The Texas Tech football program has had an awful run of luck in recent memory. Quarterback injuries have been commonplace, opponents have had miracle comebacks, officiating has been laughably one-sided at times, etc. Many Tech fans have equated it to a curse on the program ever since from coach Mike Leach’s unceremonious exit under dubious circumstances. Saturday’s game featured all of the above, with Tech down to its third-string quarterback heading into the day. An atrocious officiating crew seemed hellbent on assisting the Cyclones, as questionable call after call would gift Iowa State a possession or extend a drive. A late Iowa State comeback saw the Cyclones tie it up with all the momentum, seemingly poised to send the game into overtime and break Red Raider hearts once again. When kicker Jonathan Garibay lined up on the far side of the Double T logo at midfield to attempt an absurdly long 62-yard field goal as time expired, it seemed most likely that the kick would be blocked or returned for a touchdown.
A good snap, a good hold, and the truest kick possible sent a football blazing high into the West Texas sky. Time effectively slowed down for the Tech faithful as all began to realize as one that the most improbable of kicks suddenly had a very real chance. The ball majestically soared through the goalposts, and in a single moment, the black cloud that has hung over the program seemed to vanish into the ether. The Red Raiders erupted in in field-storming pandemonium. Defeating an unranked 6-3 Cyclone team is far from the biggest on-paper win Tech has had, but this victory was different. Tech, for once, found itself on the right side of a miracle. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the Red Raider fanbase was desperate to have a reason to hope again. With a budding star of a Freshman QB, a new coach who has injected energy into the program, and one of the most spectacular kicks in college football history, hope is now alive and well in West Texas.
When Texas Tech decided to fire Matt Wells in the middle of the season following an extremely disappointing loss to Kansas State, many in the national media took a cursory glance at Tech’s 5-3 record at the time with little to no knowledge of how the team got there and gleefully teed off on Texas Tech itself, the Tech administration, Lubbock, etc. However, those who were paying attention knew that the Red Raiders had far more talent than the results were reflecting, and repeated outings in which the team was poorly prepared and failed to adjust to putting together only half of a good football game pointed to coaching deficiencies that were difficult to ignore. Blowout losses to UT and TCU teams looked worse each week as these opponents struggled against virtually everyone else. With a backloaded schedule, a season that was trending very much the wrong way, and little to no reason to expect anything to improve, the needed change was made.
Enter Joey McGuire. On paper, this was not a splash hire. Most (this writer included) predicted that Jeff Traylor or Sonny Dykes would be the next head man in Lubbock. However, McGuire was the choice and he has hit the ground running in Lubbock. He deservedly won over the fanbase immediately as a terrific cultural fit, and his elation for the job was instantly apparent. The Texas high school coaching community emphatically celebrated the hire, and a flurry of commitments followed shortly after, including flipping a blue-chip this past weekend. While it’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to give McGuire a ton of credit for the team’s performance against Iowa State considering that he isn’t officially head coach yet, it is hard to think that his infectious excitement didn’t help. The Texas Tech program got a massive shot of life from its new head coach, and the interim head coach certainly deserves some recognition as well.
Sonny Cumbie has stated repeatedly after the Wells firing that he is viewing the remainder of the season as a job interview. While it is now apparent that he will not be the head coach in 2022, Cumbie just made an extremely strong case for being McGuire’s offensive coordinator. Iowa State entered the game fourth in the country in terms of total defense, and Cumbie’s offense lit them up for 529 yards and 41 points despite having multiple possessions taken from the Tech offense on highly suspect turnover decisions. Recall again that Donovan Smith is the team’s third-string QB. It seems clear that the starting job is Smith’s now as it should be, just as the offensive coordinator’s job should be Cumbie’s. The offense was explosive in a game where it certainly wasn’t supposed to be. Moreover, the entire team battled through adversity in ways it rarely had in 2021. It took a miracle kick in the end, but the Red Raiders could not have deserved the win more and certainly played more than well enough to earn it.
For the first time in what feels like forever, Texas Tech is headed to the postseason. This is far from the program’s aspirations or ceiling, but it is an objective accomplished for the season and a standard is met. Better yet, this season isn’t over. While upsetting a top-10 Oklahoma State squad will be a tall order, it seems infinitely more possible than it did a few weeks ago. It would be foolish to put the cart before the horse and pull a Sam Ehlinger to proclaim Tech football is “back” when there’s still plenty of work to do, but things certainly feel different about this program. It will be a welcome sight to witness the Red Raiders playing in a bowl game again. The additional practice time, along with a season that’s already giving Tech fans reasons to believe in the future, makes for a terrific springboard for the Joey McGuire era at Texas Tech.