Texas Tech football: Why have the Red Raiders struggled on the road under McGuire?

Texas Tech football: Why have the Red Raiders struggled on the road under McGuire?
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Texas Tech head football coach Joey McGuire is all smiles after the Red Raiders beat Iowa State during a NCAA football game on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
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The Texas Tech football team will begin Big 12 play this week by trying to do something that has been rather challenging during the Joey McGuire era…win on the road.  Just 1-5 in games on an opponent’s campus since McGuire took over, the Red Raiders must find a way to fix that problem Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia.

To be fair, McGuire’s predecessors didn’t do a ton of winning on the road either.  Matt Wells was just 3-10 in true road games at Tech while Kliff Kingsbury was only 14-15 in such games.

Of course, winning away from home is tough for most teams.  That’s something that even Mike Leach struggled to do at times during his Red Raider career.

In fact, a lack of road success early in his tenure (especially against good teams) left many questioning Leach’s ability to win big at Tech.  Going just 6-9 in true road games in his first three seasons at Tech, even the all-time winningest head coach in Red Raider history often found life outside Loop 289 to be difficult.

To win on the road against teams with a pulse requires a program to be healthy in almost every aspect from culture to the roster to the coaching staff and beyond.  Trying to storm another school’s castle and come away with a victory is rarely easy, even when playing against programs that are inferior.

We learned that in week one of this season when Wyoming ambushed the Red Raiders in Laramie.  Of course, that lesson was also learned in 2019 when Kansas stunned Tech 37-34 in Lawrence overcoming a 17-0 deficit (just as Wyoming did this year against Tech).

Back in 2014, Kingsbury’s team narrowly escaped El Paso with a 30-26 win over UTEP.  Don’t forget, though, that was the second close call on the road against the Miners following 2006’s 38-35 overtime nailbiter.

The point is that winning away from home is never something to be taken for granted, even when playing a team that is not very good.  Many believe that the Mountaineers are in that category this year but they will present a challenge to McGuire’s team nonetheless.

Tech doesn’t have the type of roster that is simply going to overwhelm another Power 5 team on the road.  Sure, anything can happen and the Red Raiders might score a double-digit win on Saturday but that seems unlikely given that the only win McGuire has secured in another team’s home stadium was a 14-10 win over an awful Iowa State team last November.

So why has playing on the road been such a daunting task for Texas Tech over the past two seasons?  Let’s take a look at some specific reasons for the struggles away from The Jones.

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For instance, there is no denying that the gruesome broken leg Bryce Ramirez suffered early in last fall’s NC State game took an emotional toll on his teammates.  Seeing a friend carted off the field and taken immediately to the hospital has to be stunning and difficult to overcome for any team.

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Mother Nature played a cruel game with Tech prior to last year’s TCU game.  What should have been a flight of less than an hour turned into a nine-hour ordeal as the team plane was stuck on the runway in Lubbock for eight hours waiting for storms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to clear.  That meant that the Red Raiders’ Friday routine was completely altered as the team didn’t get to the hotel in the Metroplex until Friday night.

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What’s more, once that game kicked off, an egregious officiating call would turn the tide against the Red Raiders.  With Tech leading 17-13 with about a minute to play in the third quarter, Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson sacked TCU QB Max Duggan to set up what would have been a 3rd-and-14.

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However, as Duggan dipped his head to avoid Wilson’s grasp, an official threw a flag for a facemask foul. Replay would clearly show that Wilson did not grab Duggan by the facemask but rather, by the shoulder pads.  However, the penalty would stand giving TCU a first down.  Seven plays later, the Frogs would find the endzone to take the lead for good.

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This season saw another bad break go against Tech on the road at Wyoming.  When inside linebacker Jacob Rodriguez was lost for the game with a foot sprain in the first quarter, it completely changed the complexion of that game.

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Prior to that point, the Cowboys had picked up only one first down while turning the ball over twice.  The second of those giveaways was a fumble forced and recovered by Rodriguez himself, but on that play, he would be injured.

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It is reasonable to suggest that had he remained in the game, Rodriguez would have made a difference.  Wyoming attacked his replacements who were unable to step up in Rodriguez’s absence as the Cowboys would score all 35 of their points after he left the game.

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Sometimes misfortune turns the tide against a team on the road.  While bad breaks happen at home too, it is easier to fight through them when there are 60,000 fans helping pull you through.

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On the road, teams find out what they are made of when bad luck springs a trap.  It is likely that something unexpected will go against Tech again this weekend, be that a blown call, a bad bounce, or an injury.  The hope is that the Red Raiders will finally prove to be good enough to rise above those circumstances this time around.

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