Better Days Ahead (Hopefully)
After two years of not making a bowl game, people knew if Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells couldn’t do it his third year, he was probably gone.
Well, the Red Raiders got it — -but he wasn’t privileged enough to see it.
In a year with transfers, many seniors, and no Power 5 non-conference game, Tech had to reach bowl eligibility based on format in 2021. Taking care of business (except for two bad UT and TCU blowouts) and getting off to a 5–2 start helped make things easier — except that they then blew a double-digit lead to Kansas State and were faced with four ranked (or recently) opponents.
To make more motion, Wells was fired two days after that blown lead, putting offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie into the interim role. With a short week to prepare on the road, Tech got trampled by Oklahoma, 59–21.
The next week, however, there was a revived energy. After the hiring of Joey McGuire got the fan base riled up, Cumbie brought in some motivation. Using a pump jack to symbolize hard work as he was accustomed to seeing, being a West Texas native, the players bought in. Whenever someone made a big play against Iowa State, they got to celebrate on the sideline and turn the pump jack replica.
This, along with redshirt freshman quarterback Donovan Smith getting his first start after backup Henri Colombi got hurt against OU, got them fired them up as they got off to a 31–14 halftime lead that was once up to 21 points. But, of course, Tech’s opponent came back as the Cyclones tied up the game with a minute left. (And yes, Tech got too aggressive when going for it on fourth down a few times when a field goal would have had them up by two possessions. I think some coaches can be allergic to kicking field goals at times.)
Tech slowly made their way back to set up a 62-yard field goal for Jonathan Garibay. I was just expecting it to be short as his career long was 48 yards. He kicked it with great accuracy and — -it went through as Tech won a 41–38 thriller, becoming bowl-eligible for the first time in four years. From pure excitement of the kick and relief of finally making the bowl game, his teammates chased him down and the students even rushed the field (even though Iowa State just lost their national ranking), which is the first time since I was there in 2012 (technically a few did in 2013) that it had happened.
It was also the first time in six years for Tech to beat Iowa State, which felt nice along with beating the refs, getting the radio broadcasters suspended for a game for their criticism. Smith had a nice debut, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns. And last but not least, Garibay’s 62-yarder was the longest in school history.
The next week Oklahoma State rolled into town on a Saturday night, ranked №9 and shutout Tech, 23–0, making Smith look like a freshman. And then on Saturday, the Red Raiders stuck with №8 Baylor until the end after Garibay couldn’t make a game-winning 53-yard kick this time, losing 27–24, finishing with a 6–6 record.
Overall, Tech was 43rd in passing offense, another dip from the typical Air Raid attack. Some of it is based on scheme. Cumbie mixes it up with the run where they finished 76th, and some of it is who was behind center. Tyler Shough, the Oregon graduate transfer who had draft potential, broke his collarbone on his throwing arm in the fourth game of the season and never returned. Colombi is really just a backup quarterback. And Smith is just a redshirt freshman. We’ll see what his potential really is as he has nice size at 6'5" and 230 pounds, similar to Cam Newton along with good intangibles. And there’s Behren Morton, the four-star quarterback Cumbie brought, who could compete with Smith.
Defensively, the improvement was made in the run game where they finished 51st overall behind one of the best linebacker trios in the Big 12 but against the pass, they were a woeful 118th (out of 130). I wouldn’t bring back defensive coordinator Keith Patterson if I was McGuire as the unit wasn’t up to championship standards even though they were better than the previous regime.
While we’re still awaiting the announcement of McGuire’s full staff, Lincoln Riley stunningly left Oklahoma for USC yesterday. Of course, that will shake up some recruits and current players. It shows how loyalty is hard to come by, especially in college sports (cough, cough, Chris Beard). And maybe McGuire will be one of the few who will show that and get this program in the right direction. This fan base needs and deserves it.