Jan. 3, 2010

SAN ANTONIO (AP)--Ruffin McNeill and Texas Tech closed out a difficult week with a game Mike Leach would've loved.

Finally, the Red Raiders could unwind a little.

With everyone still talking about their fired coach, the Red Raiders blocked out the distractions and rallied to beat Michigan State 41-31 in a shootout at the Alamo Bowl on Saturday night after a week that left Texas Tech in turmoil.

The Red Raiders (9-4) fired Leach on Wednesday amid allegations he mistreated Adam James. The wide receiver, son of ESPN analyst Craig James, got a hostile reception all night from the crowd, who booed the sophomore so loud that it drowned out the marching band at halftime.

But when it was over, there were only cheers. The crowd chanted "Ruffin!" in a thank-you to the interim coach who navigated the Red Raiders through a week the school is desperate to forget.

"This feels great," running back Eric Stephens said. "I love coach Leach. He's a great coach. But we got behind coach Ruffin and gave him a great victory."

Flanked by two security guards as Texas Tech celebrated, James declined comment.

"We faced adversity all year long," McNeill said. "I'm proud of our players, our coaches and Red Raider Nation."

The controversy surrounding Leach didn't even quiet long enough to let Saturday belong to the game.

Hours before kickoff, Texas Tech released an affidavit in which school athletic trainer Steve Pincock says he told James he was "sorry" for having placed the player inside an equipment shed near the practice field. Pincock told Tech officials he didn't agree with that "form of treatment for anyone."

Just another layer to a bowl game that cornered the market on turmoil.

No bowl teams in the country kicked off with more upheaval than Texas Tech and Michigan State (6-7). Leach's firing did Michigan State the favor of drawing attention from its own black eye: 14 players who didn't make the trip in the wake of a Nov. 22 dormitory brawl.

Michigan State took a 28-27 lead into the fourth quarter, and appeared to get a break when Tech quarterback Taylor Potts left the game with an injury after throwing for an Alamo Bowl-record 372 yards and two touchdowns.

But this was still a Leach-built team. And in his offense, quarterbacks thrive.

Trailing 31-27, backup Steven Sheffield marched Texas Tech downfield in eight plays, the last an 11-yard touchdown pass to Detron Lewis to put the Red Raiders ahead. Baron Batch tacked on a 25-yard touchdown run to put it away.

"To the world outside Tech football this week was chaotic," Stephens said. "But inside Tech football everyone knew coach Ruff had this team under control."

Texas Tech will savor this win--especially since the future may not be so rosy.

Leach vows he's not done with Texas Tech, and a nasty legal battle likely looms. The Red Raiders must also find a successor to the winningest--and perhaps most popular--head coach in Texas Tech history.

McNeill wants the job, and this win might help.

But Leach will be a hard act to follow.

It was just a year ago that Leach had the Red Raiders unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in late November. Even Texas Tech's toughest critics were finally acknowledging the Red Raiders as a legitimate contender, and no longer just a gimmicky pest that withered against the nation's elite.

A four-loss encore this season was a letdown, to be sure. But Leach still brought Texas Tech to a ninth bowl game under his watch, more than any of his predecessors.

A mostly full Alamodome crowd of more than 64,000 showed their appreciation.