Matt Wells has won only 10 games as Texas Tech football head coach. And 20% of those wins have been nailbiters against FCS Teams that felt more like losses than victories.
That was the case again on Saturday night as Wells’ Red Raiders played a lethargic and sloppy game almost from start to finish on their way to a 28-22 narrow escape at home against Stephen F. Austin of the FCS ranks. This is starting to become a troubling trend for Wells and his staff; lethargy against teams that Tech should beat or teams that Tech could beat.
Everyone remembers last year’s season opener against Houston Baptist in Lubbock, another middling FCS program. That night, Tech squeaked out a 35-33 win thanks to a defensive stop on a late HBU two-point conversion attempt.
Of course, that game will forever be remembered as the one in which Wells decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 from inside the HBU five despite holding an 8-point lead late in the fourth quarter. As you all remember, that attempted QB sneak was snuffed out allowing HBU to take over and drive the length of the field for a TD to cut the lead to just two points.
After that game, many of us were upset with Wells for the poor effort his team displayed and for causing us all to face the possibility of having to live with a loss to an FCS weakling. But Wells had the built-in excuse of COVID-19, which had cost his team its entire offseason program and which had ravaged his roster just weeks prior.
But this year, he has no excuse for his team’s atrocious showing against SFA. Tech was coming into the game after an impressive 38-21 victory over Houston. Thus, there was momentum on Wells’ side and his team had even had a week to work out the kinks. What’s more, he didn’t even have a coaching blunder that we could all point to. Instead, his team was simply out-efforted, out-schemed, and out-played for huge chunks of Saturday’s game.
This has become a troubling trend; Wells failing to get his team ready to play a team that it was heavily favored to beat. That’s happened in each of the program’s last two games against an FCS foe and in each of the last two years against Kansas (which included 2019’s loss in Lawrence).
It’s reason to question whether or not he is truly capable of turning this program into a consistent winner, be that on a week-by-week or a season-by-season basis. And if you can’t get your team fired up for the home opener, the first game in two calendar years to have a full house at Jones Stadium, do you really have what it takes to lead a program through the rigors of Power 5 conference football?
Sure, Wells didn’t coach Tyler Shough to throw two picks and fumble once. Nor did he coach McLane Mannix to muff a punt early in the game. Nor did he coach the offensive line to do its impression of a human colander.
But the way a team plays is a reflection of its coach. And on Saturday night, the Red Raiders gave an awful representation of their leader.
If we are all going to shower Wells with praise for last week’s comeback win over the Cougars the way we did, we must also hold him accountable for Saturday’s sleepwalking performance. And what’s more, the sleepwalking-type performances are what we’ve received most often from this program over the last two-plus seasons.
Sure, there were games like 2019 against Oklahoma State and West Virginia when Tech came out and took it to a team with a pulse. And there was last Saturday’s resilient effort over U of H to make us think that this year might be different. And in all fairness, it still might. After all, Tech is still undefeated and is a third of the way toward reaching bowl eligibility.
But think about all the times this team has come out flat against teams that it was thought to be on similar footing as or better than. In 2019, that was the case at Arizona, at home vs. Iowa State, at Kansas, vs. TCU, and vs. Kansas State. And last year, the same could be said of the games at Iowa State and Kansas State, as well as the home contests against HBU, Baylor, and Kansas.
It just feels like this program isn’t making any progress under the current coaching staff. Every inkling of forward momentum is erased by performances the likes of which we saw against SFA on Saturday night.
So you’ll have to excuse those of us who feel like we just watched Tech lose. While the Red Raiders didn’t officially drop the game, they did lose almost all of the goodwill they had built up after week one while many of us as fans lost the vast majority of the hope and optimism that we had for the 2021 season. That’s what happens when you barely beat an FCS team. And if Wells keeps this up, we might soon learn what it feels like to lose to one on the scoreboard.