The Red Raiders get a dose of reality against NC State


In Saturday night’s 27-14 loss to the No. 16 NC State Wolfpack, the Texas Tech football team was served a harsh dose of truth. Joey McGuire’s program, played all night by the Wolfpack defense and special teams, learned just how far from being a national contender.

Of course, Tech shouldn’t have won this game as a double-digit underdog. Moreover, the fact that this is the first road test of the season made it even more difficult for Tech.

However, the Red Raiders were never a threat to NC State, mainly due to their own mistakes. Avoid some of these mistakes and this could be a different game. Of course, this is like saying that the Titanic was a great ship if you took out the hole in the side of the ship.

So let’s take a look at a few quick thoughts from the Red Raiders’ first loss of the season. And we’ll start by looking at a reality that tech fans don’t want to face.

Zach Keightley trained for the second-straight week

We all know that offensive coordinator Zach Keightley has a reputation as one of the brightest offensive minds in the country. But for the second week in a row, he was coached by a highly regarded defensive coordinator.

Last week’s offense against Houston was floundering for much of the second half, but was able to right itself on a last-ditch effort to tie the game. He then regained his footing thanks to the legs of Donovan Smith for the double overtime period.

This week, it was Tony Gibson’s Wolfpack defense that troubled Keatley’s offense the same way Gibson did Kliff Kingsbury’s offense when Gibson was defensive coordinator at West Virginia. Keithley may lack the horses he needs to run the offense (especially on the offensive line), but a true offensive creator can make up for it by scheming around his team’s weaknesses. Keatley did that to some extent against Houston, but that offensive performance was still a myth.

Much of that came in garbage time as Tech finished the game with just 353 yards, smacking Kaitlin’s offense on Saturday. Is that a sign that Keatley is in his own growing pains, or is it a sign that you should play your backup QB against a top-flight defense on the road? Either way, whatever Tech has to work with, he wants more from his son’s brilliant play caller.

Speaking of Smith…

…it was scary. In fact, he played his second worst game as a Red Raider (last year’s home loss to Oklahoma State was the only major setback).

While completing 58.3% of his passes, throwing for just 214 yards and 1 TD, he was confused by the Wolfpack’s unique 3-3-5 scheme and punted twice, once for a TD. Moreover, the sense of awareness in the pocket was absolutely horrible. On several occasions, he simply stood in the pocket and stared blankly, waiting for receivers to come open on one side of the field to take a sack or a big hit, never looking to the other side of the field.

Also, in this game, NC State took away its biggest attribute, its legs, and it was clear that it wasn’t equipped to win this game with its arm. He’s now been picked off five times in two starts this season and has yet to make it.

Beren Morton stepped in to lead Tech’s final drive after Smith’s second pick of the night, and one has to wonder if that was McGuire’s way of sending a message to Smith that his picks (and other mistakes) were unacceptable. Maybe it was just a matter of getting the redshirt freshman, Morton, some real game reps on the road, but if there was a message sent, hopefully, it was received because if Tech is going to win anything, Smith has to be much better. Next three games (against Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State).

His special teams have been awful all year.

Tech has been poor on special teams all season and met them in a major way tonight. In fact, you could argue that this is where the game was ultimately lost.

Drew Hocutt fumbled NC State’s first punt of the night allowing the Packers to recover deep in Tech territory. Although the game ended with only three points for the home team, it gave a general conclusion to the game.

Tech got a layup from Austin McNamara to set up NC State’s scoring. His 29-yard first-quarter punt set up NC State’s second field goal of the night and was part of a night in which he averaged just 41.2 yards on six kicks. That’s not exactly average, but it’s far less than McNamara could because Tech needed him to turn the field over so often and he didn’t.

The return game was also a joke as Tech averaged less than 20 yards per game, setting up the offense in a terrible spot to start drives on a night when the offense needed all the help it could get.

This defense is good

We end on a positive note. The 2022 Red Raider defense is good. End of story. In fact, it was enough to hold NC State’s offense to just 20 points on Saturday night.

Overall, the package managed just 269 yards. It includes only 158 in the air.

All-ACC NC State quarterback Devin Leary was unimpressive, going just 15-23 for 120 yards and no touchdowns, and much of that was due to the work of the Red Raider secondary, particularly cornerback Malik Dunlap. Tech’s defense was able to contain Leary and repeatedly shut down special teams, which could have led to a win.

However, in the end, Tech needed a defensive score or a big play-nullifying play and that didn’t happen. Still, there’s no way anyone can complain about Tech’s play on defense, and it looks like this team will hang its hat on the future.



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