Texas Tech couldn’t have asked for a better schedule to smooth the transition for a new coaching staff and a freshman quarterback. Of the Red Raiders’ first seven opponents, four currently have losing records and three are at .500.
Now, as rare as 7-0 starts have been for Tech, the Red Raiders are one step away from another. The Red Raiders, who clinched bowl eligibility last week, can clinch a winning season this week and then start dreaming really big.
First, though, No. 16 Tech (6-0, 3-0 in the Big 12 Conference) has to take care of business against West Virginia (3-3, 1-2) when the two square off at 11 a.m. CDT today at Milan Pusker Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
The chance of Tech starting 7-0 for only the fourth time comes as a surprise to most, except the ones in the locker room.
“We had high standards coming into the season,” Tech cornerback Bruce Jones said this week. “Everybody saw us being at this point that we are right now, so now it’s just (a matter of) keep proving ourselves right.”
Tech, picked seventh in the Big 12 this summer, upended TCU 20-10 in the third game of the season, then got to start October against the teams picked 10th, ninth and eighth. The Red Raiders, after routing Kansas 54-16 two weeks ago and holding off Iowa State 42-35 last week, are about a touchdown favorite against West Virginia.
The unbeaten season keeps getting trickier to maintain. This is the Mountaineers’ second year in the Big 12 and the first trip to Morgantown for nearly everyone associated with the Tech football program.
“I think our kids are excited about it more than anything,” said Kliff Kingsbury, the first Tech coach to start his debut season 6-0. “Most of them have never been to West Virginia in their lives. They say the stadium is unbelievable, the fans are unbelievable, so it will be a great atmosphere for all of us to experience.”
Texas and Iowa State are the only other Big 12 teams who still have to make their first trips to Morgantown — theirs come in November. Last year, a West Virginia team with an incredible offense and an incredibly bad defense failed to protect home turf against Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma.
This year, with a team stripped of those offensive weapons, the Mountaineers have been unpredictable from week to week, but they’ve won all three of their home games. They got the league’s attention by springing a 30-21 upset on conference favorite Oklahoma State three weeks ago.
Tech will be trying to spoil West Virginia’s homecoming, much like it spoiled Kansas’ homecoming earlier this month.
“It’s exciting,” Tech running back-receiver Sadale Foster said. “We hear a lot about how it is in West Virginia — a hostile environment. It’s fun playing away, against the crowds. Everybody’s against you. It makes you a little bit more motivated and it brings you a little bit closer to those guys in the double-T helmet, because that’s all we’ve got in the stadium.”
West Virginia is coming off an open date after a 73-42 loss two weeks ago at Baylor. The Mountaineers have struggled offensively the year after losing star quarterback Geno Smith and big-play receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
They’re playing three quarterbacks — Florida State transfer Clint Trickett and Texas high school graduates Paul Millard and Ford Childress — while building a running game around University of Houston transfer Charles Sims.
In doing so, they’ve had some rough games, such as a 16-7 loss at Oklahoma and a 37-0 loss against Maryland.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said the Mountaineers have done a decent job moving the ball, but not so well scoring points.
“We cannot get discouraged,” said Holgorsen, the former Tech assistant. “We need to work hard at it and keep our confidence high. Eventually, it will get better and easier.
“It is so hard for a new quarterback to throw to new receivers. It really is, and we have so much inexperience at each position that it does not look good at times. It will get better. It has, and it will continue to get better over the next six weeks.”
In the last two weeks, the Red Raiders have had some key players hurt — quarterback Baker Mayfield and kicker Kramer Fyfe at Kansas, defensive lineman Dartwan Bush and inside receiver Jakeem Grant against Iowa State. Safety J.J. Gaines also missed all but the first series of last week’s game and had his arm in a sling on the sideline.
Kingsbury hasn’t given much detailed information about those players, though Mayfield was suited up at practice at the beginning of the week. Mayfield started the first five games, but fellow freshman Davis Webb passed for 415 yards and three touchdowns last week in his first career start.
Last year, Tech played its most complete game of the season in bashing West Virginia 49-14 in Lubbock. That game had things in common with today’s: the home team was an underdog against a ranked, undefeated visiting team.
The Red Raiders took the Mountaineers down a peg, beginning their slide from a 5-0 start to a 7-6 finish.
Tech wants to avoid a similar fate, facing nearly all the Big 12’s toughest teams in the second half of the season.
“We’re just making sure everybody comes with the right mindset to practice every week,” Jones said. “The season’s getting shorter and shorter. Opportunities are getting smaller and smaller, so we’ve got to take advantage of every day — every practice, every game, every rep. Everything else will take care of itself.”
email@example.com • 766-8736
Follow Don on Twitter @AJ_DonWilliams