Texas Tech football: Plenty of questions remain as conference play arrives

Texas Tech football: Plenty of questions remain as conference play arrives
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Sep 16, 2023; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Steve Linton (7), defensive back Josiah Pierre (8), defensive tackle Jaylon Hutchings (95) and defensive back C.J. Baskerville (9) after the game against the Tarleton State Texans at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With the dawn of a new work week, Texas Tech football fans are quickly turning their attention to this week’s Big 12 opener at West Virginia.  While Saturday’s victory over Tarleton State was a nice reprieve from the consternation that had defined the first two weeks of the season, it isn’t one worth celebrating or spending too much time on.

Now, the opportunity to make some real waves has arrived in the form of a Big 12 conference that is rather unsettled, especially in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, there is no denying that Texas and Oklahoma have been the class of the conference thus far as they are the only teams in the league that are ranked this week.

Texas has looked the part of one of the best teams in the nation and their win at Alabama in week two was arguably the biggest win any college football team has secured thus far.  However, they were not impressive in week one by beating Rice 37-10 and in this past weekend’s 31-10 triumph over Wyoming, they were actually tied with the Cowboys at 10-10 in the 4th quarter.

What’s more, after a sloppy 17-3 win at South Florida this weekend, it is looking like this version of the Crimson Tide might be the worst of the Nick Saban era.  So is Texas really a national title contender?  Big 12 play will tell us quite a bit about whether or not they are.

OU is also far from being worthy of getting the benefit of the doubt as a factor on the national scene.  Throttling Arkansas State and Tulsa is nothing worth scheduling a parade for and the Sooners were less than dominant in week two’s 28-11 home win over SMU.

Still, those two soon-to-be-ex-Big 12 programs sit atop the conference’s hierarchy heading into week four.  The rest of the conference…well…it’s a mess.

The gooey middle of the Big 12 is about as jumbled as one could ever expect.  What we do know is that Houston, Baylor, Iowa State, Cincy, and Oklahoma State all look to be fatally flawed, if not downright awful.  What’s more, the group consisting of Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, BYU, UCF, TCU, and Kansas State all appear to be uncertain bets from week to week at best.

Therefore, there still remain plenty of questions for every Big 12 team to answer.  That’s absolutely true of the Red Raiders who sit at just 1-2 this year.

What we saw against Tarleton did little to assuage any concerns about this team and, in some ways, the 41-3 win actually raised more questions than we had heading into the game.  So, let’s take a look at what we still don’t know about Joey McGuire’s team as we look toward Big 12 play.

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So far, Tech has managed just two sacks per game, good for only 9th in the conference.  However, half of the six sacks this team has on the season came against Tarleton.

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Against Oregon, Tech got only one sack and that is concerning because that’s the caliber of team that the Red Raiders will face in Big 12 play.  On the other hand, maybe a better showing from a key pass rusher this past weekend will be the start of something positive.

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Leading the team with two sacks against the Texans, defensive end Myles Cole finally made the type of impact that fans and coaches alike have been waiting for him to make.  Hopefully, that will carry into conference play.

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Tech also needs outside LB Steve Linton and defensive end Joseph Adedire to get fully healthy as both are dealing with nagging injuries that have impacted their effectiveness.  Is it realistic to expect them to heal during the rigors of conference play, though?  That’s usually when players tend to suffer more ailments rather than returning to health.

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The Red Raiders need someone to become a consistent pass rush force though.  It is too bad that promising redshirt sophomore Isaac Smith is out for the year after he showed promise at the end of last season when All-Big 12 DE Tyree Wilson was lost with a foot injury.

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Against Tarleton, true freshman, Dylan Spencer made his Red Raider debut and he flashed with a pair of tackles.  However, it is tough to expect him to be an instant pass-rush menace in his first year as a collegiate despite the fact that he was a 4-star recruit in the class of 2023.

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If the pass rush is going to improve, it is going to be the veterans who will have to take their game to the next level.  However, what we’ve seen from this year’s defensive line isn’t all that encouraging in that area.

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