After TCU’s 29-23 loss to No. 11 Baylor last Saturday in triple overtime, head coach Gary Patterson’s main takeaway was simple.
“Bottom line is you’ve just got to find a way to win,” Patterson said.
This sentence has never been more prevalent for TCU heading into their final three games of the season, which begins this Saturday in Lubbock against Texas Tech.
Sitting on a 4-5 record, TCU needs to win two of their final three games to reach bowl eligibility. With a trip to Norman to face the No. 10 Oklahoma Sooners next weekend, a win over the Red Raiders seems necessary to make bowl eligibility a reality.
“Coach P says that every year the goal is to give the seniors the best season that they could possibly have, and that goal hasn’t changed at all,” right guard David Bolisomi said. “The most important game is the next game.”
TCU’s situation is reminiscent to last year when they needed to win three of their final four games to earn bowl eligibility.
Back in that position again, the Frogs face a Red Raiders squad with the same sense of urgency. After defeating West Virginia 38-17 last Saturday, Texas Tech enters the game at 4-5 as well.
“Texas Tech — kind of in the same situation we are,” Patterson said. “Both of us are fighting to be bowl eligible.”
The Red Raiders are led on offense by quarterback Jett Duffey. After sitting behind sophomore Alan Bowman for the first three games, Duffey emerged as the starter once Bowman went down with a shoulder injury. Since then, he has shown signs of brilliance, leading Tech’s offense to 310.7 passing yards per game, third in the Big 12.
In a 45-35 win over Oklahoma State in early October, Duffey exploded for 424 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
Much of Duffey’s success can be credited to the Red Raiders’ deep receiving core. Led by T.J Vasher (473 yards, six receiving touchdowns), Texas Tech has five receivers with 240-plus receiving yards on the season.
“They always have skilled wide receivers,” Patterson said. “They use the same personnel groups to get into every personnel they need to get to. That allows them to go fast because they don’t substitute.”
Vasher has caught a touchdown in each of his last four games played.
As they prepare to slow Duffey and company down, TCU’s secondary will get a boost from the return of safety Vernon Scott. The senior has recorded 27 tackles and six pass breakups this season before missing the Baylor game with an injury.
On the other hand, the Frogs will be without linebacker La’Kendrick Van Zandt who recorded his first career interception Saturday against the Bears. Patterson said Van Zandt, who went down midway through Saturday’s game, could be out for the season.
Defensively, Texas Tech ranks near the bottom of the Big 12. Nevertheless, linebacker Jordyn Brooks represents a game-changing threat for the Red Raiders.
“They have a really good linebacker— No. 1 [Brooks],” Bolisomi said. “He flies sideline-to-sideline.”
A Bednarik and Butkus Award Semifinalist, Brooks ranks seventh in the nation with 98 total tackles and second with 2.0 tackles for a loss per game. Like Duffey, Brooks also showed out against Oklahoma State, recording a career-high three sacks.
Now fully healthy, first-year quarterback Max Duggan will have a perfect opportunity to rebound from a Baylor game in which he completed just 43.8% of his passes (worst in Big 12 games), as he faces a Red Raider secondary that gives up an average of 470.3 yards per game.
Despite coming off of two-straight three-interception performances, Duggan has the confidence of his teammates.
“We always knew the kid got heart,” Bolisomi said. “That makes us want to block even hard for him as an o-line. He shows that he doesn’t give up.”
Patterson noted that Duggan was one of the last out of the locker room after the loss to Baylor, pointing to his desire to win. Despite his recent passing struggles, the growth that the first-year signal caller has shown this season is undeniable.
“You see that he’s [Duggan] much more confident in himself,” Bolisomi said. “He understands his role as a leader.”
This mentality may be what TCU needs right about now, as their backs are all but against the wall.
Kickoff against the Red Raiders is scheduled 11 a.m. Saturday. in Lubbock.