Texas Tech is riding its longest undefeated start to a season in more than 30 years, thanks in part to a schedule that hasn’t yet pitted the Red Raiders against another Top 25 team.
That’ll change dramatically over the next month, beginning with this weekend’s game against a Kansas team that’s well-versed in the perils of facing ranked opponents.
The eighth-ranked Red Raiders put their unblemished record on the line in the first of four consecutive meetings against ranked opponents on Saturday when they visit the No. 19 Jayhawks, who’ve lost their first two games against Top 25 teams.
Texas Tech (7-0, 3-0 Big 12) has taken advantage of a relatively easy schedule to stay undefeated through seven games for the first time since 1976, when it opened 8-0 en route to its last 10-win season.
The Red Raiders, though, are entering a daunting four-game stretch that features matchups with the Jayhawks (5-2, 2-1), No. 1 Texas, No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Oklahoma. As intimidating as that list appears, Texas Tech coach Mike Leach insists he’s not concerned with the number in front of each team’s name “because it really doesn’t make any difference.”
The Red Raiders will prepare for each game “same as the other ones,” Leach said. “Just do the same things. Just have good practices, good weeks of preparation and then go out and play the best we can.”
After dropping its first two games against ranked opponents last season, Texas Tech won its last two, beating then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Nov. 17 and defeating then-No. 21 Virginia in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.
Those victories are certainly encouraging, but for some Texas Tech players, the challenge doesn’t seem to be the teams they’ll face in the coming weeks, but rather the team they put on the field.
“We understand that our best is good enough to beat everyone in the country, but the kicker is making sure that our best is what’s out there every Saturday,” offensive lineman Rylan Reed said. “We’ve got the talent, the experience, the coaching. We’ve got everything in place that we need to be in place. Now it’s just going out there and getting it done.”
Kansas hasn’t gotten it done in its first two meetings with ranked teams this season. The Jayhawks lost 37-34 to then-No. 19 South Florida on Sept. 12 and suffered a 45-31 defeat against Oklahoma last Saturday.
“A loss is always disappointing, regardless of how it happens,” safety Darrell Stuckey said. “We just have to be optimistic about it and realize that … we are going to be able to learn (from it). You learn more from a loss than you do from a win.”
Todd Reesing was 24-for-41 for 342 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Dezmon Briscoe caught 12 passes for a school-record 269 yards and two touchdowns last week. But the Jayhawks’ prolific offense couldn’t hang with a Sooners team that compiled 674 total yards - the most against Kansas since Oklahoma State had 717 in 1988.
“I think we need to go out there, be more consistent and maintain the mental edge,” Stuckey said. “We need to continue to fight, and not allow (opponents) to get opportunities to succeed. … After coming in here and fighting against a good team, I think we will be able to come out next week and play a lot better.”
The Jayhawks, who haven’t suffered back-to-back defeats since a four-game skid Sept. 30-Oct. 21, 2006, have lost nine of their 10 all-time meetings with the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech, though, looked vulnerable at times in last Saturday’s 43-25 win over Texas A&M. Graham Harrell was 44-for-56 for 450 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Red Raiders trailed at halftime for the first time this season before outscoring the Aggies 23-2 in the second half to pull out the victory and extend their win streak to nine games—tied for the longest in the country.
After winning its first five games by an average of 29.8 points, Texas Tech has won its last two by 12.0. The Red Raiders know they’ll need more complete performances over the next several games to remain unbeaten.
“From the beginning of the season we noticed these four games coming up and we are all excited about it,” offensive lineman Brandon Carter said. “This is the time of season that’s going to make or break us. Nothing in the past really matters at this point and what’s ahead of us is really our biggest competition.”