In six years as head coach at Utah State, one of the toughest locales in college football, Matt Wells missed just one bowl game. Between critical injuries, tough scheduling and plain bad luck, the Red Raiders dropped to 4-8 for the first time since 2014.
That burgeoning culture showed flashes throughout the 2019 season. After an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma, the Red Raiders rallied to beat Oklahoma State. They took Big 12 finalist Baylor to double-overtime in Waco. Tech generated late comebacks against TCU and Kansas State. But ultimately, the Red Raiders still finished 0-4 in one-score ball games.
“I’m very well aware we went 0-5 in fourth quarter ball games,” Wells said. “You win half of those, you would have been in a bowl game. You win the vast majority, you have a really, really good year. That’s the difference right now between this program and others.”
Flipping those close games will be a critical focus for the program, and that starts with the roster. The Red Raiders added six graduate transfers in 2019, and are adding four more in 2020 at key positions.
The high school recruits are also starting to come along. The Red Raiders were able to redshirt most of the 2019 class. The 2020 class had the best average rating at Texas Tech in five years. The 2021 class is even better. Recruits are buying Wells’ vision.
“That's something we strive to do is have competitive depth at every position, and that was something that was not the case when we walked in here at many positions,” Wells said. “To be able to develop this program the way we want it to, we have to recruit at a high level, and we need to develop at a high level.”
The Red Raiders technically lose six starters on offense, but the numbers are misleading. All-Big 12 offensive lineman Jack Anderson is back from an injury and will cement the interior line. Running back SaRodorick Thompson cemented his spot as the starter by the end of the year. However, the biggest addition comes under center.
Losing quarterback Alan Bowman before conference play put the Red Raiders in a tough spot right from the outset. They tested two other starters before opting to hold Bowman out for the rest of the season to preserve his redshirt. The extra recovery time should serve Bowman well after years of injuries.
“He’s a tremendous player,” offensive coordinator David Yost said. “I think we did well for the situation we had, but having him would have made for a better offense. I think it would have resulted in more victories.”
On the other hand, the defense brings back 71 percent of its production, and the improvement was obvious a season ago. Replacing first round pick Jordyn Brooks won’t be easy, but a combination of junior college and graduate transfers will help plug some of the holes. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson did a strong job of getting his defense up to speed and improving the defensive culture in Lubbock. Taking another step is expected.
“I think the way Coach Patterson calls defense is just awesome for the Big 12,” Howard said. “I think it allows us to compete and really attack, force teams to make mistakes and get turnovers. I think just having another year is big.”
Luckily, the schedule lines up to make things interesting. Five of the Red Raiders’ worst losses can be avenged at home, including a Thursday night matchup with Baylor – the first matchup in Lubbock since 2008 – and a non-conference showdown with Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona. Getting revenge and earning a spot in a bowl game would be a big next step.
Wells signed up for a multiple-year building process when he opted to leave his alma mater for Lubbock. It’s still early, but the foundation of a sustainable program is starting to reveal itself. With the roster growing and talent level rising, Texas Tech will start winning some of these close games in the very near future.
“There’s a hunger for success with these guys,” Patterson said. “There’s a hunger to improve. By no stretch of the imagination are we where we want to be, but we’re far out in front of where we were before in every aspect.”
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