2017 Rewatch: Texas Tech Blows Big Lead In Loss To West Virginia

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 26: David Sills V #13 of the West Virginia Mountaineers walks on the field during Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl against the Utah Utes on December 26, 2017 at Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 26: David Sills V #13 of the West Virginia Mountaineers walks on the field during Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl against the Utah Utes on December 26, 2017 at Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

In a maddening 46-35 loss to West Virginia last year, Texas Tech blew a 17-point third-quarter lead to drop its second Big 12 game of the season.

After reading our review of the 2017 Texas Tech loss to Oklahoma State, one of our readers, Robert Powell (@RPTexas) said that the game against the Cowboys was one Tech “could have” won as opposed to being one Tech “should have” won.  Two weeks later, the Red Raiders found a way to lose a road game against West Virginia that they most certainly should have won.

Leading 35-17, Tech was outscored 29-0 over the final 24 minutes of the game losing 46-35 in a game that the Red Raiders led until the 9:14 mark of the 4th-quarter.

For the first three quarters of the game, the Texas Tech offense had its way with the vulnerable WVU defense.  QB Nic Shimonek finished the game with 323 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24-39 passing.

Running backs Justin Stockton and Tre King combined for 163 yards and a score on 23 carries as they kept the Mountaineer defense off balance.  But the offense disappeared in the 4th quarter and as West Virginia mounted a furious comeback behind QB Will Grier and his wide receivers Ka’Run White, David Sills and Marcus Simms (who combined for 275 yards and five TDs), that Tech couldn’t answer.

The loss dropped Texas Tech out of the top 25 of the polls after just a week (Tech entered the game at No. 24 following the win over Kansas) and seemed to set a negative tone for the next month of the season.  Tech would lose its next three games as many of the problems that cost the team against WVU constantly reappeared over that stretch.

Here’s a closer look at the anatomy of the collapse.

Tech Doesn’t Adjust To West Virginia’s Defensive Adjustments

As Texas Tech built its 17-point lead in the first two-and-a-half quarters, the Red Raider ground game fueled the offense.  West Virginia dropped its linebackers into coverage and Tech took advantage by hitting draw plays for numerous big gains from both Stockton and King.

But in the second half, WVU brought its linebackers closer to the line and played a more aggressive style of defense.  As a result, Tech ran for just 60 yards on  its final five drives with 44 coming on two big Stockton runs on one drive.

After rushing for 130 yards in building its 35-17 lead, Tech ran for just 17 yards four fourth-quarter drives and subsequently the offense stalled out.  But it wasn’t just in the running game that Tech didn’t match the increased WVU physicality.

On passing plays, WVU played more press coverage and brought more rushers to disrupt the timing of the Texas Tech offense.  As a result, Shimonek went just 3-9 with an interception in the fourth quarter.

The fault was wide spread.  Shimonek made poor reads and held on to the ball far too long, taking needless sacks.  But the receivers also failed to get open and the offensive line did not pick up the protection as the entire offense fell apart.

West Virginia Exploits Texas Tech Secondary

Another adjustment WVU made was to put the game on the arm of Will Grier.  After trying to run the ball against the Texas Tech defense for almost three quarters, WVU went to the ground only six times on the four ensuring drives that saw the Mountaineers score 21 unanswered points to take a 39-35 lead.

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And where Shimonek was awful down the stretch, Grier was the opposite.  With 140 yards and three touchdowns on 9-13 passing on the four drives that constituted the WVU comeback, Grier and his receivers made the Texas Tech defensive backfield look inept.

Often, the only resistance the Tech secondary offered (aside from an acrobatic interception by Desmon Smith) came in the form of pass interference penalties that were committed in desperate attempts to prevent an easy score or as a result of being woefully out of position.

Tech was flagged five times for pass interference on the afternoon including three such infractions  in a five-play span on a third-quarter drive that ended in a TD to bring WVU to within eleven points and give the Mountaineers life.  In all, the Tech secondary was flagged eight times including a taunting penalty, a defensive holding and a late hit out of bounds.

It was without question one of the worst performances a Texas Tech secondary has had as a whole in the past decade and given the horrific defenses we’ve seen in recent years , that’s saying a lot.

Three Missed Field Goals

Following this game, fans debated whether three missed field goals by Michael Barden were to blame for this inexcusable loss.  While the final margin was eleven points, it is easy to see why many feel those misses essentially cost Texas Tech this game.

After 43-yard miss early in the second quarter, Tech had an opportunity to end the first half on a high note with a 23-yard FG.  But Barden hit the upright and Tech’s lead stayed at 11 points.

But that miss game WVU life as the Mountaineers went from dejection to hope in the span of one kick.  In fact during the 4th quarter of the broadcast, ESNU color analyst John Congemi pointed to that miss as the genesis of the WVU comeback as it gave the home team and the home crowd reason to think the game was still in reach.

Later,  Barden missed again from 37 yards as Tech was holding on to an 11-point lead.  Had Tech connected on all three kicks, its final two drives could have taken on a much more controlled and balanced feel needing only a FG to win.

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But down eleven points, Tech went to a frantic passing attack that was thwarted by WVU’s blitz scheme as the Mountaineers had no regard for the run.  In this game, Tech’s best offensive stretch came when the running game set the table for Shimonek and his receivers.  But because of the nine points left off the board, Tech was swept up in the avalanche of momentum that developed the entire stadium and ultimately buried the Red Raiders.