After easily beating their first two non-conference opponents, the Red Raiders dropped two in a row to the #2-ranked Texas Longhorns and the #17 Houston Cougars. The 10-point loss in Austin had many fans hopeful that the Red Raiders were headed for a spectacular season, especially with quarterback Taylor Potts' gutsy performance.
But a lackluster outing in Houston resulting in a one-point loss dashed those hopes and planted doubts in Potts' ability to run the offense effectively and had many questioning head coach Mike Leach's decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal rather than kicking a field goal.
In addition, star offensive lineman Brandon Carter was suspended following the loss for undisclosed reasons, although posting discontent on his Facebook and Twitter pages certainly didn't help matters. A scandal dubbed "Twittergate" by the media followed, resulting in head coach Mike Leach banning his players from using Twitter and stating, "Anybody who's a malcontent doesn't stay around here very long."
In the next game against New Mexico, Potts threw two interceptions and no touchdowns in the first half before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.
Back-up Steven Sheffield came in and surprised the Red Raider nation by his stellar performance, throwing for 238 yards and three touchdowns and leading Tech to a 48-28 victory. Sheffield was equally as impressive in his first start against Kansas State, throwing for 490 yards and seven touchdowns and seemingly locking up the starting spot.
The Red Raiders then headed to #15 Nebraska and while Sheffield and the offense weren't overly impressive, the defense was stifling and the main reason Texas Tech was able to pull off the 31-10 upset.
The following week, Texas Tech took on a Texas A&M team who had just been destroyed by Kansas State by 48 points. It was supposed to be an easy win, as the Red Raiders seemed to be rolling and were defending a 16 year home game winning streak against the Aggies.
But the Aggies had other plans, and with Sheffield out due to a foot injury, Potts and company struggled. Redshirt freshman Seth Doege replaced Potts after two interceptions but couldn't bring the Red Raiders back into contention, especially with a defense that played without enthusiasm or intensity. The Aggies thumped Texas Tech, 52-30 and created a full-blown quarterback controversy.
Doege started against Kansas but fumbled twice in the first half and was pulled in favor of Potts. The Red Raiders headed into the locker room tied at 14, but running back Baron Batch and the Red Raider D came out blazing in the second half.
In the fourth quarter, Batch scored three touchdowns and the defense completely shut down the Jayhawks' offense, leading to a 42-21 win. Now with Texas Tech sitting at 6-3 on the season and 3-2 in Big 12 play, many are anxious to see how the rest of the season will play out.
For starters, the quarterback situation is unresolved, as Steven Sheffield's status is still unknown and neither Potts nor Doege has been able to consistently distinguish themselves as the clear frontrunner for the starting position.
The defense has looked almost schizophrenic thus far and has everyone guessing whether they will come out and dominate or allow the opposing offense to score at will.
The young wide receiving corps has shown signs of greatness but has been inconsistent at times and dropped balls that should have been easy receptions.
Running back Baron Batch has probably been the most dependable player on the team and is averaging 85 yards per game. More importantly, he hasn't turned the ball over and has been able to avoid the mistakes that have plagued the rest of the team.
The rest of the season will hinge on two main factors- which defense shows up and if whoever is given the quarterback nod can be consistent.
If the defense plays the way they have shown they are capable of, the Red Raiders may be able to win their next three games and put themselves in contention for a respectable bowl game. If they look anemic and unexcited, Tech will lose to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and may even struggle in the Baylor game.
The success of the team will also depend on the quarterback play. Because the rest of the offenses' play has hinged so heavily upon the quarterback's performance, it is imperative that Coach Leach make the correct call on who will lead the Red Raiders for the remainder of the season.
Assuming Sheffield is cleared before the Oklahoma State game, he will probably be named the starter and get the chance to show if he can continue his unexpected success. Sheffield seems to be the most comfortable on the field and has an uncanny ability to motivate the entire offense.
If Sheffield is not cleared, Potts is the most likely candidate for the job, as he has more experience in the offense than Doege. Potts has the ability to make big plays but has to avoid trying to make too much happen, which has led to colossal mistakes.
At this point, Doege doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on what play calls to run and has been guilty of committing mental errors leading to turnovers. While he certainly has the physical tools to be successful in the Red Raider offense, it appears that he needs a bit more time to develop as a player before assuming the role of starting QB.
If Texas Tech can use the bye-week to recuperate and regroup, they should be able to play up to their potential and end the season on a high note. If not, the next three games could be a long, disappointing stretch for the Red Raider nation.