Through this disappointing decade of Texas Tech football, there was always one game you could rely on the Red Raiders winning.
Unfortunately, that game no longer exists. For the first time in 18 years, Tech lost to the laughingstock of the Big 12, Kansas, 37–34, in the most shameful of endings, representative of the current state of the football program.
Tech is 1–4 in conference play and 3–5 overall, the last time being 2014, where they finished 4–8.
Since my last post, the Red Raiders have had some good to make you think they’re better but also some pretty stinkin’ bad to make you think they’re worse.
Going into Norman without starting quarterback Alan Bowman and coming off a loss to a not-very-good Arizona team was a recipe for disaster as Oklahoma and their Heisman candidate quarterback Jalen Hurts destroyed Tech, 55–16, with 644 total yards of offense.
Then coming home, the Red Raiders decided to show up and beat Oklahoma State, 45–35, with Jett Duffey getting the start he should have had in the previous game as Jackson Tyner flunked out the first two series. Duffey threw for 424 yards and four touchdowns with another on the ground. Tech’s defense forced five turnovers, including three interceptions off Spencer Sanders, as they beat them at home for the first time since 2008.
On the road against Baylor, we saw more of that improving Tech defense, intercepting Charlie Brewer three times. But they couldn’t hold on, letting the Bears go 94 yards in just 1:11 for a game-tying field goal before losing in double overtime, 33–30.
Homecoming against Iowa State was not impressive to those alums coming back, starting off in a 20–0 deficit, losing 34–24, and letting Brock Purdy throw for 378 yards and Breece Hall rush for 182 yards.
And last but certainly not least when it comes to losses, the Kansas Jayhawks. People knew KU had a chance, seeing them lose to Texas on a last-second field goal while also losing to West Virginia by just five points a few weeks earlier. They were looking for something to build their program on behind head coach Les Miles as he fired his offensive coordinator the previous week en route to a 48-point offensive showing against UT.
Tech had a 17–0 lead in the second quarter and it felt like one of those normal Jayhawk blowouts as I felt safe going off to a social event. But unfortunately, that’s not the way it went as that offense got going with quarterback Carter Stanley throwing long bombs, passing for 415 yards and three touchdowns, as they tied the game at 34 with 5:12 in the fourth quarter. Tech’s offense had too many third-and-outs in the final frame.
Lining up for a 40-yard field goal and having an extra point previously blocked, it happened again as Nick McCann got a hand on Liam Jones’ kick. Then, Douglas Coleman, who leads the nation in seven interceptions and got one on the first play of the game, caught the ball in midair and had a running lane that could easily have sent him to the end zone…..but instead, he hesitated, lateraling the ball back to….nobody. (Maybe he was seeing ghosts like New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.) A Kansas player recovered the ball and Jones made a 32-yard field goal to win the game as the students rushed the field, beating a team with a losing record. The Jayhawks had won a porous six of their last 92 Big 12 games.
At first when I looked at the live play-by-play on my phone, I thought he pulled a Leon Lett, touching the ball on the defensive side when he didn’t have to, but no.
It’s one of the more low lights I’ve ever seen at the end of a sports game. You have to see the player behind you if you’re going to lateral the ball, which was Xavier Benson, who went a different direction, as Coleman was being grabbed. Just unacceptable. It’s how bad teams win. Their opponent has to keep giving them opportunities like an adult playing with a child.
Sure, Kansas is finding an offensive rhythm, but this was a team who lost their team captain, senior safety Bryce Tornedon, and had a kicker who had made just six of his 10 field goals for the season. You have to beat bad teams. I know eventually they might win some, but if you want to improve as a program, you can’t lose like that in embarrassing fashion.
While losing to Rock Chalk in a football game (not basketball as these two schools are faring much better in) is bad, there is one thing Tech has done better at behind first-year coach Matt Wells.
That’s getting turnovers, a specialty of Wells and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. Tech has 14, which is tied for 22nd in the nation, 11 being interceptions, quite an improvement from any other previous defenses. Coleman, as noted, is getting those picks as a senior, which helped him get on the midseason All-American team, but that’s a bit misleading as he is apart of a pass defense that is bad again, ranking 122nd.
Senior linebacker Jordyn Brooks, the leader of the unit, also made that team as he’s tied for fifth in the nation in tackles with 51. Tech has slowed down some good running backs as they rank 82nd against the rush.
Sometimes, you see good sparks from this group with Adrian Frye and Zech McPhearson, but you have to play 60 minutes.
Offensively, it’s a little harder to gauge since they’ve been without their starting quarterback for five games. Duffey has shown growth in his second year of getting considerable playing time. He’s thrown for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions compared to six last year, which came in less action. His completion percentage has gone up from 67.8 to 68.4. He’s running less and becoming a better passer.
But he’s just not as good as Bowman or the typical Tech quarterback. His throwing ability is a step down. Luckily, he’s been good enough to kept his team in some games as they very well could be 3–2, with one of those losses coming against a Baylor team that’s 7–0, but he’s 1–4 instead.
As a whole, Tech is averaging 30.8 points a game, putting them at 56th in the nation, which is down from most years for the above reasons. The three-headed monster running back crew is getting better as they’re 56th, high for a program known for throwing the ball.
Hopefully, Bowman returns, which could be as early as next Saturday against West Virginia, given that he was supposed to be out 6–8 weeks. The problem is he’s injury-prone, giving more importance for depth at the position. True freshman Maverick McIvor comes off the injured-reserve list on Nov. 3, so maybe he’ll get playing time and be something in the future.
Former head coach Kliff Kingsbury always had several good quarterbacks to challenge each other in his first four years. In 2013, behind Michael Brewer were Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, the latter two getting almost all of the playing time due to the former being injured. In 2014, behind Webb was Patrick Mahomes, the roles switching later that year until the end of 2015. In 2016, Mahomes had Nic Shimonek, who while he wasn’t as good as the others, was still pretty good. All but one were good enough to have at least some time in the NFL. But from 2017 on, Kingsbury couldn’t get depth, indirectly costing him his job.
What’s so frustrating is that for the third year in a row, the defense has progressed while the offense has regressed mainly due to injury, which doesn’t make them any better. It’s like a kid trying to show his parents some magic thing, but that certain thing doesn’t play out when they look for it, making the kid look bad when he knows it’s there.
While Tech fans want to throw Wells to the wolves, you have to give him time. It’s just one year of his staff trying to lay a foundation. So many of the players are Kingsbury’s guys. I’m just hoping he can start winning and get this fan base back. It’s very weary.
When I started school there in 2011, my expectation was that we would have a winning record annually, making bowl games as they had since 2000, but when they fell flat and went 5–7 that season, I couldn’t believe it. Now, it’s an every other year thing as it could be for a fifth time this decade and back-to-back if Tech doesn’t win at least three of their last four games. At least basketball is coming up.