In our final installment of our offseason look at classic Texas Tech football games, we revisit the 1999 Red Raider win over Oklahoma that birthed the “Air Raid” era of college football.
November 20, 1999, is one of the most monumental days in Texas Tech football history. That’s because what transpired at Jones Stadium that day ultimately proved to be the birth of the modern-day “Air Raid” era of college football.
But at the time, the prevailing storyline was the imminent retirement of the Red Raiders’ all-time winningest head coach Spike Dykes. Despite not having a losing season since 1992, Tech fans had grown frustrated with the program’s lack of significant progress after going from 1996-99 without winning more than seven games in a season.
So as Tech struggled through a 5-5 campaign leading into the season finale with the Sooners, the pressure had mounted on AD Gerald Myers to bring about change and virtually everyone knew that Dykes retirement was soon to become public. That formality hung in the air over Jones Stadium that day like a fog that enveloped every part of a game that the home team needed to win to qualify for bowl eligibility. (Though Tech would eventually decide not to accept a bowl invite given Dykes’ retirement).
But that task was daunting as the team that Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops brought to town was loaded with talent. With junior QB Josh Heupel (who would win the Heisman Trophy the next season), running back Quentin Griffin, and legendary safety Roy Williams all on the roster, OU came to town 6-3 and heavily favored.
Making matters even tougher was that Tech was forced to start redshirt freshman QB Kliff Kingsbury for the first time in his career with senior starter Rob Peters sidelined with a concussion. As we all now know, the New Braunfels product was a gamer and the first time we saw that on display was when he threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to a 38-28 upset.
Playing with the type of emotion that one might expect given the assumption that this was Dykes’ last game, the Red Raiders jumped out to a 10-0 lead. After defensive end Devin Lemons got a hand on OU’s first punt of the day, Kingsbury hit running back Sammy Morris for a 32-yard touchdown on his team’s second play from scrimmage and his first pass attempt of the afternoon.
But as the emotion tapered off, Tech found it tough to move the ball and the Sooners reeled off 21-straight points before Tech kicked a field goal on the final play of the first half to send the game to the lockerroom 21-13. That set the stage for one of the more iconic moments in program history.
In an intermission that brought the past, present, and future of the program together in one place, Red Raider legend EJ Holub rallied the team with a fiery speech, Dykes told his players that he was in fact retiring, and Kingsbury, as only he could, calmly told his coach, “Don’t worry. We got this.”
After Tech inched closer with a field goal in the middle of the third quarter, the game turned on a huge Red Raider defensive play. With OU facing a 3rd-and-10 at its own 30, Tech linebacker Kyle Shipley sacked Heupel, who fumbled the ball. Kevin Curtis scooped up the fumble and pushed his way to the one-yard-line.
Two plays later, Kingsbury would score on a QB sneak and after Tech converted the two-point conversion, the home team led 24-21. It would not trail again.
Later in the third, Kingsbury hit Morris again for a huge play. Escaping the OU rush, he rolled to his right and hit his running back who was wide open behind the defense for a 67-yard touchdown to give Tech a 31-21 lead. It was only fitting that the game that essentially ushered in the “Air Raid” era of the sport was all but put to bed on a dynamic passing play from the QB that would be the godfather of the modern-day spread offense revolution.
The teams would trade touchdowns in the second half and as the clock expired, the Red Raiders carried their head coach to mid-field on their shoulders providing fans with one last look at the man that meant so much to the program. Dykes ended his career with an 82-67-1 record and guided his teams to seven bowl games, the most in program history to that point.
Interestingly, the Sooners would win the national title the next year and would not lose another Big 12 game until October of 2001. And we did not know it at the time but Dykes’ successor was on the other sideline in the form of OU offensive coordinator Mike Leach.
When Leach was able to fully implement his offense the way that he desired in Lubbock, the game of college football changed forever. Now, the vast majority of the teams in the nation operate exclusively out of the spread, something that was considered radical in 1999.
Twenty years ago, it would have been laughable to suggest that the most seismic shift in the last half-century of the sport would have begun at Texas Tech. But on a windy day in Lubbock, we saw the Spike Dykes era fade into the West Texas horizon and give way to the “Air Raid” era and neither Texas Tech nor college football has been the same since.