LUBBOCK, Texas — Is Texas Tech really going to lose to Houston Baptist?
That was the question running through Red Raider fans’ minds after the Huskies pulled within a two-point conversion of tying Texas Tech with 3:23 remaining.
Fortunately for the red and black faithful, the answer was “no.” The Red Raiders forced an incompletion on the conversion and ran out the clock on their ensuing possession, barely holding on to a 35-33 win.
“It’s a win,” Matt Wells said after the game. “It was not like we wanted it to be, but there was good stuff and there was stuff we know we’ve got to get better at.”
Despite the victorious result, Texas Tech’s performance raised some red flags. The Red Raider defense struggled all night, allowing 567 passing yards to Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe. Zappe threw two 65-yard touchdowns and another 75-yarder as Texas Tech continually suffered embarrassing lapses in the secondary.
Keith Patterson rarely blitzed Zappe, instead sending more resources back into coverage.
It didn’t help.
Zappe zipped quick passes across the field all night, hitting open receivers in stride. Texas Tech often left the middle of the field open for slants, and Houston Baptist capitalized. When Zappe held the ball longer, Texas Tech was susceptible to big plays.
Beyond that, the Red Raider secondary committed backbreaking penalties, squandering major yardage and allowing key first downs.
“We’ve got to play with confidence,” Wells said. “I thought we got a little down. You get beat a couple times and in the secondary, you need to be kind of like a relief pitcher. You better have a short memory in case you give up a home run.”
After Zappe’s second 65-yard bomb of the day, Texas Tech scored twice to build a 35-20 lead. Houston Baptist did not roll over; Zappe hit Josh Stearns deep down the left sideline for a 75-yard score.
Texas Tech got the ball back and drove deep into HBU territory, but Matt Wells opted to go for it on fourth and inches instead of kicking a chip shot field goal. Alan Bowman was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, and the Huskies marched down the field for another touchdown.
From there, Texas Tech finally put the Huskies to bed. The two-point conversion fell incomplete and T.J. Vasher and SaRodorick Thompson iced the game with first downs.
While the game would later become rocky, Texas Tech looked fantastic out of the gates.
Matt Wells ran his first play with three players lined up in the backfield behind Alan Bowman. The formation was intended to honor Red Raider great Tommy McVay, who passed away in August. The play worked, as SaRodorick Thompson took a handoff 14 yards.
“That was an idea that I gave to coach Yost,” Wells said. “He and the offensive staff designed it. We wanted a chance to honor Tommy.”
It didn’t take much longer for the Red Raiders to convert that drive into points. Ninety-eight seconds into the game, Bowman found Erik Ezukanma in the end zone to give the Red Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Bowman was impeccable on that first drive, but his success ran out on the next one. After a Houston Baptist field goal, Huskies safety Isaiah Cash stepped in front of a Bowman pass for an interception.
The sophomore signal caller had an uneven game, leading several smooth touchdown drives but missing some open receivers. He killed two Texas Tech drives by overthrowing receivers who had gotten behind the defense.
In his first game in nearly 12 months, Bowman finished with 38 completions on 52 attempts for 430 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“It was really good,” Bowman said of his return to the field. “The uncertainty in the offseason and then with the injuries last year, just to be back out there doing what I love to do.”
Texas Tech’s running game complemented Bowman nicely in the first half. Thompson came through in short yardage and picked up good yardage on first downs.
The running back depth chart quickly thinned out in the offseason when Armand Shyne graduated and Ta’Zhawn Henry transferred, and Thompson figures to get a huge workload all season. He had 118 yards and two scores Saturday night.
Xavier White is listed as the backup running back, but he wasn’t active for Saturday’s game. Tahj Brooks spelled Thompson instead, and punched in a touchdown that gave the Red Raiders a 21-3 lead.
Texas Tech moved the ball with ease early, but Houston Baptist did too. The Huskies marched down the field for a field goal on their first drive, and after their second drive stalled out they got back into the red zone on their third.
There, Texas Tech caught a break. The Huskies ran a wide receiver reverse pass, which was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Zech McPhearson, leaving Houston Baptist empty-handed.
Zappe’s first 65-yard touchdown of the day cut Texas Tech’s lead to 21-10.
After a quick Texas Tech punt, Houston Baptist cruised back into the red zone with a chance to cut the Red Raider lead to four before halftime. On third down, Zappe scrambled from the 5-yard line but was forced out of bounds by Adrian Frye on the 1-yard line. The Huskies went for it on fourth down, and Krishon Merriweather stuffed a toss play to keep the score 21-10 heading into the half.
Merriweather was the best player on the underperforming defense, pacing Texas Tech with 12 tackles.
“Krishon Merriweather… I think he’s kind of an old school football player,” Wells said. “He’s a throwback. It’s just kind of like, ‘Give me my uniform. I’m gonna go out and play.'”
Texas Tech’s offense slowed down in the third quarter, but HBU’s didn’t. The Huskies rattled off 10 straight points to cut the lead to one, before Texas Tech answered with two touchdowns of its own.
With the game in the balance, David Yost turned to screen passes to get the offense going. Houston Baptist struggled tackling, and Red Raider wideouts gained ample yards after the catch on screens.
That offense was enough to close out the Huskies, but Texas Tech beat a team by two that lost 57-31 to North Texas the week before.
Matt Wells has a lot of work to do in the two weeks before Big 12 play begins.