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Tahj Brooks, Texas Tech aim to run over Cal at Independence Bowl

Texas Tech scored its biggest win of the final few weeks of the calendar year when star running back Tahj Brooks pledged this week to return in 2024.


Now the Red Raiders would like to land one last on-field victory when they oppose Cal on Saturday night in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La.


Brooks enters the bowl season as the fourth-leading rusher in the nation with 1,443 yards. His presence will improve the chances of Texas Tech (6-6) finishing the season with four victories in its last five games.


“From our conversations in recent weeks, it was clear that Tahj wants to leave a legacy here at Texas Tech and that a return for next season would help him do just that,” Red Raiders coach Joey McGuire said.


Brooks has topped 100 yards eight times this season and also had outings of 98 and 95 yards.


The Golden Bears (6-6), who are looking for their fourth consecutive win, allow 134.1 rushing yards per game. That ranks 39th nationally.


Cal owns a lot of momentum after routing host UCLA 33-7 in the regular-season finale.

Star running back Jaydn Ott ranks 13th nationally with a Pac-12-leading 1,260 rushing yards, but the Golden Bears’ recent rise has been primarily due to the swift development of redshirt freshman quarterback Fernando Mendoza.


Mendoza was third string entering the season before finally moving to the top of the depth chart. He started the past seven games, and he threw seven touchdown passes and three interceptions during Cal’s three-game winning streak.


Overall, he has 1,447 yards and 13 touchdown passes against seven interceptions.

“I’m really taking my development seriously here,” Mendoza said. “It has been a crazy journey. … I am really excited that everybody here has given me a chance and believed in me.”


The other two quarterbacks to start games for Cal this season — Sam Jackson V and Ben Finley — plan to enter the transfer portal. However, Finley will be available to back up Mendoza on Saturday.


On defense, the Golden Bears have recovered 15 fumbles (returning three for touchdowns in a win over Washington State) but also have been torched for 50 or more points on four occasions. However, Cal allowed just 22 total points in its past two games.


Texas Tech is shaking off bruises after being pummeled 57-7 by then-No. 7 Texas in its regular-season finale in Austin.


The Red Raiders were 3-5 entering November before beating TCU, then-No. 16 Kansas and UCF over a 17-day span.


Quarterback Behren Morton passed for 1,498 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but his targets for the bowl game have been reduced due to six receivers and two tight ends entering the transfer portal. Among the portal entrants are the Red Raiders’ top two in receptions — Myles Price (43 for 410 yards and five touchdowns) and Jerand Bradley (36-431-4).


McGuire said some of the players in the portal will still play for the Red Raiders on Saturday.

This will be the second meeting between the programs, following Texas Tech’s memorable 45-31 upset of No. 4 Cal in the 2004 Holiday Bowl. Aaron Rodgers was the Golden Bears’ starting quarterback and Marshawn Lynch was Cal’s second-string tailback. The Red Raiders are 16-23-1 in bowl games, and Cal is 12-11-1. –Field Level Media

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