Texas Tech football: Extra observations from dominant win over Baylor

Texas Tech football: Extra observations from dominant win over Baylor
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LUBBOCK, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 30: Head coach Joey McGuire of the Texas Tech Red Raiders is seen on the sideline during the third quarter against the Houston Cougars at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 30, 2023 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images)

It just feels as if last night’s 39-14 beating of Baylor in Waco could be a turning point in the 2023 Texas Tech football season.  Finally picking up a road win this year, the Red Raiders played what many are suggesting was their best overall game of the Joey McGuire era.

“We haven’t been good on the road,” McGuire said following the victory, “and I thought the guys really were focused all week long.  We had some of our best practices Tuesday and Wednesday.”

Winning away from Jones Stadium is a hurdle that Tech must clear with consistency if this program is going to develop into a conference contender.  To simply qualify for the league title game, teams usually can afford only one (or perhaps two) losses during conference play meaning road wins have to be a big part of a team’s success.

However, Tech has been absolutely dreadful as a program when playing on another team’s campus.  Since the start of the Kliff Kingsbury era (2013), Tech is just 15-31 in true road games.

That’s the sign of a program that is in trouble.  When a problem persists through three different coaching staffs, that’s a reason for alarm.

Of course, McGuire hasn’t had enough time to completely eradicate Tech’s road issues given that he’s only halfway through his second season on the job.  Still, road struggles are perhaps the biggest narrative surrounding Texas Tech football outside of the strange run of bad luck when it comes to the health of the starting quarterbacks.

“They’re a very mature, intelligent team,” McGuire said.  “They understand that we haven’t played well on the road and so I think they were very determined to come in and play the way they did tonight.”

What makes this road win so unusual for the Red Raiders is that it was a blowout.  Of the previous five road wins that Tech had secured, only two had come by more than one score.  Those multi-score road triumphs were against an awful Kansas team (41-14 in 2021) and an awful West Virginia team (38-17 in 2019).  Of course, Saturday’s blowout came against an awful Baylor team as well.

Still, those previous two blowout road wins didn’t feel as thorough and satisfying as Saturday’s humiliation of Baylor did.  Of course, there is a bit more disdain for the Bears among Red Raiders fans than there is for KU or WVU.

However, it goes beyond that.  There was an attitude displayed in this game that hasn’t necessarily been synonymous with Texas Tech football for decades.

When was the last time a Tech team lined up and simply mauled an opponent at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball?  Usually, even when Tech has blown teams out, it has been via the passing game but last night, Tech crammed the ball right down Baylor’s gullet even though everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going to Tahj Brooks.  Tech simply said, “Yeah, we know that you know what we are going to do but we don’t care because there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Similarly, on defense, the Red Raider front made Baylor’s offensive line look like a group of 300-pound blind ballet dancers.  Tech racked up six sacks and eleven tackles for loss while also surrendering just 17 total rushing yards.  Sure, the Baylor O-line might be the worst in the Big 12 but still, when was the last time any Red Raider defense managed that type of dominance against any Big 12 opponent?

Maye this recent uptick (which started with last week’s win over Houston) has been a two-game mirage and Kansas State will burst Tech’s balloon next week in Lubbock.  Or maybe the last two games have shown us that this team has finally discovered its identity.

What’s more, is it possible that McGuire has transformed this program into one that is physically capable of bullying teams at the line?  Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change of pace for Texas Tech football fans?

We won’t be able to fully put the wins over Houston and Baylor into context until the season concludes.  Until then, we can only ride the week-to-week rollercoaster that is college football.  This week, thankfully, gave Red Raider fans a huge boost in the form of a win over an in-state rival that has owned the series since the end of the Mike Leach era in Lubbock.

So let’s continue to soak up the good-time vibes by reflecting back on what we saw in Waco.  Here are some extra observations on Tech’s most recent win.

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Saturday saw Cole Spencer miss his first game of the year at left guard.  Thought to be the best lineman on the team, his absence could have been a huge issue if not for Jacoby Jackson.

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The redshirt sophomore from Mansfield, Texas was unnoticeable in Spencer’s place and that’s exactly what you want from a starting interior offensive lineman. He didn’t draw any penalties and he helped the offense dominate the game at the point of impact.

