LUBBOCK – Rough one for the Red Raiders Saturday night losing to Kansas State 38-21 at The Jones before 56,200 fans.
Rough for several reasons as Tech started slow falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, showed some gumption regaining the lead at 21-17 midway through the third, then went pancake-flat allowing the Wildcats to close out the win by cranking out 21 unanswered points.
Tech faced adversity and failed when starting quarterback Behren Morton departed at halftime with an injury to his shoulder and freshman Jake Strong entered at QB.
Strong started fast leading a 10-play, 99-yard scoring drive on the second possession of the second half handing Tech a 21-17 lead with 7:31 remaining. On the drive Strong sent the Tech faithful into a frenzy running for 54 yards and later found Jerand Bradley for a 9-yard scoring toss (Bradley executing a perfect toe touch in the back of the end zone).
Then things turned way beyond sour for the Red Raiders and Strong. Following the TD, Strong ended Tech’s next three possessions with interceptions.
Meanwhile, Kansas State freshman quarterback Avery Johnson ripped up the Tech defense for five rushing touchdowns – two off tackle type runs where he wasn’t even touched – and that was all she wrote for Tech as the Wildcats ended with 272 rushing yards.
Run, Taj, Run?
Morton was shutdown at halftime (Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said it was “emotional” for Morton as he wanted to play) and the QB chores went to true freshman Strong making his college debut.
Instead of adapting a game plan toward making life easy on Strong, Tech continued to go pass-happy and it was a disaster.
Instead of at least trying to focus the offense around senior running back Taj Brooks it was all Strong passing as Brooks carried six times in the second half.
I’m all good with letting Strong try it for a series or two sticking with the same game plan set up for Morton. But good gosh, everybody in the stands saw Strong over throw for two interceptions, toss up a lolly-pop in the end zone for another pick, and was lucky a pass of his over the middle looking more like a punt than a pass was dropped instead of intercepted.
Why not feed Brooks and see what happens instead of making life easy on the Kansas State defense as you cross your fingers and hope for the best with a shell-shocked freshman QB back there.
Tech coach McGuire was asked three different ways in the post-game press conference why not give Brooks a chance to run it.
McGuire did say you won’t win throwing three interceptions and giving up 272 yards rushing, but refused to admit not going all-in on the run attack was the answer.
McGuire praised K-State for its run-blitz and said “a lot of times we were getting hit at the line of scrimmage when we did just hand the ball off. Those guys were having to fight for one or two yards. We were having to play behind the sticks. They were giving us some things in the passing game.”
I’m sorry. I disagree.
Tell your o-line we are about to go run heavy and go get nasty. I want the ball in the hands of my senior veteran Brooks, not my wide-eyed freshman QB who a year ago was throwing passes against a one-win Fort Worth South Hills.
While I 100 percent disagree with McGuire and offensive coordinator Zach Kittley’s second-half strategy against K-State, I am 100 percent impressed McGuire the man.
A little less than two hours before the kickoff of Saturday’s game McGuire circled nearly the entire outside of the playing field at Jones AT&T Stadium.
He shook hands. He took photos with those you asked. He pumped up the student section walking by each section and pointing his “guns up” at them.
An hour before kickoff he was back on the field shaking hands with recruits and their families, chatting up the refs, and watching his kickers and punters warm up.
The man is in serious motion before a game.
I have been told he knows the name of every student manager working for the Tech football program.
I know it has nothing to do with winning or losing a game, and it’s certainly not Nick Saben’s style, but what McGuire does is impressive to watch and makes him a man easy to root for.
Texas Tech had a pair of Amarillo-area players listed on its roster while a look down the Kansas State roster found none.
Tascosa High grad Joseph Plunk is a junior and listed as backup at the STAR position on the Red Raiders secondary. Plunk saw time on special teams against Kansas State covering kickoffs and punts.
Clarendon High grad JMaury Davis is a true freshman and listed at running back for Tech. He is expected to be a season-long redshirt and a look at the sidelines did not find him in uniform against K-State.
What will happen at QB?
Texas Tech has had its share of problems keeping a healthy quarterback on the field.
Veteran Tyler Shough started the year as the starting quarterback but was lost for the season with a fractured fibula during Tech’s fourth game of the season against West Virginia.
Morton is battling a shoulder injury that McGuire said kept him from throwing this past week until Friday. And then, as told above, took a few big hits in the first half against K-State and did not return for the second half.
And then we all saw Strong’s debut against K-State, a week in which McGuire said he received “a lot of reps.”
McGuire said at the closing of his press conference Saturday night he expects Morton to play next week when the Red Raiders head off to Brigham Young University.
A healthy Morton is Tech’s best answer at QB for now. But football is a brutal game and that’s not going to be the case until next year.
So as Tech enters game eight of the season, a position that looked strong and the beginning of the season, is now a major question mark.
And that position of QB is vital to the success of any D-I team.
Over? Not even close
Let’s face it, Texas Tech is reeling right now hovering at a middle of the road 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Big 12.
I say that because, fair or not, McGuire wrote plenty of checks over the summer telling the Tech faithful how dadgum good this year was going to be. His hype was on fast-forward when and wherever he spoke.
He talked of a Big 12 championship and more. Those checks haven’t been cashed.
In fact, the question is simple now. Will Tech get to those six wins and make a bowl game this year?
The schedule says maybe so:
- at BYU (4-2 overall, 1-2 in Big 12) a team coming off a blowout loss to TCU.
- TCU (4-3, 2-2) on a Thursday night at The Jones and not playing close to it did last year so a possible W.
- at Kansas (5-2, 2-2) a likely road loss as the Jayhawks proving they can play more than basketball.
- UCF (3-30, 0-3) is the nobody cares game but a Tech W.
- at Texas (5-1, 2-1) the final game for who knows how long between these two and Tech will need a major upset to win.
- But for McGuire, bowl game schmowl game. His expectations remain the same as they did back in the off-season. Win them all.
McGuire didn’t hesitate when asked if his expectations for his Red Raiders change if a third stringer, a freshman quarterback, has to lead the charge the rest of the way.
“I don’t change my expectations whatsoever,” McGuire said. “You know these guys are good football players. I just talked to the team and I’m not changing my expectations. I expect to win every game. We have to find a way to win every game. You know, tonight got away from us but we did get it to 21-17 and did a good job getting in the end zone right before half. You know, the reality is we are banged up. We are, there are a lot of guys who didn’t play tonight. There are lot of guys we think we are going to get back. They are trying hard to get back. I don’t want to ever put a kid in a position to injure himself worse. … but the whole deal is, the ball is going to be kicked off next week against BYU and they aren’t going to care who is in the game. The whole deal is we have to work our tails off to put ourselves and our players in the best position. Go back, when you turn the ball over you are going to play more snaps on defense. But Jake Strong didn’t play defense. He didn’t give up 272 yards rushing. Now, we are banged up there (on defense, too) but guys have to go out and play.”
Tech goes out and plays at BYU Saturday at 6 p.m. Then it’s a bye week before playing TCU in a rare Thursday night game (Nov. 2) at The Jones.