Texas Tech football rewatch: Red Raiders get on their feet vs. Tarleton State

As we continue our rewatch of the 2023 Texas Tech football season, we look at how the Red Raiders found their footing against Tarleton State following two tough losses.
Tarleton State v Texas Tech
Tarleton State v Texas Tech / John E. Moore III/GettyImages

The only people who enjoy watching an FBS team beat up on an FCS team are the friends and families of the second and third-string players on the FBS team. However, it an annual tradition that seems as sacred to college football programs as midnight mass is for some people on Christmas Eve.

Last season, Tech needed to see Tarleton State show up at Jones Stadium in week three, though. After back-to-back one-score losses to Wyoming and Oregon opened the season on a sour note, the Red Raiders were able to get back on their feet and find some semblance of identity by taking an FCS opponent out behind the woodshed.

While the 41-3 Red Raider win was for the most part a snooze fest, there were some interesting developments that occurred, developments that, in hindsight, would give us some insight about the rest of the season to come.

Texas Tech finds its identity on the ground

After two weeks of slight use to open the year, running back Tahj Brooks was the star of the night for the Red Raiders against Tarleton. In this game, the ground game was a luxury but a week later, when Tyler Shough would break his leg and Behren Morton would sprain his shoulder against West Virginia, it would become a necessity.

Against the Texans, Brooks ran the ball 19 times for 158 yards. That was one more carry than he got in the first two games of the year combined.

Averaging 8.3 yards per carry, Brooks dominated Tarleton the way he should. This game began a streak of four games in which he got at least 19 carries. What's more, he would have fewer than 19 attempts just once the rest of the season.

In all, Tech would run the ball 39 times and throw it only 33 times. That was a precursor to what the rest of the season would look like and against Tarleton, it's good that that the running game was dominant (221 yards and a touchdown) because the quarterbacks played poorly.

Tyler Shough and Behren Morton did not impress

In what would be his final home game as a Red Raider, Tyler Shough continued his incredibly average play in 2023 against Tarleton. Going just 10-20 passing for 123 yards and a TD, the senior played as if the hangover from the loss to his former school, Oregon, was still impacting him.

Shough was supposed to be a reason Tech was going to contend for a Big 12 title but he finished the year completing only 60.4% of his passes, the second year in a row he was below 61% completion as a passer.

Of course, the story with Shough has always been injuries and that would be the case a week later. But when he failed to dominate an FCS team, there were concerns about his ability to lead Tech to anything but the most mediocre of seasons.

His problem seemed to be a lack of processing speed. The physical gifts he possessed as a Red Raider were easy to see but he just didn't see the field and the offense as effectively as he needed to. Perhaps that was a result of a lack of consistent playing time due to the injuries or perhaps it was over-analysis by an incredibly smart player. Either way, Tech never got the version of Shough that we always heard about the coaches seeing in practices and scrimmages.

When the game was in hand, Morton played the majority of the second half and he wasn't any better than Shough. Going 8-13 for 73 yards and two TDs with one pick, it isn't as fair to criticize Morton given that playing as the backup QB is always tougher than being the starter given the decreased practice reps that backups get during the week. Also, in a blowout, the backup QB often plays with second and even third-team players around him.

Still, Tech fans were worried about the QB spot after this game and those concerns would prove to be valid. Because of injuries to both Shough and Morton, the run-heavy offense we saw against Tarleton would mirror what we saw for the rest of the year. We just didn't know it at the time.

Tech finally, takes three

Since his arrival with Joey McGuire, Texas Tech defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter has said that his defense's goal is to get three turnovers per game. However, far too often in 2023, that didn't happen.

In fact, against Oregon, Tech lost the turnover battle 4-0. But as Tech should have against an FCS team, the Red Raiders were able to turn the tables and take the ball away three times while giving it up just once.

The big play was a 54-yard pick-six by corner Malik Dunlap to open the scoring in the first quarter. It was one of four career picks he would have in college, three of which came in 2023.

The second of those picks from Dunlap in 2023 came just a few moments later when he picked off another pass to end a Tarleton scoring threat that had crossed midfield. It was the first time since Douglas Coleman II in 2019 against Arizona that Tech had a player with two picks in a game.

In the third quarter, with Tarleton backed up deep in its own territory, Dadrion Taylor-Demerson would also pick off a pass. It was his seventh career pick.

For the rest of the year, Tech would get three takeaways just once, in the Independence Bowl vs. Cal. That inability to consistently take the ball away proved to be one of last season's biggest problems.

In the end, a win over an FCS program isn't ever going to turn heads unless it is too narrow of a win. Fortunately, the Red Raiders have won every game against an FCS team since the 1990s. That continued against Tarleton last season as the Red Raiders finally got in the win column after a dreadful start to the year.