For as many showdown Saturdays as he coached in the Southeastern Conference, Tommy Tuberville never encountered anything to equal this: Five weeks with five ranked opponents, the ultimate show-me stretch for a football team that’s unbeaten but unproven.
Texas Tech’s next five games are against No. 17 Oklahoma and No. 8 West Virginia at home, No. 15 TCU and No. 7 Kansas State on the road and No. 11 Texas at home. Combined, they’re 18-1.
“We’ve just got to come every day,” defensive end Jackson Richards said Monday. “We’ve got to treat our bodies right. If you’re hurt, get treatment type of thing. It’s going to be a grind. I don’t think we had anything like this last year. We played great teams, but it wasn’t five teams in a row like this, so we’ve got to support each other and keep working.”
One thing’s for sure: Between now and Nov. 3, the Red Raiders will have all the opportunities they need to become a college football feel-good story — or have their 4-0 start be long forgotten.
“I don’t think there are going to be many of them that we’re going to be a favorite in,” Tuberville said. “So we’ve got to keep it in perspective of where we’re at and where we’re trying to get to, and try to make ourselves better. ... We’ve got to improve and play above our heads at times to win some of these games.”
The gauntlet starts Saturday with a 2:30 p.m. game against Oklahoma, which is coming off an open date after a loss to Kansas State.
Tech quarterback Seth Doege said getting better each week is what’s important over the five-game stretch.
“It’s just to take one game at a time and make sure we grow as a football team each game and never take a step back,” Doege said. “We never need to play to a point where you feel like we took a step back as a team. I think that’s our biggest goal.
“We feel like we can win every game, but we don’t want to look on to the future. We feel like if we can just focus on one game at a time and take that step of getting better, that’ll help us in the next game and the game after that.”
In his four years as head coach at Mississippi and his 10 years at Auburn, Tuberville never played five weeks straight against ranked teams. Not even four in a row, as a matter of fact.
His 1998 Ole Miss team went 0-3 against ranked teams to end the regular season, before facing Tech in the Independence Bowl. His 1999, 2002 and 2005 Auburn squads went 0-3, 2-1 and 2-1 in three-game stretches against ranked opponents. His Auburn teams of 1999 and 2003 each played five ranked opponents in seven games, winning one in 1999 and two in 2003.
Last year, Tech played five of six and six of the last eight against top-25 competition.
The only team the Red Raiders knocked off in that stretch was Oklahoma.
To have any success this time around, Tuberville said, the Red Raiders need to concentrate on themselves and not worry about the other teams.
“The key to what we want to do is continue to work on our fundamentals on both sides,” Tuberville said. “We can’t just put in a game plan. We’re not good enough to do that.
“The other key is being able to play a lot of players. You can’t just go in and say we’re going to play our starters every snap, every game. You can’t do that, because you’ll get beat up and have to play your backups anyway.”
Tech’s offense and defense have helped each other. In a stark contrast from last year, the defense is highly ranked in every major category.
The offense has been able to score and establish more ball control. Thus, the defense is playing fewer than 54 snaps a game and no more than 61 snaps in any game so far.
Senior safety D.J. Johnson said he’s too preoccupied with winning Saturday game against Oklahoma to think in terms of five games.
“It’s definitely a big opportunity,” Johnson acknowledged, “but our mentality right now is to focus on beating OU. We want to remain the team that we are — not get big-headed, stay levelheaded, but continue to carry confidence, swagger and continue to play hard.”
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