Texas Tech football: Red Raiders get dose of reality against NC State

Sep 17, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Donovan Smith (7) is tackled for a loss during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 17, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Donovan Smith (7) is tackled for a loss during the first half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

In Saturday night’s 27-14 loss to the No. 16 NC State Wolfpack, the Texas Tech football team was served a harsh dose of reality.  Outplayed all night by the Wolfpack defense and special teams, Joey McGuire’s program learned just how far away from being a national contender it is.

Sure, Tech wasn’t supposed to win this game entering as a double-digit underdog.  What’s more, the fact that this was the season’s first road test also made the task Tech was facing all the more difficult.

However, the Red Raiders were never really a threat to NC State, mainly because of self-inflicted mistakes.  Take away some of those miscues and this could have been a different game.  Of course, that’s like saying if you take away the hole in the side of the ship, the Titanic would have been a great vessel.

So let’s take a look at a few quick thoughts from the Red Raiders’ first loss of the season.  And we’ll begin by looking at a reality that Tech fans may not want to face.

Zach Kittley was outcoached for the second-straight week

We all know that offensive coordinator Zach Kittley has the reputation of being one of the nation’s brightest offensive minds.  But for the second-consecutive week, he was out-coached by a highly-respected defensive coordinator.

Last week, his offense sputtered and stalled for most of the second half against Houston but was able to self-correct on the game’s final drive to tie the affair.  Then, it regained its footing for the two overtime periods, thanks in large part to Donovan Smith’s legs.

This week, it was Tony Gibson’s Wolfpack defense that befuddled Kittley’s offense just as Gibson did to Kliff Kingsbury’s offenses when Gibson was the defensive coordinator at West Virginia.  It could be a case of Kittley not having the horses he needs to execute his offense (especially on the offensive line) but a true offensive innovator can make up for that by scheming around his team’s weaknesses.  Kittley did that to some extent against Houston but that offensive performance was still a slog.

On Saturday, a truly elite college defense smacked Kittley’s offense around as Tech would finish the game with only 353 yards of total offense, most of which came in garbage time.  Is that a sign that Kittley is going through his own growing pains or is it merely a symptom of having to play your backup QB on the road against a top-flight defense?  Either way, Tech needs more out of its boy wonder play caller moving forward, regardless of what he has to work with.

Speaking of Smith…

…he was awful.  In fact, he played what was his second-worst game as a Red Raider (only last year’s shutout loss at home to Oklahoma State was a bigger abject failure).

Throwing for only 214 yards and 1 TD while completing a mere 58.3% of his passes, he was clearly confused by the Wolfpack’s exotic 3-3-5 scheme as he was picked off twice, once for a TD.  What’s more, his sense of awareness in the pocket was absolutely atrocious.  On several occasions, he simply stood in the pocket and stared into the void waiting for receivers on one side of the field to come open only to take a sack or a big hit while never looking at the other side of the field.

Also, in this game, NC State took away his greatest attribute, his legs, and it was obvious that he was ill-equipped to win this game with his arm.  Now he’s been picked off five times in two starts this season and that’s not going to get it done.

Behren Morton came in to lead Tech’s final drive of the game after Smith’s second pick of the night and one has to wonder if that was McGuire’s way of sending a message to Smith that the picks (and other mistakes) are unacceptable.  Perhaps it was just a matter of getting the redshirt freshman, Morton, some actual game reps on the road but if there was a message being sent, hopefully, it was received because Smith has to be much better if Tech is going to win any of its next three games (against Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State).

The special teams have been awful all year

Tech has been poor on special teams all season and tonight it caught up with them in a major way.  In fact, you could argue that’s where this game was ultimately lost.

Drew Hocutt muffed the first NC State punt of the night allowing the Pack to recover deep in Tech territory.  Though the ensuing drive would end with only three points for the home team, it set a tone for the entire game.

Tech also got a shanked punt from Austin McNamara to set up an NC State score.  His 29-yard first-quarter punt set up the second NC State field goal of the night and was part of a night that saw him average only 41.2 yards per punt on six kicks.  That’s not an awful average but it also is far less than McNamara is capable of as several times Tech needed him to flip the field and he didn’t.

The return game was also a joke as Tech averaged under 20 yards per kickoff return constantly setting up the offense in awful positions to start drives on a night when the offense needed all the help it could get.

This defense is good

We will end with some positivity.  The 2022 Red Raider defense is good.  End of story.  In fact, it was good enough to win on Saturday night holding the NC State offense to just 20 points.

Overall, the Pack managed only 269 yards.  That included a mere 158 through the air.

All-ACC NC State quarterback Devin Leary was unimpressive going just 15-23 for 120 yards and tossing no touchdowns and much of that was due to the work of the Red Raider secondary, especially corner Malik Dunlap.  Tech’s defense was able to keep Leary in check and repeatedly bail out the special teams, which could have led to a win.

However, in the end, Tech needed a defensive score or huge game-breaking play and that didn’t happen.  Still, there’s no way anyone can complain about the way Tech played on defense and for the foreseeable future, it appears that’s what this team is going to have to hang its hat on.