It’s been a while since the Texas Tech football team opened a season 4-1. In fact, the last time it happened, Patrick Mahomes was a rookie in the NFL, Kliff Kingsbury was still the Red Raiders head coach, and Nic Shimonek was leading the Red Raiders as the first-string QB.
That year, 2017, Tech began the year with wins over Eastern Washington, Arizona State, and Houston before falling to Oklahoma State and then rebounding with a win over Kansas. That was good enough to warrant a No. 24 national ranking.
But that year’s strong start was derailed by the same school that Tech just beat on Saturday, West Virginia. In that season’s tilt, Tech jumped out to a 28-17 halftime lead and even held a 35-17 edge early in the third quarter only to see the Mountaineers rally in the second half to win 46-35.
In some ways, that game was similar to the latest Red Raider game in Morgantown as this year, Tech also jumped out to a double-digit lead by the intermission only to see WVU mount a furious rally. But fortunately, this year saw a different outcome as Tech was able to make the crucial plays down the stretch.
So let’s go inside Tech’s latest win and see just where the hidden moments were that helped turn the tide in the Red Raiders’ favor. And we will begin with the moment that the defense did something that has been rare this season.
Tech comes up with a 4th-down stop
This year, 4th down has been the Achilles heel of the Red Raider defense. But on Saturday, the defense actually came up with an important 4th-down stop in the first half to thwart a potential WVU scoring drive and that proved to be crucial in what would wind up a one-score game.
With Tech ahead 14-0, the Mountaineers had driven to the Tech 34 thanks to the work of backup QB Garrett Greene, whose legs had been a bit of a problem for the Red Raiders on the drive. So facing a 4th-and-2, it made sense for the Mountaineers to call a run-pass-option and get their speedy QB on the edge of the defense.
But on the play, Tech linebacker Riko Jeffers went unblocked as he knifed into the backfield and blew up the play. With Jeffers in his face, Greene was forced to try to shotput a pass to his tight end Mike O’Laughlin but the desperation pass fell incomplete. And as he returned to the sidelines, the TV cameras caught WVU head coach Neal Brown giving Greene a severe tongue lashing leading us to believe that the inexperienced QB had made some type of mistake.
This was a moment when Tech managed to save some points on the scoreboard. Had the Mountaineers been able to keep the drive alive, they would have been on the edge of field goal range, and had they been able to turn that possession into even three points, it could have had a significant impact on the way this game played out.
It’s been a rarity for Tech to come up with stops on 4th down this year. Prior to this play, the Red Raider defense had allowed opponents to convert on 13 of 17 4th-down attempts on the season.
It’s easy to understand why as most of those attempts have been of the shortest of yardages thus giving the offense the inherent advantage. But on this 4th-and-short, Tech came up with the important stop and that made a huge impact on this victory.