As a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving weekend, Texas Tech versus Baylor ought to make for entertaining football for viewers with or without a rooting interest. One’s No. 1 in passing offense, the other No. 2 in total offense.
Make no mistake, though: Tech can’t settle for entertaining when winning needs to be essential right now.
For all the hope built with a 6-1 start — particularly the way Tech routed West Virginia, then regarded as a juggernaut in the making — the Red Raiders are giving back a lot of the goodwill over the last month.
A 59-21 loss Saturday at Oklahoma State was tough to stomach on all fronts. It marked the third time in the last five games Tech has given up 50 or more points, one being a triple-overtime affair. So the defense, while better than last year, has come up short of a level the Red Raiders thought back in mid-October they might reach.
There’s this disturbing trend, too: Saturday was the eighth time in the last 13 conference games for the Red Raiders to score no more than 24 points. So while Tech has the No. 1 passing offense in the nation, the Red Raiders are only seventh out of 10 for scoring offense in Big 12 games only, which is what really counts.
Saturday’s game got out of hand mostly from the unintended consequence of game planning to contain OSU’s Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher. Gearing up to stop Randle was a sound plan, what with Randle being a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and Tech struggling lately to stop the run.
The Red Raiders had safety Cody Davis aggressively supporting the run and short passes, dared OSU to beat them deep, and that’s what happened.
The Cowboys deserve a hat tip for that.
But letting them block two punts? That just makes a team look silly.
That’s the kind of thing that turns fans surly. Tech faithful have shown loyalty this season, breaking the home attendance record, at least gauged by ticket sales. At the same time, there hasn’t been much to get excited about the last four weeks with the Red Raiders losing three times and needing a yeoman effort to outlast one-win Kansas. They’re stumbling toward the finish line again, not gaining steam.
Some of that has to do with who’s not suiting up anymore.
Tech’s swoon coincided with the loss of three of the team’s top receivers, a potentially difference making defensive tackle and a tide of injuries in the secondary.
Only the irrational folks believe the Red Raiders should be doing just fine without a Jace Amaro, a Javon Bell, a Bradley Marquez, a Terrance Bullitt, a Cornelius Douglas. Not having the first three guys narrows the Neal Brown playbook. Not having Bullitt hurts leadership. Douglas might have made a difference when Texas and Oklahoma State kept beating the Red Raiders deep.
On a similar note, not a lot of people pegged Tech to be bowl eligible by Oct. 20 and have seven wins going into its regular-season finale.
The Red Raiders stand a chance to do better, going 8-4 if they beat Baylor on Saturday. It’s no gimme, not with the Bears having just proven their mettle with an upset of previously unbeaten Kansas State. Even with a worse record, Baylor’s a two-point favorite.
But the Red Raiders need to close the regular season on an upbeat note, for their own sake and everyone else’s.