LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — A penalty didn't nullify a long kickoff return for Texas Tech this time — or the blocked punt that led to another touchdown.
Drae McCray returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, Loic Fouonji blocked a punt for one of his two scores and the Texas Tech defense controlled the second half in a 49-28 victory over Houston on Saturday.
The Red Raiders (2-3, 1-1 Big 12) won the first Big 12 meeting of former Southwest Conference foes despite 335 yards passing and four first-half touchdowns from Houston's Donovan Smith, their former quarterback.
Behren Morton threw for two TDs in his first start after Tyler Shough sustained a long-term injury for the third consecutive season with a broken leg in Texas Tech's league-opening loss at West Virginia last week.
In the 20-13 loss to the Mountaineers, McCray had a 59-yard kickoff return nullified by a holding call just before halftime, costing the Red Raiders a chance to score. No such flags this time.
“We’re riding some momentum right now with our return team,” coach Joey McGuire said. “Those were huge plays in the game, especially in a first half that we weren’t playing great at different times on defense.”
Tahj Brooks and Cam'Ron Valdez rushed for 106 yards apiece, with Brooks scoring twice and Valdez getting a clinching 41-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
The teams combined for just 14 points after halftime — all by Texas Tech — after scoring 63 in the first half, which ended with the Red Raiders leading 35-28.
The Cougars (2-3, 0-2) have been shut out in the second half of their first two Big 12 games and are 0-2 in conference for just the second time in 20 years, a span that started with Conference USA before a switch to the American Athletic.
“Did we wear out? Probably. Did they turn things up? Probably,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They’ve been playing Power Five football for a long time here. And they have Power Five bodies, a lot of them.”
Smith's first TD toss gave the Cougars (2-3, 0-2) the first points on an opening possession against the Red Raiders this season before McCray tied it on the ensuing kickoff.
The Austin Peay transfer fielded the ball 2 yards deep in the end zone and almost stopped before the 15-yard line to avoid tacklers, then found an opening along the Houston sideline and got a final clearing block near midfield from Drew Hocutt, the son of Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.
Houston went 75 yards for touchdowns on each its first three possessions before finally stalling at its 33.
A little more than a minute after a 25-yard touchdown catch, Fouonji easily reached punter Laine Wilkins on a rush from the right side, kept running after the block and grabbed the ball chest-high on a bounce at the 5 for the easy score and Texas Tech's first lead at 28-21.
“They’ve good for four years and four games,” Holgorsen said of special teams in his time at UH. “They got coaches, too. It wasn’t schematically. They got after us. It was bad as we have been since we’ve been here.”
It took Texas Tech five games to get a victory over an FBS-level team after the Red Raiders finished McGuire's debut in 2022 with four consecutive wins.
“I told them last night that it’s time to start being the team we think we are,” McGuire said. “We did a good job today. We’ve just got to build off today and go from there.”
Houston: Smith's start was stunning in his first visit to Lubbock after playing 23 games over three seasons for the Red Raiders. He was 19 of 24 for 264 yards with all four his touchdowns before the break, but the Texas Tech defense adjusted. Smith was just 10 of 17 for 71 yards in the second half. Samuel Brown had 113 yards receiving and a touchdown.
Texas Tech: After Shough's latest injury, this could be the blueprint for Texas Tech victories. The 239 yards rushing were a season high, and they had 37 running plays against 22 pass attempts. The 59 plays were well below the average for an offense that ranks among the national leaders in plays per game.
CONTROLLING THE SERIES
Texas Tech has its longest winning streak in the series at six games and has won 11 of the past 12 meetings going back to the SWC days, which ended in 1995.
Houston: Off next weekend before hosting West Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 12.
Texas Tech: At Baylor next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll