Downward slide continues for Red Raiders with loss to BYU

Trying to win a night game at BYU is always difficult. After all, following their 27-14 win over the Red Raiders on Saturday night, the Cougars are now 20-1 in their last 21 night games in Provo. Trying to overcome that type of environment with a true freshman QB who is making his first career start? That’s almost impossible as Texas Tech found out.

What was disappointing, though, is that the rest of the roster failed to pick up any of the slack for the struggling Jake Strong who was just 19-37 passing for 236 yards and a TD with 3 picks.  It was the worst showing of the season for Joey McGuire’s team, and given that Tech is now 3-5 overall, that’s saying something.

To say things are unraveling for Tech is an understatement.  Sure, 2023 has been a disaster since week one’s loss at Wyoming.

However, at least the early-season losses to the Cowboys, the Oregon Ducks, and the West Virginia Mountaineers were competitive affairs.  Each of those games came down to the final moments of the game before being decided leading many Red Raider fans to believe that this team was capable of turning things around should just a play or two break differently over the course of the game.

Now?  Tech has lost its last two games by an average of 15 and in the fourth quarter, neither was in doubt.

The Red Raiders head into their bye week before the Thursday night game in Lubbock against TCU on November 4th with their tails squarely between their legs.  Though no one wants to live through Saturday night’s no-show in Provo for very long, here are some rapid reactions from yet another Texas Tech loss.

Texas Tech QB Jake Strong is not ready for his moment

If you had a high bar for Jake Strong heading into this game, well…I want some of what you were drinking.  After seeing the true freshman toss three INTs in the second half of last week’s loss to Kansas State, few people in scarlet and black expected him to light the world on fire in a hostile stadium, even though the BYU defense has been very shaky against the pass this year.

What we saw from Strong was even worse than just about anyone could have expected, unfortunately.  Officially, he ended the game with three interceptions (giving him six in just 1.5 games this year) but he could have easily had three or four more had BYU hauled in an errant pass or corralled a tipped ball or two.

What’s more, Strong was rattled all night long.  He bobbled several snaps, he flubbed the handoff to Tahj Brooks on the failed fourth-down conversion attempt inside the BYU 10 on Tech’s first possession, and he was woefully off target on a number of throws to open receivers.

Like many freshmen do, Strong stared down his intended target over and over again.  That allowed BYU to jump route after route and the fact that he didn’t end the game with six interceptions is nothing short of miraculous…or perhaps a case of Mormon charity.

His best moment was the 72-yard TD pass to Xavier White in the second quarter to briefly cut the BYU lead to 14-7.  It was a beautiful throw to White who was streaking past his defender and who hauled the pass in and easily outran the defense to the endzone.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any other moments like that from the former 3-star recruit who made his college debut last week.  Of course, it is not fair to rip a true freshman for struggling but we’ve seen other true freshmen in tough situations look much better for the Red Raiders.

Alan Bowman was poised and efficient in his first-ever game when, in 2018, he had to take over for the injured McLane Carter in the first quarter of the season opener.  And that performance was against an Ole Miss team that was miles better than this year’s BYU squad.

Walk-on Baker Mayfield actually led Tech to a 41-23 win at SMU in his first-ever NCAA game to open the 2013 season.  Two games later, true freshman Davis Webb would lead Tech to 10 points in the 4th quarter to beat a top-25 TCU team in Lubbock in his first career Big 12 action.  It’s hard to imagine Stong pulling off either of those feats after what we’ve seen from him in his first two games.

He just didn’t impress, even when the bar was rather low to begin with.  That’s not all that shocking given that he was just a 3-star recruit and the No. 752 player in the nation in the class of 2023.  He was never a blue-chip recruit and he was never expected to be the future of the program and we saw why on Saturday night.

The Texas Tech defense was a huge disappointment

While no one thought Strong was going to look like Joe Montana on Saturday, most expected the Texas Tech defense to hold BYU in check well enough to make this game winnable.  However, that didn’t happen, especially in the first half.

Sure, seven of the points the Cougars’ points came via a defensive score when Strong and Brooks were unable to make a clean handoff inside their own 10 leading to a BYU fumble recovery in the endzone.  Still, the defense had to know that any hope of a win was going to rest on its shoulders and defensive coordinator Tim DeRyuter’s side of the ball couldn’t deliver.

We should have known how this game was going to go when, on the second play of the night, BYU broke off a 55-yard run.  Coming into the game averaging below 70 yards per game on the ground, the Cougars had 57 yards rushing on their first drive and they would end the night with 150 in total.

Meanwhile, Tech didn’t manage to get any consistent pressure on BYU QB Kedon Slovis, who is a statue in the pocket.  With no sacks, the Red Raiders didn’t come close to making Slovis uncomfortable at all, and only rarely did the senior have to absorb any contact when delivering the ball.

Also, Tech went a second straight game without taking the football away from its opponent.  Now, in five conference games, the defense that sets its weekly goal at three takeaways has managed to collect only three in total.

On a night when Tech gave the ball away five times, it sure would have been nice to see the Red Raider defense help a wounded and struggling offense by giving the other side of the ball a short field.  The closest Tech came to a takeaway was on BYU’s second drive when Dadrion Taylor-Demerson got his hands on a pass just as it arrived in the hands of a receiver.  Though the pass fell incomplete, it was a missed opportunity for a takeaway deep in enemy territory when the game was still up for grabs.

