The Texas Tech football team put up a valiant effort again on Saturday but again, all that resulted was a moral victory. Falling to No. 7 Oklahoma State on the road 41-31, Tech had a second-straight road game against a ranked opponent tied in the fourth quarter. But coming close to pulling off upsets is not this program’s goal, even in the first year of Joey McGuire’s tenure.
At some point, the Red Raiders are going to have to figure out how to close games away from Jones Stadium under this new coaching staff as thus far, Tech is 0-3 away from Lubbock in 2022 (granted, all three games have come against ranked teams). Until that happens, the Red Raiders are not going to be able to turn the corner, something that they feel tantalizingly close to doing.
There will be plenty of time this week to analyze how this game got away from the Red Raiders. But for now, let’s take a look at some quick-fire thoughts on the latest Texas Tech close call.
The future is now
More than once, McGuire has referred to redshirt freshman QB Behren Morton as the future of the program. Now, it is fair to suggest that the future has arrived.
Making his first career start on the road against a top-10 team, Morton was fantastic. Completing 39 of 62 passes for 379 yards and two TDs, he had what was arguably the best QB performance that this program has seen this season.
What separated Morton’s work from what we’ve seen from Donovan Smith is that Morton was decisive with the ball. With just a couple of exceptions, he got rid of the football on time and for the most part, he seemed to make the correct reads.
He wasn’t perfect by any means as he did have a costly interception in the second half. What’s more, he needs to work on his finesse when throwing intermediate and short routes.
However, it was refreshing to see at Tech QB look like he was in command of the offense and look comfortable in the pocket, even playing behind a bad offensive line. One has to wonder just how this game would have played out if he had not sustained the tweak to his ankle that came at the end of the second quarter. That injury seemed to take his legs out of the equation, something that he had relied on quite a bit in the first half.
Now, there seems to be no reason for Tech to turn back. Morton has gotten his first taste of real Big 12 action and he handled it impressively, even against the Big 12 favorites.
Why would it make any sense to turn back to Smith, who has been inconsistent at best this year, or even hand the keys back to Tyler Shough? Morton proved on Saturday that he can do everything that Tech wants and needs its starting QB to do and he is obviously the future of the program. Thus, it would be wise for McGuire to help speed up the arrival of that future by spending the rest of the season getting Morton as ready as possible to lead this team in 2023 and beyond.
Special teams doom Tech again
On the other hand, the Texas Tech special teams were once again a huge problem. In fact, they may have been the reason the Red Raiders dropped this game.
Whether it was the mistake on the first-quarter onside kick, or Trey Wolff’s missed second-quarter field goal, or fielding a punt inside the 10, it seemed like every time the kicking game came into play, the Red Raiders were on the short end of the equation.
That’s something that McGuire and Co. have to figure out. This team is going to play too many close games to have the special teams be a liability as they have been through the first half of the season.
Why not Smith?
Donovan Smith did play sparingly in this game. However, his absence on the numerous short-yardage situations Tech faced in the second half was puzzling.
For most of the second half, running back SaRodorick Thompson was bottled up by the OSU defense. Yet, Tech tried to rely on him to pick up critical short-yardage conversions rather than bringing in the 245-pound Smith to run the QB power game.
The most egregious of those situations came with OSU leading 34-31 in the middle of the 4th quarter. With Tech facing a 3rd-and-1 at the OSU 44, the hobbled Morton tried to run for it only to lose a yard. Then, on 4th-and-2, Thompson was stuffed at the line to turn the ball back over to the Cowboys. If you aren’t going to use Donovan Smith in such situations, then why put him in the game at all?
Just days after we discussed how poorly the Texas Tech outside receivers have played this year, two of those players, Jerand Bradley and Trey Cleveland stepped up on Saturday. Bradley led Tech with 119 yards and a TD while Cleveland had an even 100 yards on a team-high nine receptions.
This came on a day when starting inside receiver and the team’s top pass catcher, Myles Price, did not play due to an ankle sprain. In his place, Xavier White was decent with 62 yards and a TD on eight receptions.
However, it was Bradley and Cleveland that carried the passing game on a day when Tech dressed only five healthy receivers. I don’t know if their emergence was a direct result of Morton’s play but it is fair to think that there was a correlation. But whatever the reason, here’s hoping this was a springboard game for both players.