When trying to rebuild a program, any head coach needs signature wins to point to as proof that his efforts are yielding tangible results. But so far, Texas Tech football head coach Matt Wells is still looking for such a victory in his third season at the helm in Lubbock.
Fortunately for Wells, this week provides a massive opportunity for a seismic win when the Red Raiders head to Texas to face the Longhorns. And there has not been a more important game against UT since 2008’s classic showdown in Lubbock that ended with Michael Crabtree’s iconic touchdown grab.
That’s because the recent shift in the college football landscape has rendered any game against Texas and Oklahoma as personal for the eight Big 12 teams left behind by the Horns’ and Sooners’ impending jump to the SEC.
Thus, if there was ever a time when Texas Tech football fans wanted to score a win over UT more than any other team on the schedule, it would be in 2021. After all, in the past seven months, Tech has not only seen the University of Texas cut the legs out from under Tech and the other seven leftover Big 12 teams by bolting to the SEC but we’ve also has seen UT steal the most beloved basketball coach in Red Raider history. So now, it’s time that the Red Raiders start to fire back and the first opportunity to do so arrives on Saturday.
But what’s more, Wells has to be desperate for a win that’s going to significantly move the needle among his constituency. After all, he’s yet to secure one that got the entire fan base, from the most hardcore to those with just a passing interest, fired up.
In fact, to this point, Wells’ best win was 2019’s 45-35 upset of then No. 21 Oklahoma State in Lubbock. But that was almost exactly two calendar years ago.
Since then, the most impressive accomplishment Wells has achieved has been beating West Virginia in Lubbock last year (a WVU team that would end the year just 6-4 overall mind you) or this year’s season opener against Houston.
In some ways, that win over the Cougars was similar to this week’s Texas game in that it came against an in-state rival who has also found itself at the center of the recent conference shuffling. But while Houston is soon to be in Texas Tech’s orbit by being welcomed into the Big 12, they are still viewed by most Texas Tech football fans as a program that is lesser than Tech is. Therefore, that win, while nice and much-needed, didn’t carry the type of cache that beating Texas in Austin would this week. But beating UT would get the people of Raiderland fully on board with the 2021 Red Raiders and their somewhat embattled leader.
Meanwhile, another task Wells must begin to accomplish with more regularity is to beat in-state conference rivals. In fact, when facing TCU, Baylor, and Texas, he’s gone just 1-5 with that one win coming against the 2020 Baylor Bears who would end that season just 2-7 overall.
Continuing to falter against in-state teams will only serve to hinder Wells’ efforts in trying to gain the trust of the sizeable chunk of this fan base that has been skeptical of him since the moment he was announced as head coach back in December of 2018. But each win against those three teams helps curry a bit of favor for a coach in desperate need of a public relations boost in West Texas. And nothing helps a coach’s reputation among the High Plains faithful more than beating the boys in burnt orange.
But that’s something Tech simply hasn’t done with any regularity in recent years, which is disappointing given that Texas has mustered just two 10-win seasons since 2008. Unfortunately, Tech has been able to take down the Horns just twice in that span, 2015 and 2017, and both instances came in Austin rather than in front of the home faithful.
On Saturday, can Matt Wells find a way to give Tech its third win in the last four trips to the state capital? Texas has opened as a double-digit favorite so the oddsmakers don’t believe so.
However, Wells and his staff have said all offseason that this year’s team is different and that their goals for this offseason are much loftier than in years past. If that’s to be true, he needs to pick up some wins this season that make waves on the national scene and beating Texas would do just that (despite the fact that Texas enters this matchup unranked).
Speaking of rankings, Wells would probably see his team join the top 25 with a win in Austin, which would be yet another signifier that his program is moving in the right direction. It’s all out there in front of Wells and his team this week.
The stage is set and the opponent carries more weight with this fan base than any other on the schedule. Now, it’s time for Wells to finally notch a signature win and take a giant leap towards getting this program back to national relevance.