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On the night, Tech would snap the ball only 68 times.  However, the offense would average 5.3 yards per play.

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The line would give up only one sack on 27 drop-backs while also paving the way for 186 yards per carry on a night when, again, everyone in the stadium knew what OC Zack Kittley was going to do…hand the ball to Tahj Brooks.

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Next year, Jackson could be in line to start at one of the guard spots given that Spencer and right guard Dennis Wilburn will exhaust their eligibility at the end of this season.  He showed on Saturday night that he might be ready for that opportunity as he helped his team pick up a win in a game in which the O-line controlled play all night long.

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Oct 7, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Monaray Baldwin (80) makes a catch as Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (1) defends during the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

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What a difference Jesiah Pierre and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson make for the Texas Tech defense

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There is no denying that linebacker Jesiah Pierre and safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson are the two most important Texas Tech defenders.  While Hutchings might be the best overall player on that side of the ball, Tech has players behind him who can step in and help fill his shoes when needed.  That’s not the case for Pierre and Taylor-Demerson.

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That duo missed last week’s game against Houston (Taylor-Demerson did play but left in the first quarter) and their absence pressed freshman LB Miquel Dingle and freshman safety Chapman Lewis into roles that they aren’t ready to play just yet.

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Both returned to action against Baylor and that’s one reason why the defense was so stingy.  Each had six tackles on the night and each was a difference-maker.

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The only complaint about either might be the bad angle Taylor-Demerson took on the 71-yard Baylor TD pass in the 4th quarter.  Still, he almost recovered enough to get a finger on the ball but it sailed just out of his reach to find Baylor WR Monaray Baldwin for an easy TD.

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Regardless, Taylor-Demerson was a huge positive influence for his team.  What was a bit different to see was how often DC Tim DeRuyter was willing to use Taylor-Demerson as a blitzer, though.

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Given that Tech has struggled to generate pressure in traditional ways for most of this year, that could be something we see more of because the senior safety is smart enough and fast enough to blitz from anywhere in the formation.  Look to see if he is utilized in that manner more frequently moving forward.

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Both Taylor-Demerson and Pierre have a calming effect on this defense.  They help get everyone in position and they are trusted to always be in the right place.  Their absences were one huge reason why Houston scored 28 points on the Red Raiders in the first half of last Saturday’s game and their return was one huge reason why Tech looked like a different team on that side of the ball against Baylor.

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Sep 2, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Dave Aranda on the side lines during the second half against the Texas State Bobcats at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

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Texas Tech fans are enjoying Baylor’s fast fall

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Finally, while watching this game, I couldn’t help but notice how bad Baylor is.  In fact, it is stunning how far that program has fallen in such a short time.

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It was only two years ago that the Bears went 12-2, won the Big 12 Championship Game, and beat No. 8 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.  That was the 2021 season, just Aranda’s second in charge.

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Since then, that program has gone just 8-11 overall.  What’s more, Baylor has now lost six of its last seven games against Power 5 opponents.

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Aren’t programs supposed to use conference championships as building blocks?  Shouldn’t that propel a program to further excellence?  That hasn’t been the case in Waco.

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Now, people associated with that program have to be asking if picking Aranda over McGuire in 2020 was the right call.  That’s because the two men seem to have their respective programs moving in vastly different directions.

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We all know the momentum McGuire is building on and off the field in Lubbock.  The same can’t be said of Aranda.

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The Bears’ last three recruiting classes have been ranked just 36th, 40th, and 37th nationally and their 2024 class sits at No. 60 overall and 11th of 14 teams in the Big 12.  Meanwhile, Tech has the No. 1 class in the conference in the current recruiting cycle.

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Baylor might be a program in trouble under Aranda.  Though he supposedly has a brilliant football mind, he doesn’t seem to possess the charisma and personality required to build a program.

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Remember that the conference title he won was done mainly with Matt Rhule’s players.  Now, Aranda’s fingerprints are all over the Baylor program and the results have been rather disheartening for people in green and gold.

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Aranda is the opposite of McGuire in personality and energy and it appears that his program is starting to take on his mellow and somewhat lifeless persona.  If the Bears don’t find a way to get to a bowl game this year, he could enter 2024 on the hot seat, but given how unanimated he is, he probably would not show any emotion even if his seat was literally set ablaze.

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