After an offseason spent telling anyone who would listen about how good his Texas Tech football team is, Joey McGuire saw his Red Raiders lay an egg on Saturday night in a 35-33 double-OT loss to Wyoming. Now, with the likely scenario of an 0-2 start to the season staring him square in the face given that the next opponent on the schedule is No. 15 Oregon, it is safe to say that McGuire’s honeymoon in Lubbock is over.
This isn’t to suggest that last season, McGuire’s first as a college head coach, was all roses and butterflies. There was a 1-3 start to open Big 12 play and an ugly home loss to Baylor on the night that Patrick Mahomes was inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor.
Through it all, though, McGuire was able to pull out some perilously tight games that could have gone into the loss column. In fact, his team would scrap and claw its way to overtime wins over Houston, Texas, and Oklahoma winning each game by the thinnest of margins thus giving everyone in Raiderland the belief that the program was turning around. However, the 2023 opener painted a very different picture.
McGuire has now done something that no Texas Tech head coach has done since 2009
By dropping a game to a Group of 5 school, McGuire becomes the first Texas Tech head coach since 2009 to do so. While it is fair to point out that the last Red Raider coach to lose a game to a non-Power 5 conference school was Mike Leach, the best coach in program history, it is also fair to note that neither Tommy Tuberville, Kliff Kingsbury, nor even Matt Wells saw their teams lose to a game to a Group of 5 school.
Sure, since the 29-28 loss at Houston in Leach’s final season as a Red Raider, Tech has had close calls against Nevada, Houston, and even UTEP. But the program always pulled out the close calls against smaller conference teams.
Not on Saturday night, though. And much of that blame has to fall at the feet of McGuire and his coaching staff.
What was most disappointing is that the Red Raiders were unable to match Wyoming’s effort and intensity, especially along the line of scrimmage. Frankly, that was shocking given that throughout 2022, McGuire was able to get his team to play with its hair on fire almost every week.
Maybe his offseason tactic of building up his team by brashly and blatantly stating at every opportunity that this year’s team was going to show the world what “the brand” is all about and that opponents weren’t ready for “60 minutes of us” backfired. Maybe the Red Raiders drank the Kool-Aid all summer and took Wyoming for granted with Oregon looming on the schedule.
Of course, any head coach should say in the offseason that he believes he has a quality team. You can’t go into a season telling everyone that your team is average at best and will be lucky to win six games.
However, McGuire doubled down on the bravado and confidence and when his team had an opportunity to show the country in a nationally-televised game that it was to be taken seriously, Texas Tech fell flat on its face.
If we were justified in holding Tuberville’s, Kingsbury’s, and Wells’ feet to the fire for all the times that their teams wet their pants, we must do the same to McGuire after this week-one fiasco. Tech was outplayed at just about every position and outcoached across the board.
The blame for that begins and ends with McGuire. Now, it is fair to wonder if he and his staff can get this ship righted in a hurry because life doesn’t get any easier moving forward.
A magical season for Texas Tech now seems like a fantasy
The thought that Texas Tech could be a darkhorse College Football Playoff contender this season is gone. The loss to Wyoming eliminated the Red Raiders from that conversation before the paint was even dry on the season.
However, a Big 12 title is still possible. Given what the Red Raiders put forth in the opener, though, that seems far-fetched.
Without some miraculous turnaround, Tech is going to start this season 0-2. That hasn’t happened since 1990.
What’s more concerning, though, is that this team, full of returning starters and veteran players, showed no signs of improvement against Wyoming. The same issues that have plagued the program for the majority of the time since the end of the Leach era were on display against Wyoming.
A mobile quarterback carved up the Red Raider defense. Sound familiar? Tech managed to get no pass rush. That’s been a story we’ve read too many times over the years in Lubbock. Untimely and unnecessary penalties helped Wyoming keep the momentum on its side. A classic Red Raider tale. Players were out of position all night and the schemes on both sides of the ball were head-scratching. Same song, second verse.
This team was supposed to be different. This coaching staff was too.
Instead, Tech was exposed as a pretender by a team that probably won’t even win the Mountain West. The Red Raiders got punched in the mouth by a decent but not spectacular Group of 5 team and couldn’t respond.
What is going to happen when Kansas State, TCU, BYU, UCF, or Texas land their own blows on the Red Raiders’ jaw? After all, while the atmosphere at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie was good, the announced crowd was under 27,000 people. That should not have been an environment that Tech couldn’t handle.
Granted, this team is allowed to get better, and we all hope it will. There have been seasons in Tech history that turned out to be positive even after disappointing losses to less-talented and less financially-supported opponents.
However, the thought that the 2023 Red Raiders would be this year’s version of the 2022 TCU team that had a Cinderella run to the National Title Game is gone. So too is the grace period for McGuire.
While we all still love Joey and what he has brought to the program in such a short time, the reality is that in losing to Wyoming he used up all of the equity he worked so hard to earn last season. Now, it is about to get real for McGuire and his program. The criticism will be heavy and it will be justified, especially if they can’t upset the Ducks next week at home. How he gets his team respond, not only next week but for the rest of the year, will be telling and could set the course of the program for years to come.
However, the reality is that McGuire’s honeymoon is over. Now, we will see just what he’s made of as a head coach because he has put himself in a position that he hasn’t ever been in at the college level. What will his response be?