LUBBOCK — There was no quit to the Texas Tech football team on Saturday, but it started slow for a second-straight home game as the Red Raiders fell 33-31 against TCU.
In its last home game, Tech trailed Iowa State 20-0 en route to a 34-24 loss. This time it was a 17-0 deficit early. But the Red Raiders fought back. They took leads of 28-27 and 31-30. It just wasn’t enough in the end.
“Fought back into it, back-and-fourth, it’s another fourth-quarter loss,” Wells said. “I promise you, we’re going to keep knocking on that door. We’re going to keep knocking on that door and we’re going to knock it down. When we get to that point where we learn how to finish a game, this program’s going to win a lot of games. I know that … I’ll take knocking on that door anytime, I promise you that.”
The Horned Frogs were 5 of 6 on third down conversions and scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Tech had a pass intercepted, punted before Trey Wolff’s 36-yard field goal got the Raiders on the board.
“Offensively … we hadn’t had many of these, but it was like one or two administrative penalties got us behind the chains,” Wells said. “And then on defense, point to one thing, it was third down. It was third down on defense the first two, three series.”
After the field goal, back-to-back Jeff Duffey touchdown passes to Dalton Rigdon and R.J. Turner helped get Tech right back into things.
After trailing 27-16 at halftime, Tech came out and scored on two of its three third-quarter possessions — passes to Turner and Erik Ezukanma — for its first lead of the game, 28-27.
The game turned into a field goal battle as Jonathan Song hit two and Wolff added another, all in the fourth quarter. Song’s final kick made it 33-31 with 5:38 to play. That would end the scoring as the Red Raiders had a three-and-out and a turnover on its final two possessions.
It was a game the Red Raiders needed as their bowl hopes are in danger of slipping away. But the way his team played, competed and finished isn’t something Wells is going to apologize for.
The tenacity is something he promised when he took the job before the season and he is seeing that, even in losses like Saturday’s.
“I thought the grit that they showed is something that I want this program to always be about,” Wells said. “I’m not going to apologize for losing in the fourth quarter. Fight our butt back and continue to believe in the passion and the pride that, I think, they keep playing with. We’ve got to play better, I know that. We’ve got to heal up and execute better, especially on offense early … I can win with that. I can coach this. I can coach these guys, that locker room is still fighting.”
After Duffey’s 70-yard touchdown toss to Turner late in the first half, Wolff had a rare miss on the point after, keeping Tech down 24-16. TCU added a field goal just before half for a 27-16 lead.
On the first two scores of the second half, the Red Raiders went for two. The first would have made it a three-point deficit. The second would have meant a three-point lead. It was early, 13:19 left in the third quarter and again with 5:05 to play in the third, but Wells stuck by his decision.
“That’s a little early, that’s one of the earlier times I’ve ever started going for two,” Wells said. “But, at that point, we weren’t stopping them on defense and I thought it was really going to get into a scorefest. I thought this thing was going to go like a tennis match … I’m not second-guessing myself. At that point we had not stopped them on defense and I thought we needed to get that score right back to where it needed to be so we were in striking range.”
Whether it was building its 17-0 lead, or coming back late in the game TCU found ways to keep drives going. The Horned Frogs finished the day 15 of 24 on third down and had the ball for 43:26 compared to 16:34 for Tech.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan was able to make the plays, with his arm or his legs, when needed.
“I don’t think the pressure was consistent enough on (Duggan),” Wells said. “At times it was there, but I don’t think it was consistent enough. I still think we’ve got to tighten things down on the back end. Couldn’t get off the field on third down, bottom line. Nine out of 24 wins, they go 15 out of 24, that’s why the time of possession is all jacked up in this game.”
Tech played almost the entire game without All-America caliber linebacker Jordyn Brooks on the sideline. An injury kept the senior out of practice until late in the week. He gave it a go on Saturday, but it was clear early that he was unable to play, leaving midway through the first quarter.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for No. 1,” Wells said. “He cares about Texas Tech, I hope the fans see that and the passion that he plays with. He wasn’t able to practice until extremely late in the week and gave it a go, it just wasn’t there. The guy gives everything he can for Texas Tech football and I respect that.”
A lack of consistency still haunts Duffey in his seventh start of the season after taking over for an injured Alan Bowman. At times he made great plays, including a scramble and 26-yard heave that was caught by Rigdon for the first touchdown and a perfect over-the-shoulder toss to Turner early in the third quarter.
There were also missed opportunities and the early interception that kept the Red Raiders out of sync just enough to cause problems. Duffey finished 19 of 33 for 333 yards, four touchdowns and an interception along with a team-high 42 yards rushing.
“Up and down. At times gutsy and courageous and really good,” Wells said. “And then, at times, a tick late on some balls. The first pick’s a tick late, and it gets tipped and I get all that … Looking at Jett, he still can improve fundamentally, he’s still loose with the ball in the pocket. But the guy kept believing, kept fighting.”
Jordan Hofeditz covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and Texas Tech athletics. Follow him on Twitter at @jhofeditz.