A must win game for Matt Wells and Texas Tech

In almost every Texas Tech football season, we arrive at one game that is the veritable fork in the road; the game where the fall takes a turn towards the positive or towards the negative.

This Saturday, we arrive at that mile marker when Kansas State visits the Red Raiders for a game that could not only shift the balance of the current campaign but which could also have long-lasting ramifications on the future of the program.  That’s because this game is Matt Wells’ best shot at picking up his sixth win, a mark he must hit if he has any hopes of retaining his current job.

Right now, the ESPN.com matchup predictor gives Texas Tech a 58.8% chance at beating the Wildcats this weekend.  What’s more, KSU is riding an 8-game Big 12 losing streak and is in the midst of a 3-game skid.

Additionally, the Wildcats’ starting QB, Skylar Thompson, is playing through a leg injury that has limited his ability to run the football, something he does rather well when healthy.  In other words, KSU could be ripe for the picking.

But on the flip side, this is a series that KSU has dominated in recent years.  Matt Wells is 0-2 against the Wildcats as Texas Tech football head coach and the Cats currently enjoy a five-game winning streak in this series.

Also, the wounded animal theory suggests that Tech will get KSU’s best shot on Saturday.  It’s similar to the situation that Tech was in when facing TCU two games ago in that the Frogs were coming off of a two-game losing streak to in-state rivals and they came to Lubbock the more desperate and hungry team, factors that they rode to a dominant 21-point victory.

But big-picture-wise, Tech had best take care of business against KSU or else risk having this season unravel over the final four games.

The closing stretch to this season asks Texas Tech to square off with what are arguably the four best teams in the conference at this point (if you believe that Iowa State is better than Texas) Oklahoma, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor.  In those four games, the best chance of a victory the ESPN.com matchup predictor gives the Red Raiders is a 42% chance at taking down Oklahoma State.

What’s more, each of those four teams is more than equipped to exploit Tech’s greatest weakness, the run defense.  All four rank in the top six in the league in rushing yards per game and each features a running back that is in the top six in the conference in yards per game on the ground.

Thus, getting the all-important sixth win on the season to qualify for bowl eligibility is most likely to happen this weekend for Wells’ team.  If it doesn’t, it is hard to imagine Tech being able to find one more win on the schedule.

Imagine how the tone of the season will turn even more negative if Tech can’t find a way to take down a wobbly KSU team this week.  That would mark the second-straight home game in which Tech had a chance to finally win consecutive conference games under Wells’ guidance and a failure to do so again would mean that the remaining two home games will be sparsely attended as even the most loyal of fans will likely throw in the towel on the 2021 team, if not the program as a whole.

What’s more, should this season end on a five-game losing streak, AD Kirby Hocutt will have almost no choice but to make a change at head coach.  That would be the only way to satiate a fan base that is turning away from his athletic department’s most important program in droves.

But beating KSU would likely give Hocutt enough reason to keep the current staff in place.  He would have a non-losing regular season to point to for the first time since 2017 as a sign of tangible progress and a possible win in a bottom-tier bowl game would give this program its first winning season since 2015.  Such a scenario would be more than enough for Hocutt to believe that his hand-picked head coach is deserving of a stay of execution for at least another year.

That’s why this weekend’s game is a true fork in the road for the Red Raiders, not only just for the 2021 season but for the future of the program as a whole.  It will be fascinating to see which path they take.

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