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2018 Season

What We Learned From Texas Tech’s Road Upset Over TCU

The Horned Frogs have some questions to answer, but the Red Raiders look ready to make some serious noise.

Getty Images - Ronald Martinez

The Texas Tech Red Raiders were able to get the coveted Saddle Trophy in a Thursday night road win over TCU to the tune of 17-14.

What many people – especially people in Vegas – thought would be a bit of a track meet turned into a defensive battle for most of the night. Turnovers, penalties, and field position were all a bigger part of this game than many probably expected going in.

In the end, though, the Red Raiders made enough plays to win, and there are definitely some big picture implications from that result.

The game itself seems to be a turning point for both teams – for TCU, things are now looking somewhat dire in conference play, as the Horned Frogs take a 3-3 record into a conference slate that will likely have them favored in only three more contests.

Texas Tech, on the other hand, seems to have arrived. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is 2-1 in conference play, and just beat a Gary Patterson team at home with his third string quarterback. The Red Raiders have officially arrived as a likely Big 12 title contender.

What, more specifically, can we take away from this one, though? Below we give some thoughts on what to take away from the Battle for the Saddle in Fort Worth.

JETT DUFFEY PLAYED WELL, BUT BOWMAN IS STILL THE MAN

After all three quarterbacks have seen plenty of game action, Alan Bowman is by far still the best option on this roster. Good teams find ways to win when they don’t have all their stars, though, and Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders did that on Thursday.

Make no mistake, Jett Duffey had a great game. His stat line of 190 yards passing and 83 yards rushing don’t tell the whole story of what he was able to do – and not do – against the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.

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Duffey, who’d shown himself to be turnover-prone in previous games, did have one pick on a deep ball. Coaches never really like to see players give the ball to the other team, but the play served, for all intents and purposes, the same function as a punt – Texas Tech was inside their own five yard line at the time, and just trying to not make a major mistake.

It’s obvious, however, that the offensive staff for the Red Raiders used every minute of their bye week to craft a workable script for Jett Duffey, who showed his limitations in Fort Worth.

The game plan around Duffey was to use his legs to open up easier passes, and that appeared to work to perfection on the night. In the end, it was Kingsbury who ended up winning the in-game chess match, by dialing up plays like this one against man defense:

Duffey definitely has limits throwing the ball, and that came out at times on Thursday evening as well. He deserves credit for taking care of the ball, though, and not trying to do too much outside of himself.

His performance was the perfect mix of great coaching and smart yet confident play. Still, true freshman Alan Bowman probably can’t get back on the field soon enough for his head coach.

THERE ARE GROWING PAINS LEFT FOR SHAWN ROBINSON

It’s difficult to put too much of the blame for this one on the TCU defense. Any time you hold a team like Texas Tech – third string quarterback or no – to 17 total points and 353 yards of offense, you’re more or less doing your job on defense.

There could be some valid criticism of the Horned Frogs’ secondary, but outside of that, TCU played well enough on defense to win the day.

Offensively, however, this game was a mess for TCU. The top two running backs and the starting quarterback all fumbled the ball at one point. There were multiple penalties that allowed Texas Tech rushers to just pin their ears back.

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The worst grade, though, has to go to true sophomore Shawn Robinson. There have been big expectations for Robinson since the beginning of the season, yet every week he seems to take two steps back for every step forward.

It’s easy to see where the excitement about his play comes from – he accounted for 290 yards passing and 42 yards rushing on the day. Robinson can make all the throws, and is as athletic as you’d want any quarterback to be.

Still, the young signal caller looked unsettled throughout this game, and made big mistakes that ultimately cost his team the victory. His stat line will say Robinson only threw two interceptions, but there were a couple of balls that he threw right into the hands of Texas Tech defenders that those defensive backs just flat out dropped.

There’s a tightness to this TCU team right now, and it’s in many ways epitomized by Robinson, who often tries to make plays, but not doing so with confidence leads him to have moments like this one:

THE TEXAS TECH DEFENSE CAN PLAY

The Red Raiders did a good job of swarming to the ball and tackling all night, keeping all of that offensive speed for TCU in check. Texas Tech showed Shawn Robinson a mix of coverages, keeping the sophomore quarterback on his heels throughout this game.

Their ability to tackle in space allowed the Red Raiders to keep TCU from making big plays for most of the night on offense and turned the Horned Frogs over three times.

Their aggressiveness usually translated into a lot of third downs for TCU, and the Horned Frogs weren’t able to keep the chains moving in those situations: they managed only five third down conversions on 17 tries.

THE RED RAIDERS WON THE BATTLE OF SPECIAL TEAMS IN THIS GAME

As strange as it may seem, Texas Tech was the better squad in terms of special teams on Thursday evening.

Both of these teams were on point tonight with their punt units, as each offense seem to always get pinned deep inside their own five on every single punt by either team.

Dominic Panazzolo for Texas Tech had the slightly better day, pushing TCU back inside their own 20 on three separate occasions. Credit also goes to players on the punt coverage unit who hustled to get down to the other end of the field. Speedy return man KeVontae Turpin was bottled  up for most of the night as well.

Not to mention, kicker Clayton Hatfield was perfect on his field goal tries.

Most people will not think twice about this aspect of the contest, but improvement in the third phase of the game could be a sign that Kingsbury’s program has definitely real taken steps forward.

THIS WAS AN UGLY, UGLY GAME

It felt like flags were flying constantly throughout this matchup. There were 20 penalties called in this game, but it felt like there were maybe triple that number during the actual game.

The bulk of the flags were offensive line penalties, and both teams were dealing with some injuries that probably led to that.

There were also a lot of strange plays in this game that needed to be overturned, and at some point it was clear – with all the penalties and turnovers – that the team which won this game was going to be the squad that was best able to overcome various setbacks.

In Amon G. Carter Stadium, that team was Texas Tech. The Red Raiders found more ways to make plays when their backs were against the wall on the road than TCU, and that was probably the deciding factor tonight. The ability to keep plugging away despite having to work with long down-and-distance situations eventually led to plays like this one:

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