Tommy Tuberville knew it was going to be “one of those games.”
Fresh off a convincing win against then-No. 5 West Virginia, the Texas Tech coach believed, heading into Saturday’s game at TCU, that his team might not be running on all cylinders, given the emotion it had expended the previous week.
“You can’t expect to go out and play like we play, with the emotion and all those things after playing West Virginia,” Tuberville said Monday. “Some games you’ve just got to go out and find a way to win, no matter how you play.”
That’s exactly what Tech did. Despite yielding a season high in yardage, struggling to move the ball in stretches and surrendering a 10-point lead in the final minutes against TCU, the Red Raiders found a way to win by making just enough plays in the overtime periods.
The victory sets up another mammoth-sized game for No. 15 Tech (6-1, 3-1 in Big 12), which visits No. 4 Kansas State (7-0, 4-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday with first place in the conference on the line.
Tech, with its stated goal of winning a Big 12 title, is facing higher stakes with each game. As exhilarating as the win against TCU was, the challenge for teams with championship aspirations becomes generating the emotion and energy necessary to compete in a hostile environment week after week.
“You have to refresh your mind,” Tech safety Cody Davis said. “Focus on getting that win (against TCU) behind us and coming to work like it’s game one, where everybody is intense and ready to go, ready to hit something.”
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, of course, is well regarded for his ability to keep players’ focus confined not only to the next game, but the very next practice, film session or workout.
It’s a recipe he has used since taking over the program in 1989 and instituted again when he began his second stint as coach in 2009 after a brief retirement. So it may be of little surprise that Kansas State, picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, is thriving under Snyder’s ultimate one-day-at-a-time approach.
“Today is going to be the most important day,” he said Monday, a phrase he uses often. “Tomorrow will take on that role when it comes.”
Tech quarterback Seth Doege said the coaching staff designs practices in such a way that allows players “to get our legs back under us,” but he also said an onus is put squarely those players, especially later in the stages of the season, to get their minds and bodies right amid a daunting schedule.
“It’s put on players, put on how badly you want to win,” Doege said.
Tech safety D.J. Johnson said this current crop of Red Raiders has become more capable of channeling its emotions and preparing the way it needs to each week. It was an ability the team lacked a season ago, when the highs became too high and the lows ... well, you get the idea.
“Last year we had an idea of what we were capable of,” Johnson said, “(but) I don’t know if we really bought into it. For us to get a big victory last year (against Oklahoma), it was kind of like you rolled on that thing. You stayed up there a little bit and enjoyed it a little bit to let it linger a little bit too much.
“But this year we know after each game is over, we have another game to play. So until the end of the season comes, we know that we have another game ahead of us.”
Getting up emotionally for the game ahead of the Red Raiders this week won’t be the only task the team faces. Tuberville said on Monday that Tech will have little chance against the fundamentally sound Wildcats if it doesn’t execute better than it did against TCU.
“We’re not going to will ourselves to win this week,” said Tuberville, who is 6-2 in his career against top-five teams. “We’ve got to go play. We’ve got to be prepared. We’ve got to be focused and every snap can make a difference whether we win it or whether we lose it, or win by a big score or lose by big score. We’ve got to go play more of our football game.”
Tech’s game against Kansas State will be its fourth straight game against a ranked opponent and second against a top-five team in the last three weeks. But Johnson said it isn’t the opportunity to knock off another much-acclaimed squad that will have the Red Raiders ready to play on Saturday.
“Our ultimate goal is to win that Big 12 title,” he said. “So whether they’re ranked or not ranked or in the top five or not in the top 5, our goal is to get the ‘W.’”
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