped out by a penalty. ... Tech LB Riko Jeffers missed a would-be interception near the far sideline on a third-down play, then dropped and did nine push-ups before running off the field as the punt-return team came on. "We do that in practice," Wells said. "We barely got him off the field in time for punt return. He needs to just jog off the field and do them on Sunday, I think." ... Bortenschlager wound up 12 of 27 for 190 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 69 yards to RB E.J. Wilson and 2 yards to WR Nate Jefferson.