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THIS WEEK'S WONDERINGS: A win in Morgantown can become a jumping off point for Kingsbury's program
Texas Tech has represented a number of things in Kliff Kingsbury's tenure. It's been a wellspring of quarterback development, as Kingsbury has done as good a job as any coach in the country of grooming quarterbacks, refining each and every one of his starters so far into the best versions of themselves.
It's been about bonkers, mind-warping offensive production that looks a bit different each year, Kliff and his staff molding the unit to the strengths of its personnel to create as chameleon-like of an air raid offense as exists in the sport.
But it's also been about other, less positive things. Mental mistakes, whether they be penalties, turnovers, or lack of execution, have plagued the Red Raiders, and often at the worst times, resulting in lopsided losses.
Porous defense in Lubbock has been the laughing stock of college football, as opponents have often scored at will by their choice of land or air, the talent level has been utterly lacking as compared to many of their Big 12 peers, and poor fundamentals have lead to many a face palm from the Red Raider faithful. It was so bad in 2015 and 2016 that a sacrificed lead trumpeted unavoidable doom despite the offense often scoring north of 50 points. It felt hopeless to watch Tech football against any opponent north of average.
But seemingly no more.
The defense has been an absolute revelation, taking a complete 180 in year three under David Gibbs with a bolstered roster and commitment to his turnover-friendly system. Through five games, it's appeared that patience has won out for the DC and his head coach, as the unit has been able to get key stops, plays sound football against the run, and they rarely give up big plays downfield. The complementary football that Texas Tech needed from its defense has arrived.
This is a team that's turnover margin is through the roof, picking up plenty of fumble recoveries and interceptions on defense while rarely coughing it up on offense, creating more opportunities for that still-dynamic offense.
And while it hasn't been consistent yet, this is a team that is definitely trying to run the ball while slowing the pace offensively as well, creating a more balanced attack with a new-look run game under Brandon jones, more possession time, and keeping the defense off the field for longer stretches. In fact, Tech's 79 plays per game is currently on pace for 18th in the country. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders fininshed in the top 5 in the category in 2013, 2015, and 2016.
This team is also winning close games. They've seemed to let them slip away in years past, particularly in 2016 where the Red Raiders painfully bumbled away chances to win late against quality opponents. They were always a few plays away. This year, they found ways to get it done on both sides of the ball against Arizona State and Houston, coming a drive away from beating a top 15 Oklahoma State team at home.
This team is just different. And it's apparent.
Now that the defense is better, they're making fewer mistakes and more plays, and they're winning close games, their next hurdle on their journey in the right direction is to simply beat a good team.
A good team is one who rarely makes major mistakes, that has a clear, trusted identity, and plays consistent football.
That team shows up on the schedule this weekend.
West Virginia has transformed under Dana Holgorsen, going from a team in a similar predicament of sloppy, defense-optional football in his early years to a hard nosed, stingy, physical, consistent program that's established their identity and plays a baseline level of good football each year. They run the ball well, they get in your face, and they play defense that complements their offense. They're a well oiled, mid-upper Big 12 program right now.
And that's why Texas Tech and Coach Kingsbury can take this game, win it, and turn it into a major moving-forward milestone for this season.
West Virginia has out-manned, out-fought, and out-executed the Red Raiders on both sides of the ball for three consecutive years. This is the first time since 2013 that Tech is in real position to beat them, and it's because the Red Raiders have finally built their program, developed the identity on both sides of the ball, and is playing a consistent level of football every week.
A win in Morgantown is a win for this program's future, and it can be a spring board to a much bigger season than any initially imagined outside of the doors of the Football Training Facility.
It means Tech is 5-1 with a legitimate chance to go 6-1 and really gamble with major house money down the stretch.
It means Texas Tech will have their best win in Kingsbury's tenure over a team not named Arizona State or Arkansas, a much more meaningful win against a conference foe that's found their footing as a top half of the Big 12 program.
It means confirmation for these players that went through a grueling offseason in hopes of cashing in their blood and sweat to prove everyone wrong about what kind of team they are.
It means there is real light at the end of the tunnel here for Kingsbury.