Texas Tech football: Matt Wells has chance to begin winning over home fans

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT /

This week, Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells has his first opportunity to win over fans in Lubbock by finally bringing the program a meaningful home win.

There was once a time when Jones Stadium was the most dreaded stadium in the Big 12 for visiting teams.  But after a decade of futility, the Texas Tech football team has allowed most of the Jones’ mystique to blow away in the West Texas wind.

This weekend provides Matt Wells his first opportunity to begin restoring the Red Raiders’ lost home-field advantage by beating No. 21 Oklahoma State.  If he does, it will be the first time since 2013 that a ranked team has left Lubbock in defeat.

When Kliff Kingsbury coached his first-ever Big 12 game six years ago, his unranked Red Raiders slugged out a 20-10 win over No. 24 TCU.  That Thursday night at the Jones saw starter Baker Mayfield leave the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury opening the door for Davis Webb to play hero.

His 19-yard TD pass to Bradley Marquez with just under four minutes to play broke a 10-10 tie.  Meanwhile, the defense was fantastic forcing three turnovers to fend off the Frogs on a night when the Tech defense was on the field for 35:46.

Later that year, No. 18 Oklahoma State came to town and left with a 52-34 win.  Actually ranked No. 15 at the time and favored to win the game, Tech fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter only to pull to within 28-24 at halftime.

But a 21-point OSU third-quarter was too much for Tech to handle.  Cowboy QB Clint Chelf threw for two scores and ran for two more.  It was the second loss in a 5-game losing streak that ended the 2013 regular season for the Red Raiders.

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Despite hosting both Texas and OU in 2014, Tech did not have an opportunity to beat a ranked team at home again until 2015.   Again that year, both TCU and Oklahoma State brought ranked teams to the Jones and left with wins.

The No. 3 Horned Frogs escaped Lubbock with a 55-52 win on a TD off a deflected pass in the final minute of the game.  It was by far the best opportunity Kingsbury had to upend a top-5 team while at Tech and seeing that monumental upset bid come up short thanks to the most unlucky bounce of the ball ever was a true punch to the gut.

On Halloween night, the No. 12 Cowboys won a typical Big 12 shootout 70-53.  Thanks to the efforts of Jakeem Grant, the Red Raiders actually jumped out to a 24-7 lead but visitors outscored Tech 42-15 in the second half to pick up the win.

In 2016, No. 20 West Virginia thumped Tech 48-17 in a game that was never in doubt.  The undefeated Mountaineers were up 24-7 at the half and 34-10 to begin the fourth quarter in a game that saw the home team play with no urgency or effort.

A week later, No. 16 OU showed up for the now famous 66-59 dual between Baker Mayfield and Pat Mahomes.  But it was Sooner running back Joe Mixon that proved to be the difference with 263 rushing yards and 114 receiving yards as well as five total touchdowns.

Again in 2017, Oklahoma State and TCU both avoided being upset in Lubbock.  The No. 15 Cowboys pulled out a 41-34 win on a 4th-quarter Mason Rudolph TD gallop of 16 yards. Meanwhile, TCU dominated the Nic Shimonek-led Red Raiders 27-3 in a game that saw Tech gain just 153 yards through the air.

Last season, Tech had three chances to pull off a huge home win over a ranked team.  But as was the case throughout the majority of the Kingsbury era, the team came up just short in all three.

Tech lost to No. 12 West Virginia, No. 7 Oklahoma, and No. 19 Texas all by eight points or fewer.  It was frustrating because Alan Bowman could not finish the West Virginia or OU games because of collapsed lung injuries and he did not play at all against the Longhorns.

Again this week, he will be sidelined for a visit from a top 25 team meaning Jett Duffey will have to lead the way.  Can a head coach in his first Big 12 home game find a way to ride his backup QB to a win that would easily be the biggest home win in seven seasons?  Tech fans certainly hope so.

For all the failings of this program over the last decade, beating ranked teams at home has been at the top of the list.  Since the end of the Mike Leach era in 2009, Tech has gone just 3-18 at home against ranked teams with wins over No. 12 Missouri in 2010 and No. 5 West Virginia in 2012 as the other two besides the 2013 win over TCU.

A generation of Red Raider fans has grown up simply assuming that each big home game will end in disappointment.  They don’t understand how much of a house of horrors Jones Stadium was for visiting teams just a decade ago.

Now, Wells’ first job has to be winning back a home fan base that has grown apathetic and cynical.  But to do so, his team is going to have to manufacture its own energy in an 11 am kickoff that will likely see the stadium at less than 75% capacity, especially with Tech riding a two-game losing streak.

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But the only way to bring the life back to the Jones is to win meaningful home games and give fans a reason to come back.  The Red Raiders are yet to beat a Big 12 team other than Kansas in Lubbock since 2015.  If they can end that awful streak this week, Matt Wells will have taken a massive step towards righting the ship and reviving the Jones Stadium magic that we all miss so dearly.