Texas Tech players had set a goal this season, safety D.J. Johnson said Saturday, of going undefeated.
Of course, given the talent of the Big 12 Conference, a setback like the Red Raiders’ 41-20 loss to Oklahoma seemed likely at some point.
The question now: Will Tech be able to better handle the impending adversity than it did a season ago?
“Last year, we broke down,” Johnson said, “and some other teams may break down after a loss like this. For us, we will continue to get better.”
The Red Raiders were 5-2 and ranked following a win against Oklahoma last season, then finished with five straight losses, most of them in blowout fashion. As the losses piled up, Tech struggled to generate positive momentum from week to week.
Following Saturday’s loss, coaches and players said the leadership on the team is well-equipped to prevent such a slide this season.
“I’m not concerned of us having a fragile mentality,” defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said, “simply because of our leadership. We’ve got a lot of blue collar guys. We’ve got work ethic. We’ve got character and we’ve got leadership.”
Johnson said the defense, led by him and three other senior starters, isn’t losing confidence after surrendering 34 points to Oklahoma, more than it had in the four previous games combined. (New Mexico scored a touchdown on a kick return on Sept. 15, and Iowa State scored a defensive touchdown in the Big 12 opener.)
“We know what we can do, and we know what we’re capable of,” Johnson said. “We’ll keep leading and keep playing. I feel like next week our defense will be a lot more prepared.”
The Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12) have plenty to prepare for with West Virginia coming to town on Saturday. The Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0), led by quarterback Geno Smith, will enter the game as the No. 5 team in the country following a 48-45 win against Texas in Austin.
West Virginia has given up an average of 54 points through its first two Big 12 games, but an offense putting up video game type numbers has helped the Mountaineers go 2-0 in that stretch, anyway.
Any lingering disappointment from the loss to Oklahoma has to be quickly set aside, Kaufman said, given the lengthy preparation that will be required this week.
“I think right now, when I look at them in the locker room, it’s a matter of how I handle those guys and how they handle each other,” Kaufman said. “They understand, ‘Hey, we did as much to ourselves as the other team did.’ We’ve got to get that correct. Our guys, with the leadership we’ve got of D.J. Johnson, Eugene Neboh, Kerry Hyder and all those guys, they understand that. They’ll see that on film.”
Tech’s offense suffered through a season-worst performance against the Sooners. Quarterback Seth Doege tossed three interceptions, the offensive line struggled against Oklahoma’s blitz packages and early success in the running game wasn’t replicated much after a strong opening drive.
But offensive coordinator Neal Brown remains confident in his unit and believes it will bounce back. The Red Raiders don’t have a choice if they hope to avoid another slide. After West Virginia, Tech travels to TCU and Kansas State before hosting Texas, a stretch that will define the season.
“This is tough conference,” Brown said. “Got to button it up every week. There’s a lot of good teams. We’ve got a big run right here. We’ve got to bounce back and play better. There’s no question about it. Can’t dwell on this one.”
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