Texas Tech and Cal Showcase Elite Running Backs in Independence Bowl

AP Photo/Ryan Sun

   Without the contributions of California running back Jaydn Ott and Texas Tech ball carrier Tahj Brooks, both the Golden Bears and the Red Raiders might have missed out on the bowl season. However, they are set to face each other in an Independence Bowl matchup on Saturday night, highlighting two of the nation's top rushers.

Brooks boasts 1,443 yards on the ground, ranking fourth nationally, while Ott, a sophomore, has accumulated 1,260 yards rushing, placing him 13th nationally.

“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 mindset. It’s win or go home," said Correia, reflecting on their approach in the crucial game against UCLA, which they won 33-7 at the Rose Bowl stadium. "We just wanted to dominate, and that’s what we ended up doing."

Texas Tech (6-6) faced the threat of postseason elimination after a 3-5 start. However, they turned things around by opening November with three consecutive victories before stumbling in their recent game against No. 3 Texas.


The Independence Bowl marks Cal's final appearance as a member of the Pac-12. The flight from the San Francisco Bay area to Shreveport was not even as long as the road trips the Bears can anticipate next season when they transition to the ACC.

Cal redshirt freshman tight end Jack Endries acknowledged that it will take even longer to travel to play ACC opponents like Florida State, but he expressed enthusiasm for the new experiences that lie ahead.

"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."

While Texas Tech remains in place, the Big 12 is set to expand with the addition of some defectors from the Pac-12.

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


Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire expressed satisfaction that his team secured a bowl berth for a third consecutive season. However, when he examined the schedule and observed that the Independence Bowl was among the seven games kicking off the postseason on Saturday, he anticipated there would be an issue.

This also coincides with 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 emerged victorious in that previous encounter with a 45-31 win in a shootout.

However, this upcoming game could present a different dynamic as both teams heavily rely on the running game. Additionally, Texas Tech faces the absence of two of its top three receivers, Jerand Bradley and Myles Price, who are sitting out after entering the NCAA transfer portal.