After suffering three consecutive losses following a 7-0 start, the Texas Tech Red Raiders are spiraling towards their third end-of-season collapse in as many years. This weekend they meet the red-hot No. 5 Baylor Bears in Arlington, Texas as 26-point underdogs.
Let’s deviate from the typical opponent preview and focus in on the question we’re all asking: how can Tech beat Baylor?
On the surface, Kingsbury and Co. face an insurmountable task; no one has outscored football’s best offense. Top 10 in the country in both passing and rushing, Baylor uses a balanced spread attack better than anyone in college football, and their numbers speak to it. In Big 12 play alone, the Bears average 647 yards of total offense per game, including 288 on the ground and 358 through the air.
It’s a long shot, but Texas Tech makes a living pulling off major upsets year after year. In 2011, the Red Raiders overcame a four-touchdown spread to beat No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman, 41-38. Last season, Tech took down No. 5 West Virginia, at the height of their offensive prowess, 49-14 in Lubbock.
It’s asking a lot from a banged up Red Raider squad that’s had its teeth kicked in for three weeks on defense and can’t sustain success on offense, but it can be done. Here’s how it works.
Tech’s wins over Oklahoma in 2011 and West Virginia in 2012 were direct results of fast offensive starts. The Red Raiders scored 24 and 35 points, respectively, in the first half of each contest. In the same vein, Oklahoma had a fantastic shot to beat Baylor last Thursday by scoring lots of points early. The Sooners had four consecutive drives spanning the first and second quarters, all either ending in punts or a turnover on downs inside the Baylor two-yard-line.
Scoring lots of first-half points hasn’t been Tech’s strong-suit this year, and the Red Raiders average a mere 15 points in the first two quarters against Big 12 teams. That needs to change on Saturday if they want to leave Arlington with a W.
Stop the Run
The formula for beating Tech isn’t a secret now, but it started showing up earlier than you may think. In their 20-10 win over TCU way back in September, Tech’s defense allowed 207 rushing yards, including 101 from quarterback Trevone Boykin on just 20 carries (5.1 yard average). West Virginia ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns, with backs Dreamius Smith and Charles Sims both averaging over five yards per carry. Tech’s recent three-game slide is due in large part to giving up 849 yards on the ground.
The only team so far to give Baylor a run for their money is Kansas State, who held a lead over the Bears late and had another opportunity to win the game on their final drive. The reason they kept it close? The Snydercats only allowed 114 rushing yards. It’s a small sample size, but there seems to be a correlation between rushing yards and points scored by the Bears offense; in their two lowest scoring outputs of the season – 35 vs. Kansas State and 41 vs. Oklahoma – Baylor averaged 184.5 yards rushing, over a hundred yards less than their conference average.
Whatever it takes, Tech has to stop the run.
Don’t Turn the Ball Over
Easier said than done for the Red Raiders, who rank 116th nationally in turnover margin (-10), which is dead last in the Big 12. In Tech’s three losses they averaged three turnovers per contest, compared to less than two per game in seven wins. The teams that scored the most points against Baylor’s defense – West Virginia and Kansas State – only gave the ball away once.
In past upsets over West Virginia and Oklahoma, Tech had just one turnover between the two. This year, they’re 2-3 in conference play when turning the ball over more than once, with two close wins over TCU (4-6) and Iowa State (1-8). Protecting the ball isn’t an option for the Red Raiders this Saturday, it’s a must. Give the ball away two or three times, and the game’s over.
If all these variables come together in a package of brilliance, dusted with some blind luck and a few Baylor miscues, Red Raider fans could see one of Tech’s best upsets.