In the end, Tech’s defense put up stats that were better than the reality of its performance.  Holding BYU to 20 offensive points was nice but it was also due in large part to the fact that BYU played an extremely safe game in the second half after taking a 24-7 halftime lead.

Tech gave up 9.3 yards per carry to BYU running back L.J. Martin and an average of 5.0 yards per carry to one of the worst rushing teams in the nation.  That’s not the type of effort this team needed from its defense on a night when we knew that the offense was going to be hamstrung.

Texas Tech plays another sloppy game

It has to be said…this is not a well-coached team.  In fact, this team is getting sloppier and less disciplined as the season goes on.

Sure, the officiating was questionable on Saturday night, especially on the critical third-down spot that put Tahj Brooks short of a first down just one play prior to Tech’s ill-fated 4th-down attempt on its first drive of the game.

However, Tech was guilty of a number of back-breaking penalties such as a holding by Tahj Brooks to erase a big punt return by Myles Price in the first half or the second-half holding penalty by center Rusty Staats to wipe out a long run by Brooks.

In all, Tech was flagged nine times for 80 yards while BYU incurred only four flags for 24 yards. That, of course, included the ejection of tight end Jayden York, who the officials allege spat on a BYU defensive player in the first half.

When you combine the penalties and the turnovers that we are seeing from this team on a weekly basis now, it is fair to question the coaching that is taking place.  The discipline of a team is a direct reflection of its leadership and that falls squarely at McGuire’s feet.

This team is getting worse as the season progresses, not better in what feels like a script straight out of the Kliff Kingsbury era.  That’s the opposite of what happened last year when Tech won its last four games.

How much of that is due to injuries such as those at QB, linebacker, and other spots?  Some, for sure.  But last year, Tech also had to start three different players at QB and overcome various injuries elsewhere, and yet never did it look like the 2022 Red Raiders were poorly coached (except against Baylor).

This year, Tech has looked ill-prepared against Wyoming, West Virginia, KSU, and now BYU.  That’s on the coaching staff.  How many times this year has it appeared that the Tech game plan was foolish or inexplicable, especially on offense?  Likewise, how many times this year has Tech looked like the more flustered, unintelligent, and sloppy team?  Far too often.

This coaching staff was very brash in the offseason and that started with the head coach.  They aren’t ready for “60 minutes of us” or “this team would beat last year’s team by 14 points” were two of his famous offseason quotes and now, those braggadocious statements are being used to mock McGuire and his coaching staff.

If McGuire wasn’t recruiting as well as he is and if players like 2024 5-star wide receiver Micah Hudson and 4-star QB Will Hammond weren’t set to arrive next semester, McGuire would be seeing comparisons to Matt Wells.  After 21 games, McGuire is just 11-10 overall and while that’s better than Wells was after his first 21 games, it isn’t what Tech fans expect.

What’s more, he has a losing record (9-10) against FBS teams.  That’s not going to get it done.  Right now, the only things keeping McGuire’s seat cool are his recruiting results and his likeability.

Texas Tech got very little from its so-called “stars”

Outside of Brooks, this is a team without any real star power.  However, there are players on this roster that were expected to be “stars” this year.

In Provo, those players gave Tech next to nothing.  For instance, starting middle linebacker Jesiah Pierre had only one tackle.  I heard nothing on the broadcast of him being injured so I have no clue why he was so invisible.  On a night when your defense needed to step up, Pierre had the same number of tackles as running back Cam’Ron Valdez.

Starting safety Tyler Owens had only two tackles.  For much of the night, he was replaced by freshman Brenden Jordan, who had only one stop himself. Remember the offseason talk about how Owens was supposed to be a massive upgrade over the guy he replaced at the end of last year, Reggie Pearson?  Remember the thought that Owens might play his way into being an NFL Draft pick this next spring?  That seems laughable now.

Tony Bradford, one of your “star” defensive tackles, gave you only three tackles on the night.  Where was he when BYU was more than doubling its season rushing average on the ground?

On offense, preseason All-Big 12 wide receiver Jerand Bradley caught three passes for a whopping 21 yards.  He’s now been replaced as your biggest outside weapon by redshirt freshman Coy Eakin (who was also silent on Saturday with only two catches for four yards).

Myles Price?  Your most reliable and explosive receiver in 2023 was good as a punt returner averaging 20.8 yards per return but he caught only two passes for 27 yards.  Of course, on one of those returns, he did lose a fumble, something that Tech could ill-afford.

Again, the passing game was limited because of Strong’s struggles however, there was a need for someone to win some one-on-one matchups like White did in the second quarter but no one else managed to do so and make the freshman QB’s life easier.

When you enter a game with a true freshman QB making his first start, your veteran leaders have to pick up the slack.  They have to take their games to another level so that life can be easier for your young signal caller.

Tech’s veteran leaders didn’t do that outside of Brooks (105 yards and a TD on 31 carries).  Right now, for various reasons, this team has to rely on a freshman QB to lead the offense, a redshirt freshman linebacker in Ben Roberts to be its leading tackler, and a redshirt freshman wide receiver in Eakin to be one of its main weapons in the passing game.  That’s not how you win games in the Big 12.

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