On Tuesday, Seth Doege couldn’t wait for it to be Saturday around the Texas Tech football building. For the Red Raiders, the chance to end a five-game losing streak and distance themselves from last year’s dreadful season can’t come soon enough.
“Shoot, ever since we ended last season, I’ve been waiting for this game and waiting for this week,” the senior quarterback said. “It’s been a long path to it, and I’ve worked really hard. I’m excited that it’s finally here.”
Tech opens the season at 6 p.m. Saturday, hosting Northwestern State, a Football Championship Subdivision program coming off a 5-6 season.
Instead of 5-7, the Red Raiders’ could easily have been 3-9 last season. They needed a last-minute touchdown to clip Nevada and a comeback from a 20-0 deficit to beat Kansas, not to mention losing their last five games by an average of 51-20. Twice in the last three weeks, Tech allowed a school-record 66 points — against Oklahoma State and then Baylor.
“We’ve put in so much time and hard work since that game ended that it’s exciting to finally get a chance to prove we’re not that team anymore,” Doege said.
Each of his first two years, Tech coach Tommy Tuberville used “championships” as a buzzword, saying the program needed to be indoctrinated with that mindset constantly. In his Tuesday news conference, however, Tuberville dropped the term just once, then admitted, “I don’t know how close we are.”
“We’ve got a chance to make some waves,” Tuberville said. “How big of waves, only time will tell in the next few weeks, in the coming months, how far we’ve come. But I think anybody that’s seen us practice can tell there’s no doubt we’ve got more weapons. We’ve got more depth.
“I think our attitude has changed on defense in terms of what we want to do and how we want to do it.”
Among the new weapons Tuberville referenced, wide receiver Javon Bell made the biggest splash in preseason workouts. The Red Raiders would love it if Bell brings the same pizzazz this year that he showed the last two years catching 27 touchdown passes at a Mississippi junior college.
Two receivers who stirred high anticipation among fans — speedy redshirt freshmen Jakeem Grant and Javares McRoy — didn’t crack the two-deep, though both figure to be involved in certain packages.
That’s an indication how many options from whom Doege can choose.
“We have a lot of dangerous, dangerous guys in the skill-wideout area,” Doege said. “But at the same time, we need to prove it on Saturday that they can live up to all the hype that’s been talked about them.”
Senior running back Eric Stephens recuperated well enough from major knee surgery in November to reclaim a No. 1 slot on the week one depth chart. Tuberville said Stephens still has to get into game shape, giving sophomore Kenny Williams or JC transfer SaDale Foster a shot to be more prominent early.
Only four of the defensive players who started last year’s season opener remain first-teamers. Five of the new starters are in the front seven, including four — ends Branden Jackson and Jackson Richards, tackle Delvon Simmons and middle linebacker Will Smith — who were heralded newcomers in recent years.
With them in the lineup and the players responding favorably to new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, there’s hope at least.
“This group, I think, could be special,” Tuberville said. “We’ve got some game changers on offense — more than just one or two. I think we’ve got some big-play guys on defense.”
Tuberville says the defense won’t be a shut-down unit — not after ranking bottom 10 in every meaningful category last season. But if the defense can give as many shots as it takes, that’s a starting point. Takeaways and big plays were nearly non-existent last season.
“The thing we’ve added on defense is speed that I think we can (use to) create turnovers and make big plays,” Tuberville said. “We can create third-and-10s, third-and-15s and get the other team off the field, which we weren’t able to do last year.”
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