Texas Tech, Cal showcase elite running backs in Independence Bowl

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Friday, December 15, 2023

SHREVEPORT, La. -- - If not for California running back Jaydn Ott and Texas Tech ball carrier Tahj Brooks, the Golden Bears and Red Raiders might have missed the bowl season.

Instead, they'll meet in an Independence Bowl matchup on Saturday night that will showcase two of the better rushers in the nation.

Brooks' 1,443 yards rank fourth in the nation. Ott, a sophomore, has piled up 1,260 yards on the ground - 13th-best nationally.

It could a nightmare for opposing defenders or an opportunity to measure up.

"I like games like this," Cal defensive lineman Ricky Correia said. "It gives both sides the ability to showcase what they have. This is great for a defensive lineman like me. I just want to go out and showcase what I can do."

Ott earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors, while Brooks enters the matchup as an All-Big 12 first teamer and Doak Walker Award semifinalist.

Ott "is very patient in the hole and he will make you miss," Texas Tech defensive back C.J. Baskerville said. "Our goal is to stop the run, make them one dimensional and make their freshman quarterback (Fernando Mendoza) have to make throws and beat us that way."

Neither team looked like it was going to be playing a postseason game as November arrived. The Bears (6-6) had to win their final three games - including the finale at UCLA - to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2019.

"We had the playoff mind-set. It's win or go home," said Correia, whose team topped the Bruins, 33-7, at the Rose Bowl stadium. "We just wanted to dominate and that's what we ended up doing."

Texas Tech (6-6) was on the brink of postseason elimination after a 3-5 start. They then opened November with three straight wins before dropping their most recent game against No. 3 Texas.


The Independence Bowl will be Cal's last as a member of the Pac-12. The flight from the San Francisco Bay area to Shreveport wasn't even as long as the road trips the Bears can expect to make next season, when they move into the ACC.

Cal redshirt freshman tight end Jack Endries said he knows it'll take even longer to go play ACC opponents like Florida State, but adds that he's up for new experiences.

"It's good timing for me. I played two seasons in the Pac-12 and will have two or three in the ACC," he said. "It will be really cool to get both dynamics."

Texas Tech isn't going anywhere, but the Big 12 will expand thanks to some Pac-12 defectors.

"Colorado, they're a fun team," Baskerville said. "To play against them and legendary (coach) Deion Sanders is going to be amazing."


Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire was happy his team earned a bowl for a third straight season. But when he looked at the schedule and saw the Independence Bowl was among the seven games to kick off the postseason Saturday, he knew there'd be an issue.

This also happens to be graduation weekend in Lubbock, Texas.

"I thought, 'I'm fixing to get a lot of moms upset with me,'" McGuire said. "But our president and every dean of my college and my guys that graduated did a ceremony on Monday.

"It was pretty incredible. If you ask the parents and the players, it was probably better than a regular graduation because it was an intimate setting. It worked out."


Texas Tech and Cal have played one another just once before and never during the regular season. Their only meeting came nearly two decades ago in the 2004 Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

The Red Raiders prevailed in that game in a 45-31 shootout.

This game could be a lot different with both teams relying heavily on the running game. Plus, two of Tech's top three receivers - Jerand Bradley and Myles Price - are sitting out after entering the NCAA transfer portal.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football