Texas Tech detests the thought of going from a 7-0 start to a 7-5 finish. But that prospect is staring the Red Raiders in the face unless they spring an upset in one of their final two regular-season games.
Tech (7-3, 4-3 in the Big 12 Conference) is nearly a four-touchdown underdog for Saturday’s game in Arlington against No. 4 Baylor (8-0, 5-0), and the Red Raiders are almost certain to be an underdog in their regular-season finale at No. 23 Texas (7-2, 6-0), which leads the Big 12.
Tech’s situation grew a little more dire Saturday when the Red Raiders dropped their final home game 49-26 to Kansas State, their third loss in a row.
“We got outcoached. We got outplayed,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s up to us what we’re going to do for the last two weeks. I was disappointed for the seniors. I let them know I appreciate what they’ve done and it’s not the way we want to send them out in their last (home) game, but there’s a lot of football still left to play.”
Tech’s best chance to avoid a late-season collapse might have already passed. Coming off the 7-0 start and a competitive, 38-30 loss at Oklahoma, the Red Raiders needed to take advantage of back-to-back home games against Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
Tech failed to win either, though, and now much come up with come up with a big win on the road to forge a better end to the season.
“I don’t think it’s spiraling out of control,” senior wide receiver Eric Ward said. “We still have two regular-season games left. I mean, we knock off Baylor, have a big win, people tend to forget about what happened this week. You’re only as good as your last (game).
“We need to build on what we didn’t execute on (Saturday), but the sky’s the limit. The season’s not over yet. We’ve still got games to play. We’ve just got to learn from our mistakes and protect the ball.”
Kingsbury might have his biggest coaching yet, trying to rally the team.
“You’ve just got to have leaders step up,” he said. “Like I said, we have a lot to play for. We have a lot of good players in that locker room still. It’s not like we’ve just become a terrible team. We just haven’t played well, and we’ve got to get better.”
At the moment, the Red Raiders aren’t sure what they can depend on. The defense has been steamrolled during the three-game losing streak, dropping from No. 24 to No. 74 against the run. Offensively, Tech has 25 turnovers — more than all but six of the 123 teams in the FBS.
The Red Raiders have committed more turnovers than their opponent in six of seven Big 12 games. They were minus-3 against Kansas State and minus-6 during the three-game losing streak.
In the first half the last two weeks, Tech trailed Oklahoma State 28-3 and Kansas State 35-10. The defense got two quick stops after halftime Saturday and the Red Raiders narrowed the gap to 35-19, but lost momentum with a failed onside kick and an interception that Wildcats safety Ty Zimmerman returned for a touchdown.
“I think our defensive staff did a good job at halftime figuring out what we needed to do and got them off the field,” Kingsbury said. “But at that point, we’re in a big hole, and sometimes it’s too little, too late. As a team, we haven’t started fast the last three weeks and that’s on me as a coach. I’ve got to get them ready to play.”
Follow Don on Twitter