Timing is so critical in college football. With emotion being such a critical aspect of the game, half the battle seems to be not who you play, but when. Case in point: last season the Ohio State Buckeyes got hot at the right time and rolled through the Big Ten Championship, playoff semifinal, and national championship game, turning in their best performances of the season when the lights shone the brightest. Fast forward to this season, and with low stakes, the Buckeyes have turned in a few clunker performances against Hawaii and Northern Illinois, teams they should be able to slaughter in their sleep.
Which is precisely why I worry about Texas Tech this week. I wrote last week that I was concerned the Red Raiders might have peaked too soon, with their road upset of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Would the Red Raiders have any gas left for a shootout with TCU?
Turns out they did, and even with sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes slowed by a knee injury, the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs put on one of the most entertaining games of this young season.
EMOTION (OR NAH)
So with the next spotlight game for Tech coming Saturday, against the fifth-ranked Baylor Bears, how much do the Red Raiders have left in the tank?
For Baylor, this is just another game against an unranked opponent. The Bears have performed their usual offseason act, routing SMU, Lamar, and Rice 56-21, 66-31, and 70-17, respectively. Quarterback Seth Russell has been cruelly efficient, completing 63% of his passes for 12.4 yards per attempt and fifteen touchdowns (against Rice, he finished with more touchdowns than incompletions), and we haven’t even seen his ballyhooed mobility yet. Baylor’s biggest advantage in this game has nothing to do with X’s and O’s; but rather, that this is just another game.
On the Texas Tech sideline, however: this is the third time in three weeks they’ll need to play a near-perfect game to win. They’ve got to be exhausted. Advantage, Baylor.
ALSO, DEFENSE, TOO
It’s easy to overlook the fact that Baylor has a defense. It’s better than TCU’s injury-riddled unit, and it’s been really good at preventing long drives. They’ll get their first real test this week against Tech, who beat TCU mostly by shortening the field with really long heaves, which put the offense in short red zone situations. If Tech can do that again they can definitely hang around.
But at some point they’ll also have to play some defense themselves. TCU gashed the Red Raiders for 750 total yards, and the Bears are averaging 767. The Red Raiders’ defensive theory that yards allowed don’t matter as long as you get turnovers will be put to the test Saturday. Russell did throw three picks against Lamar, so he’s capable of making mistakes, if Tech can only force them.
SLOW AND STEADY MIGHT WIN THE RACE
. . . which sounds just wrong when talking about a Big 12 game between the second- and third-fastest offenses in FBS. But I think if Baylor can keep calm and simply operate, they’ll win this game by two touchdowns. I don’t think Tech’s got the energy for another shootout, and that the Bears pull away late, but hopefully not before we get about 50 minutes of fireworks. Big 12’s gotta Big 12.