Texas Tech football: Disappointing losses haven’t always spelled doom for Red Raiders

Texas Tech football: Disappointing losses haven’t always spelled doom for Red Raiders
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Sep 2, 2023; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Tyler Shough (12) throws for a touchdown in double overtime against the Wyoming Cowboys at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

One of the reasons so many Texas Tech football fans are discouraged by week one’s 35-33 loss at Wyoming is that this program hasn’t suffered many losses of that ilk.  In fact, it had been 14 years since we had to experience a loss to a team from outside of a Power 5 conference.

That’s a reality that has smacked us all in the face in 2023, though, and many are wondering if the shocking defeat in Laramie is a sign that this year won’t live up to the massive off-season expectations that preceded it.

Well, if you were one of those dreaming of Tech being a surprise College Football Playoff invitee, then your dream is now dead.  But for those who had more reasonable hopes, everything is still on the table for the Red Raiders.

As proof, we can look at some recent Big 12 teams that overcame an unexpected early-season loss to go on to have strong seasons.

For instance, just last fall, Kansas State fell to Tulane at home in week three.  Now, that Tulane team did go on to have a fantastic season of its own, which included a Cotton Bowl win over USC.

However, at the time the Green Wave beat KSU 17-10 in Manhattan, Kansas, no one expected the Wildcats to be able to rebound the way they did.  Of course, the Wildcats would end the year 10-4 overall and would win the Big 12 Championship, something that Texas Tech can still aspire to do in 2023.

The Big 12’s other agriculture-obsessed school, Iowa State, had a similar journey in 2020.  Losing the season opener at home to Louisiana, 31-14, the Cyclones would respond by going 9-3 overall and 8-1 in Big 12 play.  They would play for the conference title and beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl to finish with a top-10 ranking.

The point is that a disappointing clunker of a performance early in the season doesn’t mean the rest of the games on the schedule should be forfeited and that the fan base should emotionally check out and turn its focus to basketball season before the calendar even reaches October.

Rather, Texas Tech still has an opportunity to take a step forward in the Joey McGuire rebuild by rebounding and putting the Wyoming game in the past.  So let’s look at some instances when other Red Raider teams have overcome early-season disappointments to have successful campaigns.

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It didnu2019t help Cumbieu2019s perception that in his second start, he and the offense struggled in a 27-24 loss to New Mexico in Albuquerque.u00a0 Though that era was one of the best in UNM history with Rocky Long leading the program to five-straight winning campaigns from 2001-2005, the Lobos were still a team that Tech fans considered vastly inferior.

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After that loss, there were plenty of people ready to run Leach out of town.u00a0 However, the season would soon take a turn for the better.u00a0 u00a0A week later, Tech would thump TCU 70-35 in Lubbock and later in the season, a 70-10 destruction of Nebraska in Lubbock would completely change the tone around the program.

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Tech would end the year 8-4 and 5-3 in Big 12 play.u00a0 The capper on the season was a stunning beatdown of Aaron Rogers and No. 4 Cal in the Holiday Bowl which helped Tech end the year ranked 17th in the national polls.u00a0 That 45-31 win stunned the nation and would have been hard to envision in week two as Tech fans had to live with the ignominy of losing to the Lobos.

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In all, 2004 would be the year that Leach started to turn the corner in West Texas.u00a0 The next season he would go 9-3 and reach the Cotton Bowl.u00a0 Then, in 2006, the Graham Harrell era would begin, a run that would culminate in the famous 2008 season.

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Maybe 2023 will follow a similar script in that it will be a building block for Joey McGuire.u00a0 Though he hasnu2019t been on the job as long as Leach had been in 2004, there is similar urgency among the fan base as we wait for Tech to finally become nationally relevant, something that seems unlikely this year after the loss to Wyoming.u00a0 However, 2004u2019s loss to UNM should serve as a reminder that one bad loss doesnu2019t have to define an entire season and doesnu2019t mean that the programu2019s progression is halted.

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Oct 17, 2009; Lincoln, NE, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach Mike Leach talks with Brandon Sharpe (92) during the game with the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium. Leach was fired as coach. Texas Tech won 31-10. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

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2009: Texas Tech lost at Houston in week four but finished ranked

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The 2009 loss at Houston was not a surprise to many national pundits.  After all, Texas Tech entered the game unranked while Houston was 17 in the polls.

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However, not one Red Raider fan expected to leave Houston that night with a loss.  But, in a physical nip-and-tuck game that felt very similar to this year’s Wyoming game, a costly in-game decision by Leach led to a 29-28 defeat that sent the team to just 2-2 on the year.

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Early in the 4th quarter, Leach decided to try a QB sneak with his big QB, Taylor Potts, on 4th and goal instead of kicking a field goal.  That decision backfired as Potts was stuffed and Houston would take over.  Those three lost points would be massive in a one-point loss.

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After that game, All-American offensive lineman Brandon Carter was suspended for a game as the season took on a soap opera feel.  Of course, it would end with the ultimate drama between Leach and one of his players, Adam James, a situation that led to Leach’s firing before the bowl game.

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Still, the loss to Houston was not a death knell for the Red Raiders.  They would win seven of their final nine games including an improbable win at No. 15 Nebraska behind backup QB Steven “Sticks” Sheffield.

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That 2009 Houston team was thought of more highly than this year’s Wyoming team is.  That year, Houston would end up 10-4 but would not win their conference title.

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Might Wyoming have similar success this year?  That isn’t out of the question.  If the Cowboys can beat the Red Raiders, they should believe they could beat any team in the Mountain West Conference.

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In the end, we have to realize that, while the loss in Laramie was ugly and was a true kick to the gut, it doesn’t mean that the season is hopeless.  What’s more, this weekend provides a perfect opportunity to wash that bad taste right out of our mouths.

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