Hensley: Tech football fans are frustrated, and it's perfectly understandable
Like a lot of folks, I spent time a week ago Saturday watching college football. Three games, each played in Texas, pretty much filled the day.
Texas and Oklahoma met in Dallas and played one of the most thrilling games I’ve ever seen. It was well-played, and the outcome wasn’t decided until the final seconds. Hours later in College Station, Texas A&M and then No.1-ranked Alabama played an equally exciting contest that was decided as time expired.
About that third game, Texas Tech and Texas Christian met in Lubbock. The Red Raiders had everything to play for, but the game was decided in the first two quarters – maybe even on its first two plays as TCU gashed a seemingly contact-averse defense on a couple of routine runs.
This is not to beat up on head coach Matt Wells and the Red Raiders. This is just the perspective of one frustrated observer who happens to have a visible outlet on Sundays. I don’t have an agenda. I believe everyone in the locker room is trying hard and wants to do their best. I am also writing prior to the team’s road game against Kansas that Tech is expected to win.
But as the old saying goes, scoreboards don’t lie, and several of the team’s Big 12 Conference games have had all the suspense of a two-float parade. Texas crushed Tech while scoring at will in a game that wasn’t as close as the 70-35 finale indicated. To its credit, though, the team got off the canvas, went on the road and defeated West Virginia in a victory featuring excellent execution by Tech down the stretch in each half.
The Raiders came back to town with a 4-1 record and a homecoming game against TCU. It didn’t require a lot of persuasion to think Tech might win, push its record to 5-1 and be on the downhill side of becoming bowl eligible.
Conditions were perfect. Crowd was bought in. And the game was never close. I turned away at the half and focused attention on the Aggies’ brewing upset of the Crimson Tide before a crowd of more than 100,000.
Contrary to what some might think, I want to see Texas Tech athletics succeed at the highest level. Victories are good for the program and good for the community. Writing about a winning team is a lot easier (and more fun) than writing about one on the skids.
That said, people are frustrated. You don’t have to venture over to social media to get an idea of the grumbling. Sit down in a coffee shop. Listen to the conversational buzz in restaurants. You will be a front-row observer for how optimism becomes indifference.
From this viewpoint, there are a few reasons people are worked up. Texas Tech fans are, by and large, a supportive lot. They will buy the ticket and take the ride, and their expectations for athletic programs are not unreasonable.
First, they want a competitive product. That doesn’t mean you have to win all of your games, but you do have to win the majority of the ones you’re expected to win, and your team has to rise up and deliver unexpected winning performances along the way. Sorry for the trip down nostalgia lane, but this was part of what made former head coaches Spike Dykes and Mike Leach so beloved by broad swaths of the fan base.
Your team doesn’t have to go to Austin and whip the Longhorns, but they do have to show up and stick around. They should also be able to hold a double-digit lead in the game’s final minutes (see last year’s Tech-UT game file for reference). Yes, you might get blown out on occasion, and Tech will almost always be the underdog. Regardless, if it’s apparent the effort comes through in the fundamentals such as blocking and tackling, fans can handle that.
If you watched either Texas-OU or A&M-Alabama, the talent gap between those programs and Tech’s appears significant. Those teams are filled with playmakers who repeatedly stepped up and made plays when it mattered. Ultimately, one team made one more play than the other for the final margin. The size, speed and strength across the board was incredible. It was almost like watching a different game.
I don’t say that to be critical, but only to get to the second point. Even if you struggle against Texas, Red Raider fans expect their football program to be among the upper tier in the conference. Take that however you wish, but let’s say it means consistently finishing among the top five.
The program boasts resources and facilities that others could have only dreamed of just a few decades ago. There has been a significant commitment made (more evidence of this demonstrated by the recent Dustin Womble gift), but it isn’t translating to sustained on-field success.
Fans expect their program to vigorously defend its home turf. There was a time not long ago when Jones AT&T Stadium was an extremely difficult place to play. No Big 12 opponent was in a hurry to visit. Now, not so much. In the past five seasons, not including the TCU loss this year, Tech has won six of 21 conference games in Lubbock.
Three came last year as the Raiders did a solid job at home, and there have been several big wins, but they’ve been precious few and far between. It’s made for a head-scratching past couple of seasons for fans.
They don’t think Tech should be in the bottom third of the league standings. They don’t think Tech should be an easy mark on the schedule especially for private school in-state rivals Baylor and TCU. They wonder why so many programs seem to be populated by athletes on defense who can fly to the ball, shed blocks and repeatedly make plays. They also might think a 6-6 record and the accompanying bowl eligibility is a pretty low bar aspiration-wise.
I don’t know how the rest of this season will go. My hope is all the pieces will click into place, and Tech will deliver superior effort the rest of the way, surprise a lot of people and win some games.
I do know this: Red Raider fans deserve nothing less. Their patience is wearing thin, and it is completely understandable.
Doug Hensley is associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Avalanche-Journal.