Texas Tech football: Red Raiders can’t keep up with TCU

Texas Tech's running back SaRodorick Thompson (4), right, runs with the ball against TCU in a Big 12 football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Texas Tech's running back SaRodorick Thompson (4), right, runs with the ball against TCU in a Big 12 football game, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. /

A week after getting blown out at home 45-17 by Baylor, the Texas Tech football team put forth a much better effort on Saturday in Fort Worth against No. 7 TCU.  However, the results were much the same as the Red Raiders couldn’t keep pace with the Horned Frogs in a 34-24 defeat.

Tech now falls to 4-5 on the year and has some serious work to do to get to bowl eligibility.  With only three games remaining on the schedule, Joey McGuire will have to coax two wins out of his team if he hopes to get to the postseason.

That’s not going to be easy given what we saw transpire at the QB position on Saturday afternoon.  And that’s where we will begin our rapid reactions to this loss.

It was stupid to run Morton

For several weeks, redshirt freshman QB Behren Morton has been playing through a high ankle sprain suffered in his first start of the year in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  So why did offensive coordinator Zach Kittley feel it was wise to have his starter run the option several times in the first half thus putting him at risk of aggravating that injury?  It made no sense and it ultimately cost Kittley his only hope of an effective QB.

Perhaps it will cost Tech any hope of a somewhat successful season as well.

The Tyler Shough that we have seen the last two weeks isn’t the caliber of player who can win games in the Big 12.  He plays with too much caution and has lost all zip on his passes after coming back from a broken collarbone sustained in week one.

Meanwhile, it is obvious that Donovan Smith’s eight interceptions on the season, most in the Big 12 by an individual, have caused this coaching staff to lose trust in him unless he’s running the football.  Therefore, Morton was the team’s best (and only) hope for solid QB play and yet, for some reason, Kittley thought it was wise to put him in harm’s way by running the option.  That was an ill-advised decision and it backfired on the Red Raider offensive coordinator.

Wilson’s penalty the turning point

This game turned on one play.  Unfortunately, it was a play that the officials made.

With Tech leading 17-14 near the end of the third quarter, Tyree Wilson sacked TCU’s Max Duggan for a four-yard loss to set up what would have been a long 3rd-and-14 at the TCU 30.  However, Wilson was flagged for a facemask infraction on the play, a call that Red Raider fans rightfully believe was wrong.

When he saw Wilson headed his way, Duggan lowered his head in a protective manner and that brought his facemask right to where his shoulder pads were.  That’s also where Wilson’s hand was and it is easy to see how that could have looked like a facemask penalty in real speed.

Still, the officials can’t afford to blow a call of that magnitude.  After that play, TCU would march the ball to the endzone on seven plays.  What’s more, they would then score touchdowns on their next two possessions to put the game out of reach.

That phantom penalty seemed to take the wind out of the sails of a Tech defense that was excellent for three-quarters of this game.  After that, Tech would struggle to get off the field as it looked like all fight and effort that unit had expended throughout the day finally caught up with them.  And the defense’s unraveling began with the poor call against Wilson.

Why not run the ball?

Earlier this week, our Maitland Rutledge looked at why Tech needs to run the ball more.  He didn’t get his wish on Saturday despite the fact that it appeared as if running the ball might have been Tech’s best means of staying in the game.

For the day, Tech averaged 5.0 yards per rush on 39 carries.  But SaRodorick Thompson and Tahj Brooks got only 18 carries between them despite the fact that both averaged nearly six yards per rush.

This wasn’t a case of Tech abandoning the run because of a large deficit.  Rather, Kittley abandoned the run long before that despite losing Morton.

On Tech’s first four possessions of the second half, all of which came with the game being a one-score affair, Kittley gave the ball to his running backs only five times.  Interestingly, all five carries when to Brooks, the far less explosive of the two runners.

If Morton is out for an extended period of time, Kittley might be forced to feed his two backs.  Of course, the defense will know what’s coming but it will still be his best course of action.  It should have been what he did on Saturday as well but Kittley simply refuses to live by his run game for some reason.

TCU will get theirs

This might sound like sour grapes but the team that Texas Tech faced on Saturday was not the 7th-best team in the nation.  That’s why almost everyone believes that the Frogs will eventually get their comeuppance.

That’s what makes this loss all the more frustrating.  Had Morton stayed healthy, I firmly believe Tech would have taken this game down to the wire.  But instead, when he was lost, Tech’s hopes of a win essentially were too.

This is yet another maddening road result for Tech.  On one hand, all of the teams Tech has faced away from Jones Stadium have been ranked at the time they faced the Red Raiders.  But on the other, all four of those games have been winnable and yet this program simply has been unable to capitalize on those opportunities.

That’s an important step that McGuire and Co. will have to take as they rebuild Texas Tech football.  They’ve simply got to figure out how to win away from home against good teams.  There’s only one more road trip left this year and it comes against a bad Iowa State team in two weeks.  Perhaps that is where the road woes end.

Tech will likely need to win that game to get to six wins but more importantly, it will need to come out of Ames with a win to prove to this young team that it is possible to win games outside of the 806.

As for TCU, give them credit.  They were better than Tech on Saturday.  But they are not a national contender and eventually, someone will knock them off.  It’s just too bad that it won’t be Tech who takes them down a notch because this was a game that was there for the taking in the fourth quarter.