Red Raiders resume Liberty Bowl preparations in Memphis

·6 min read

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shortly after the Texas Tech football season ends Tuesday night at the Liberty Bowl, many of the staff members will immediately pivot to duties at their next jobs.

Sonny Cumbie will be head coach at Louisiana Tech, Jake Brown will serve him as a co-offensive coordinator, Keith Patterson will be head coach at Abilene Christian University and Derek Jones and Joel Filani have jobs lined up at Virginia Tech and Washington State, respectively.

They all got off the bus, however, when the Red Raiders pulled up to the Sheraton Memphis Downtown on Christmas afternoon to start on-sight bowl preparations.

Not that that was ever not the plan. Weeks ago, Texas Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt asked the members of Matt Wells' lame-duck staff to see out the season with the Red Raiders.

Only special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl, hired by TCU, did not. Hocutt said Tommerdahl would have stayed through the bowl, but Hocutt did not want to retain anyone, for future competition and recruiting considerations, who was about to be working for a Big 12 opponent.

Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech headshot
Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech headshot

"It's a challenge," said Cumbie, the Red Raiders' interim head coach since Wells' dismissal on Oct. 25. "It's a challenge for everybody to stay focused, but I think at the end of this thing that our coaches are very, very, very passionate about these players at Texas Tech and understand for the next three to four or five days, let's lock in and do the best that we can where we're headed, but also do right by these players, do right by these kids.

"That's what we told them six weeks ago when all this went down: We're going to give you every single thing we have every single day."

Tech (6-6) and Mississippi State (7-5) face each other for the first time since the 1970 regular season at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Tech is a 10 1/2-point underdog, the Red Raiders' task made more difficult by top receiver Erik Ezukanma's decision to declare for the NFL draft and skip the bowl game.

Texas Tech interim head coach Sonny Cumbie speaks with media Saturday, shortly after the Red Raiders arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, to begin on-site preparations for the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday against Mississippi State.
Texas Tech interim head coach Sonny Cumbie speaks with media Saturday, shortly after the Red Raiders arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, to begin on-site preparations for the Liberty Bowl on Tuesday against Mississippi State.

Cumbie said he had a good idea that development was coming and found out for sure about a week ago. Ezukanma announced it Thursday.

True freshman Jerand Bradley and sophomore Trey Cleveland will fill Ezukanma's spot.

"We've got some guys there that are hungry," Cumbie said, "and now you have an opportunity and we'll see how J.B. and Trey do."

Mississippi State will be without two top players: Offensive tackle Charles Cross, a potential first-round pick, declared for the draft last week. Cornerback Martin Emerson, a 28-game starter and an all-America honoree last year by Pro Football Focus, opted out, Bulldogs coach Mike Leach said Saturday.

The Red Raiders have practiced in unseasonably warm December weather in Lubbock, and perfect conditions greeted them as they arrived in Memphis. Saturday's high was 76 degrees, and the forecast calls for continued mid-70s temperatures through game day.

Liberty Bowl officials requested both teams arrive by Christmas day, but three days ahead of the game is a short week compared to most bowl trips.

During a normal week with a game on Saturday, teams typically have their heaviest practice Tuesday and Wednesday and taper to lighter workouts.

The Red Raiders had their two heavy practices this week at home, were given Christmas Eve off and planned a walkthrough Christmas night at the team hotel. They went through a 90-minute practice Sunday afternoon at Christian Brothers High School.

Colombi not at practice

Quarterback Henry Colombi was the only starter or top backup not at the Red Raiders' first on-site practice Sunday. A Tech spokesman declined comment on Colombi's status, deferring to the coaches' press conference on Monday.

Colombi started five games in October after original starter Tyler Shough suffered a broken collarbone in the Big 12 opener, but Colombi later yielded the job to redshirt freshman Donovan Smith, who is expected on Tuesday to start his fourth game in a row.

Shough continues to practice. However, Shough has been advised not to play again this season, a source told A-J Media, because should he reinjure the broken collarbone again soon, it likely would require surgery and further delay his return to action.

Carde, Price back

Tech offensive lineman Ethan Carde, the unit's top reserve at both guard and tackle before he suffered a lower-leg injury in early November, might return if needed, Cumbie said.

The injury initially was thought to be potentially season-ending, but it did not require surgery and Carde has resumed practicing in pads.

Slot receiver Myles Price, who missed the Nov. 27 regular-season finale at Baylor with a sprained ankle, also has returned to practice.

Run-game considerations

Aside from being Tech's leading receiver, Ezukanma also was effective in the Red Raiders' jet-sweep game, carrying 10 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Cumbie said he won't abandon using receivers in the run game, though none have done it as well as Ezukanma, who is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and frequently broke tackles.

"He was just so hard to tackle," Cumbie said, "and he had a great sense of setting his blocks up on those jet sweeps and on the read game. We'll continue to do it. You just try to find a different guy to put in his place who can do it from that side of the field."

Competition for carries

SaRodorick Thompson fumbled at the end of Tech's first offensive play in the regular-season finale at Baylor, then didn't carry again. Against Mississippi State, Cumbie said he expects each of the Red Raiders' top three rushers to get chances.

Tahj Brooks has run for 461 yards and six touchdowns, Thompson for 420 yards and nine touchdowns and Xavier White for 300 yards and three TDs.

"We've got all of our guys ready to roll," Cumbie said, "so those three guys will really handle the heavy workload with Tahj and SaRodorick, and then we'll use X just like we have this season.

"I think Tahj has really played well late in the season. SaRodorick had the fumble the first play against Baylor, but we moved past that and he's had some good practices, too. I think both those guys, with X's ability to make people miss and Tahj and SaRodorick's ability — they're not fun guys to tackle — so we want to let those guys go and see who has the hot hand."

College football

Who: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State

When: 5:45 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tennessee

Records: Texas Tech 6-6, Mississippi State 7-5

Tipico Sportsbook line: Mississippi State by 10 1/2. Over-under: 59 1/2 points.


Fast fact: Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is 150-102 in 20 seasons, including 8-8 in bowls. That includes an 84-43 record with a 5-4 bowl record at Texas Tech.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: College football: Red Raiders resume Liberty Bowl preparations in Memphis