After a convincing win at Arkansas and an extremely valiant effort against No. 3 TCU, partisans of Texas Tech football doubtless thought the ghosts of last year’s ghastly 4-8 Red Raiders had been put to rest. Gone were the days of minus-three turnover margins, double-digit penalties, ultra-porous run defense and bumbling play in general.
Alas, with an dismal performance in a 63-35 loss to Baylor it appears the specter of incompetent football once again stalks the High Plains.
Read the numbers and weep like a willow: Tech (3-2, 0-2 in the Big 12) lost the turnover battle 4-1; Tech committed 17 penalties for 142 yards; conjuring horrific flashbacks to Tatum Bell and Brad “Superman” Smith, the Red Raiders allowed Shock Linwood to rush for 220 yards on only 20 carries, averaging an absurd 11.1 yards per carry in the process; Red Raider receivers dropped two sure touchdowns and Tech averaged negative-two yards on three punt returns.
Suffice it to say the visual and statistical evidence proves conclusively the hopeless 2014 Red Raiders arose from the grave in this Halloween month, ditched the current Red Raiders in a cotton field on the outskirts of Olney, and carried out an act of imposture before the duped masses in “Jerry World.”
How else to explain it?
But all joking aside, the dreadful performance does raise the question of which Red Raiders are the real Red Raiders. We have seen strong indications in the UTEP, Arkansas and TCU games the current team is head-and-shoulders above what we suffered through in 2014. On the other hand, the most recent evidence, the capitulation to Baylor, suggests this team still bears the stigma of last year’s awful outfit.
If the team that handled Arkansas on the road is the one we’ll see going forward, there is not a team on the remaining schedule that it cannot beat, and that includes Oklahoma in Norman. If, on the other hand, the club that blundered about against Baylor is the true identity, then the only sure win will be Kansas, and Tech could again finish 4-8. And that possibility should be an ice-water bath for everybody involved with the Texas Tech football program.
Personally, I’m taking the optimistic road. As difficult as it was to stomach, the pummeling Tech absorbed from Baylor (4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12) was really quite predictable. The Bears were the final obstacle in a brutal three-game junket comprised of Arkansas and TCU as well as Baylor. And the reality is that, although the current team is improved over its previous iteration, it is not yet good enough to go through a bona fide gauntlet unscathed. The schedule was more than the team could handle.
Furthermore—and this will be denied by all within the program—the loss to TCU exacted a fearful toll on this team. There is no need to rehash that incredible game and all of the emotional energy that Tech poured into it. Sufficient to say that few football teams in Tech’s situation would have emerged from that heartbreak undiminished.
The Red Raiders entered that game honed to a keen edge, and although they did not play perfectly, the superlative effort alone was enough to carry Tech to the brink of a remarkable victory. That the Red Raiders failed to seal the deal only intensified the sting and exacerbated the emotional letdown.
Unfortunately, the Baylor Bears were the last team Tech could afford to confront with a wing down. For the Red Raiders to win, it would have taken an effort similar to what they displayed against TCU, and it just wasn’t in them. Therefore, Tech never really had a chance.
But the very singularity of this circumstance—the unique loss to TCU followed by a powerful Baylor challenge on the tail of a wicked three-game troika—suggests that Tech’s poor performance will also be an aberration. The Red Raiders may very well have gotten their one bad game out of their system. If so, and if Tech reverts to its true, pre-Baylor self, future losses could be scarce in the extreme.