The Texas Tech football program has experienced its fair share of devastating losses over the past 20 years or so. And the 48-17 Homecoming loss to West Virginia certainly ranks among them. In some ways, what’s more, it feels like the most significant of the bunch.
Losses that remain vividly inscribed upon my mind are the 55-14 defeat to Southern California in the 1995 Cotton Bowl, the 65-21 blowout by Oklahoma in 2008, the 66-6 debacle with Oklahoma State in 2011, and the 82-27 massacre at the hands of TCU in 2014. As awful as all of those losses were, however, they each had mitigating circumstances.
When the Red Raiders lost to USC in the Cotton Bowl, after backing into the bowl with an embarrassing loss to TCU, expectations were considerably lower than they are today. Texas Tech had losing seasons from 1979 through 1985, and most folks were happy that Spike Dykes had merely led the program to occasional winning seasons and bowl appearances. The manner of the loss to Southern Cal was certainly humiliating, but it was far from shocking.
The loss to Oklahoma in 2008 was most assuredly a surprise and a terrible disappointment, but it did not leave Red Raider faithful in despair. And that was because the loss occurred during one of Tech football’s Golden Ages. Mike Leach’s tenure was one of constant upward mobility. It began slowly in 2000—but without a losing record—and steadily gathered steam.
Getting annihilated in Norman when a potential national championship was in the offing certainly felt like an uppercut to the nether regions, but there was always next year. 2008 had been the greatest Texas Tech football season since 1976 and there was every reason to believe Leach would lead the program to even bigger and better things in the years to come.
Texas Tech’s beastly loss to Oklahoma State in 2011—while wearing the Wounded Warrior uniforms, no less—was disgraceful, and was actually a sign of things to come, but nobody could read the tarot cards at that time. The 2011 season concluded with a losing mark, but it was Tech’s first losing season since 1992. One could make the argument—and many certainly did—that the 66-6 loss was an anomaly in a single aberrant season. For this reason, as awful as that loss was, it didn’t smack of prophecy.
Even the monstrous 82-27 implosion in Fort Worth, disgusting though it was, didn’t really feel like a stake driven through the program’s heart. After all, it came in young Kliff Kingsbury’s second season as a head coach at any level, and in a season following two straight 8-5 finishes. Nobody but nobody contended that the loss proved Kingsbury was inadequate to coach in a Power 5 conference.
The homecoming loss to West Virginia is a different animal altogether. Unlike the losses to USC and Oklahoma where the Red Raiders were simply manhandled, against WVU Tech was indescribably sloppy, ill-prepared and listless.
The Red Raiders committed 10 penalties for 103 yards, and most of those penalties were either dumb—Justin Murphy earholing a Mountaineer well after the whistle had blown—or sprang from poor organization (a substitution infraction following a TV timeout).
Then too there were baffling special teams booboos such as what appeared to be a fake punt on fourth down and fifty acres.
Even Kliff Kingsbury’s legendary offensive creativity came a cropper. On not one single play did a Kingsbury play call fool West Virginia’s defense. Contrariwise, it seemed as if Tony Gibson’s charges were dialed into exactly what the Tech offense was doing on every single play.
A comedy of errors such as this one could perhaps be forgiven of a coach who was in his first couple of years as the boss, but when it’s his fourth season, as was the case with the loss to West Virginia, the excuse wears very thin. The botches and bungles we saw in the earliest days of Kingsbury’s tenure are the same we witnessed against the Mountaineers.
Where is the progress? Where is the hope?
Given how dreadful Tech looked against West Virginia it is not out of the question that the Red Raiders could go 3-9. And even a winning season now looks like a long shot.
If indeed Texas Tech has a losing season it will be the second in three years, and the last time that happened was 1992.
One could make a rational argument that regardless of what happens over the remainder of the season Kliff Kingsbury deserves a fifth season to set things right. And that opportunity may very well be granted. But here’s the deal—how many people out there truly believe Kingsbury will catch lightning in a bottle in season five when he didn’t do so in seasons one through four?
Ultimately, that’s what makes the loss to West Virginia worse than the other four noted above. Belief in the program has largely evaporated, and few now foresee a bright future for Texas Tech football.