After being pubically tarred and feathered last week in Austin, there were two ways the Texas Tech football team could have responded. Facing a stiff road test on Saturday, the Red Raiders could have thrown in the towel on the season, especially given that they were without seven starters as they took on West Virginia in Morgantown. But fortunately, they did the opposite and secured a potentially season-changing and program-changing win, 23-20.
It isn’t that beating the Mountaineers is cause for a parade down Broadway. After all, Neal Brown’s team is now just 2-3 on the season.
But what the win did was help cleanse the pallet of every Red Raider who still had a bitter taste in his or her mouth after last week’s 70-35 disaster in Austin. That’s likely going to mean that Tech will continue to have decent support from its understandably fickle and frustrated fan base for the remainder of the season and that’s going to be important for athletic director Kirby Hocutt to see as he evaluates the state of Texas Tech football.
However, more important is the fact that the win puts Tech just two wins shy of reaching bowl eligibility, something that head coach Matt Wells must accomplish in order to save his job. And given that the Red Raiders still have a game against lowly Kansas on the schedule, it’s more like Tech needs only one more win to secure a 13th game on the season.
Given all that was going against Tech as a program prior to this contest and where the pulse of the fan base was after the Texas game, it isn’t a stretch to suggest that this was the biggest win of Wells’ career. One that may have taken his Texas Tech tenure off of life support. and put it back to breathing on its own.
Had Wells’ team come up short on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere for next week’s homecoming tilt versus TCU would have been nearly catatonic and Tech would have been staring at the prospect of a 3-game losing streak. And with games still remaining against the likes of Oklahoma, Iowa State, OK State, and Baylor, it would have been tough for Tech to find the three more wins needed to get to six.
But when WVU quarterback Jarrett Doege threw the last pass of the game helplessly out of bounds, the entire tenor of the Red Raiders’ season changed. And it put an end to a game that saw more swings of emotion than a telenovela.
Finally playing a strong first quarter, the Red Raiders got out to a 14-0 lead after the first 15 minutes of the game. And Wells’ team would lead 17-0 at the intermission as all seemed right in Raiderland.
But facing a Texas Tech secondary that was vulnerable because it was without three starters to begin the day, West Virginia would essentially abandon the run and go exclusively to the air in the second half. And by the time that the third quarter ended, Tech’s once-comfortable lead had evaporated into the mountain air as the teams were knotted at 17-17 to begin the final period of play.
Fortunately, after the squads would trade field goals, Tech would manage to put together one final drive to win the game. Engineered by the gritty Henry Colombi, Tech moved the football 70 yards in eight plays to get into field goal range.
The biggest play of the drive was a 42-yard strike from Colombi to wide receiver Kaylon Geiger who took the ball down to the WVU 38 with 3:36 to play. Then, Tech would use the legs of running back SaRodorick Thompson to both bleed the clock and move the ball all the way down to the Mountaineer nine before backing up a bit as they angled for the game-winning field goal.
How many times over the past few years have the Red Raiders been in similar circumstances late in close games only to see the offense sputter and fail to come up with enough plays to win the game? More than we would like to remember, that’s for sure.
But finally, Tech seems to have figured out how to come through in close games. In fact, of the Red Raiders’ last seven wins dating back to last year, four have come by one score.
None seemed more improbable though than Saturday’s squeaker against West Virginia, though. Playing without a third of the team’s regular starters and having to rely on their backup QB, the Red Raiders seemed to be ripe for the picking, especially after the egg they laid in Austin.
But credit must go to Wells and his beleaguered coaching staff as they found a way to not only get their team ready to play but they came up with a formula for a victory. And when this season is all said and done, this win could be one we look back on as a true turning point in both the immediate and long-term contexts of Texas Tech football.