Red Raiders Save Best for Last

No. 5 Baylor defeated Texas Tech 48-46 Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The Red Raiders (4-8, 2-7 in Big 12) fell short despite outscoring the Bears (10-1, 7-1) 19-3 in the final quarter.

Perhaps the Texas Tech Red Raiders should treat every contest like a bowl game. The Red Raiders, 4-7 entering an anticipated bloodbath against No. 5 and highly motivated Baylor, treated the game as a bowl and went toe-to-toe with the Bears for four quarters, very nearly knocking out Baylor’s national title hopes in the final stanza. Alas, Patrick Mahomes was sacked on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game, and the Bears escaped with a squeaker of a win.

In the matter of motivation, the Bears certainly had a colossal advantage. Ranked No. 7 in the latest BCS rankings, which will be used to determine the four teams that will duke it out for the national championship, Baylor was desperate not merely to beat the downtrodden Red Raiders, but to roast them to a crisp in order to impress the BCS selection committee.

Tech, on the other hand, was playing for little more than pride. All preseason goals had long ago been blown to smithereens, and the team was seemingly playing out the string, looking merely to conclude a nightmarish season.

And what about the actual on-field matchup between the two squads? It certainly seemed that the apparently lopsided mismatch between Baylor’s unstoppable offense and a Tech defense that hadn’t stopped anybody since the Clinton administration precluded the Red Raiders’ even being competitive.

Compounding matters, partially because of injuries, Tech started three freshmen and a sophomore in the secondary against a Baylor passing attack that was No. 4 nationally in passing yardage and No. 9 in passing efficiency. Surely future first-rounder Bryce Petty and his fleet of fleet of receivers would incinerate Tech’s youthful greenhorns?

The fact that the Bears scored 48 points leaves no doubt that Baylor’s offense got its licks in, but when all was said and done, the Bears gained only 292 yards through the air, were outgained 712 to 547 in total offense, and most gratifying of all from Tech’s standpoint, were outscored in the fourth quarter 19-3. The Red Raiders entered this game as perhaps the worst fourth-quarter team in all of college football, yet darn near punctured Baylor’s soufflé by pounding the Bears in the final 15 minutes.

A loss, in the end, is still a loss, and there surely is a great deal of heartbreak in the Tech football camp and among the fan-base right now. The Red Raiders came so close to springing perhaps the biggest upset in school history…

And yet, the feeling after this defeat bears no comparison whatsoever to the desolation that supervened after Tech’s 82-27 humiliation at the hands of TCU. Following that loss, folks entertained serious doubts about whether the current coach was out of his depth. Following the season-ending loss to Baylor, there is now actually a ray or two of hope about the 2015 season.

The 64-dollar question is, of course, was the performance against Baylor a promise of things to come, or is it fool’s gold, a meretricious aberration that does nothing to alter the fundamental weakness of the program? After all, we witnessed a stunning season-ending performance against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl last season, yet that win thoroughly belied the immediate future.

The primary positive is surely the play of quarterback Pat Mahomes. He put on a show for the ages, setting a Big 12 freshman record by passing for 598 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception. This culminates a November trend in which he improved with each game. Mahomes looks like a true bill. He seems like a poised, even-keeled quarterback who has an innate feel for the game. And if he is really as good as he appears to be, then the Air Raid could be back in business next season.

Defensively, there is still much work to be done, but the pups in the secondary will only get better. As always, the key to Tech’s season will be significant improvement in run defense. The Red Raiders were certainly no world-beaters against Baylor in this area, but they were less porous than usual. It was a baby step in the right direction.

So, as with 2013, we go into the offseason with a spring in our step and with much anticipation for what is to come. But in point of fact, the football Gods only know if the optimism is justified, or if we’re all setting ourselves up for another round of gut-twisting frustration and disappointment.

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