It wasn’t pretty. In fact, for most of the night, it was rather ugly. However, on a frigid Saturday night in Ames, Iowa, the Texas Tech football team managed to secure a gritty 14-10 victory over Iowa State to become bowl eligible for the second-straight season. Here are some quick thoughts on what we saw transpire at Jack Trice Stadium.
Bend but don’t break
All the credit in the world goes to defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter whose side of the ball was why the Red Raiders managed to escape Ames victorious. But it wasn’t a dominating performance from the Tech defense. Rather, it was one that was full of timely moments, especially in the red zone.
Tech gave up way too many yards (422) to the worse offense in the Big 12. What’s more, time and again, Cyclone receivers were left wide open for huge gains as the secondary had repeated blown assignments.
However, once ISU got near the endzone, DeRuyter’s unit stepped up. Overall, ISU would go just 1-5 on their red-zone trips as the Tech defense continually stifled the home team’s attempts to run the ball.
Now, some blame must fall at the feet of the Cyclones’ offensive coordinator, Tom Manning, who repeatedly refused to try to throw the ball near the goal line. The way Tech was selling out to stop the run, it would have made sense to run a simple play-action pass but Manning stayed on the ground and that proved to be a huge reason why the Red Raiders were able to come up big.
Of course, on the one instance when ISU did try to throw the ball on a 3rd or 4th-and-goal, the defense registered a sack to end the Cyclone’s second goal-to-go threat of the second half. In all, this game was won and lost in the red zone. On a night when the Cyclone offense was uncharacteristically efficient, Tech was able to come up big at just the right time.
Back-to-back Big 12 wins
Amazingly, this win gave the Red Raiders their first back-to-back Big 12 wins since October 2018. That was the last year of the Kliff Kingsbury era.
That year, Tech took down TCU in Fort Worth and Kansas in Lubbock only to collapse down the stretch resulting in Kingsbury’s firing. Meanwhile, Matt Wells never won back-to-back Big 12 games.
It took McGuire almost all season to put an end to that dubious streak but he finally managed to do so. That’s not an insignificant development.
Credit to McGuire
Speaking of McGuire, he deserves loads of praise for getting this incredibly mediocre roster to a bowl game. Not many coaches in the nation would be able to overcome the type of QB injuries, terrible offensive line play, and pedestrian wide receivers that Tech has had to live with and get to six wins.
When the season began, most pundits had Tech as a five-win team and now, McGuire has surpassed those expectations. While no one is going to build a statue of the first-year head coach for this season, it is encouraging that in the first year of his college coaching career, he’s led his team to a bowl despite playing six ranked teams, four on the road.
A tight end finally uses his size
For most of the season, Tech fans have wanted more out of the Red Raiders’ two towering tight ends, Baylor Cupp and Mason Tharpe. Specifically, fans have wondered why Tech has been unable to exploit the mismatches that their size brings to the field.
Well, finally, in the fourth quarter of this Saturday’s game, Tyler Shough relied on Cupp’s 6-foot-7 frame and threw a jump ball in the endzone letting his tight end go up and make a play. It was only the second TD of the year for Cupp (who also found the endzone against Texas) and it feels like this offense has woefully underutilized the talented tight ends at its disposal.
Fortunately, Cupp made his presence known in this game by wrestling the ball away from a defender for the game-winning TD. Hopefully, that signals the start of more involvement for Tech’s tight ends moving forward.
Penalties go Tech’s way
Certainly this year, there have been some questionable penalties that have gone against Tech and turned the tide in close contests. However, on Saturday, the Red Raiders were penalized just once for eight yards. Meanwhile, ISU was issued six penalties for 40 yards.
The most important penalty of the game came in the first half when an Iowa State touchdown pass was wiped off the board by a holding call. Instead of tieing the game at 7-7, the Cyclones would have to settle for a 36-yard FG. In, a game that was ultimately decided by four points, that would prove to be a massive moment.