LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech was three minutes away from stealing its Big 12 opener against No. 8 Texas Saturday, but after three Longhorn touchdown drives and a successful onside kick, the Red Raiders found themselves on the losing side of the battle.
Still, there were positives to glean from the performance. For 57 minutes, Texas Tech was the better team. Alan Bowman threw five touchdown passes and seemed to be comfortable throwing to several different targets.
Texas Tech’s secondary, which was gashed against Houston Baptist, slowed down Texas’ passing attack until the collapse at the end.
However in the words of Matt Wells, “a loss is a loss is a loss.” When it was crunch time, the Red Raiders weren’t able to put the Longhorns away and froze up on both sides of the ball, allowing their rival to rip the game away from them.
“It’s not a moral victory. It absolutely is not. It’s a loss.”Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells
On Monday, Wells, center Dawson Deaton, cornerback Adrian Frye, and coordinators David Yost and Keith Patterson spoke to the media about Saturday’s wild affair and their upcoming game against Kansas State.
Here are some details from the press conference:
Some positives, but no moral victories
The Red Raiders were a fingernail away from winning a game in which they were 18-point underdogs. That’s a positive sign in a vacuum, but Wells also knows his team should be 2-0.
“It’s not a moral victory. It absolutely is not,” Wells said. “It’s a loss.”
While Wells isn’t treating the game like a win, he did acknowledge that the team played much better than it did against Houston Baptist, and can ideally build on the performance.
“Do we use that to help us springboard into game 2 in the Big 12?” Wells asked. “That will remain to be seen.”
Last year, Texas Tech came close to knocking off Big 12 runner-up Baylor early in Big 12 play, but lost momentum and finished 2-7 against conference foes. Wells hopes that the close game against Texas propels his team in the other direction.
Closing out games
Texas Tech’s defense, which had held Sam Ehlinger under 200 passing yards for most of the afternoon, offered no resistance on any of Texas’ last three drives.
According to Frye, Ehlinger carved the Red Raiders up at the end of the game because the defense was coasting off the success it had earlier.
“I feel like we as a defense got a little too comfortable,” Frye said. “We let our highs get a little too high and then guys started tweaking their assignments a little bit and not doing the same things that they were doing… We pretty much just beat ourselves.”
The late-game issues didn’t just exist on the defensive end.
Texas Tech made a critical special teams error when Zech McPhearson couldn’t bring in Texas’ onside kick late in the fourth quarter. The team’s offense also had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation, and another one to tie or win it in overtime, but neither drive produced points.
“It’s something we work on in practice at least once a week and a lot of times more than that,” offensive coordinator David Yost said about overtime offense. “It was disappointing. It wasn’t how we’d been playing a lot of the second half.”
Texas Tech lost four yards on the overtime drive, which culminated in an Alan Bowman interception.
Tyree Wilson emerges
One bright spot on TTU’s defense was Texas A&M transfer Tyree Wilson, who was responsible for one of Texas Tech’s two sacks and its only hurry.
Wilson possesses elite size at 6’6″, 280 pounds, and should work himself into a bigger role as he gets more time in Texas Tech’s system.
“I think he showed everyone what he’s got the capability of doing,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “It’s gonna be exciting to watch his development, but he is definitely a guy that we can impact the quarterback with.”
The NCAA ruled on September 16 that Wilson was be eligible to play this season. Saturday was his debut.
Getting the run game going
SaRodorick Thompson broke a 75-yard fourth quarter touchdown run that looked at the time like the nail in Texas’ coffin, but he had a quiet day otherwise.
Aside from that long scamper, Thompson had just 29 yards on 15 carries. His back-ups Xavier White and Chadarius Townsend did not do much either.
“One thing we’ve gotta do better, and we’ve already talked about it a bunch since Saturday, is running the football,” Deaton said. “And that’s something that starts with us up front on the o-line. We’ve got to get more movement, stay on our assignments, things like that.”
Getting the run game going will force defenses to commit more defenders to the box, which would open up the field for Bowman to go deep to his receivers.
Skylar Thompson and disciplined K-State offense
Next up for Texas Tech is the Kansas State Wildcats, fresh off of a shocking upset of No. 3 Oklahoma.
Kansas State is led by senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who has now engineered upsets of the Sooners two years in a row. Like Ehlinger, Thompson can beat you with his arms and his legs and has big wins under his belt.
“Skylar Thompson is a very durable quarterback,” Wells said. “He’s very athletic. He’s very battle-tested. He’s experienced. It seems very similar to Sam (Ehlinger) in that he has moxie and some of the intangibles, a toughness factor.”
Beyond Thompson, Chris Kleiman leads a disciplined bunch that isn’t afraid to play physically.
“Mentally, they eliminate as many mistakes as possible,” Frye said of the Wildcats. “Those guys are really the type of team that puts you to the test… You really have to be on your Ps and Qs against a team like K-State. “
Texas Tech and Kansas State kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.