Wins are meant to be celebrated, but there are times when the means to that end can subdue the joy.
That was the mood hovering over Texas Tech this week as it prepared for its final nonconference test against visiting Florida International on Saturday night in Lubbock.
A closer-than-expected 28-22 victory against Stephen F. Austin last week left a bad aftertaste that the Red Raiders (2-0) can’t afford to dwell on against the Panthers (1-1).
“They have our attention,” Texas Tech coach Matt Wells said. “They’re a good team. They beat Miami two years ago. They’re very athletic and very well-coached.
“Our attention is probably heightened with the disappointment in the way we played on offense and special teams last week.”
What Wells and the Red Raiders can lean on moving forward is a defense that has been effective against the run, surrendering just 54.5 yards per game.
What helped Texas Tech’s first two opponents stay close were successful gambles on fourth down. Houston was 5-for-5 in those spots and SFA was 5-for-8.
“Play better on third-and-long,” Wells said. “We were outstanding on third down (last week), but part of the issue was allowing third-and-longs to become fourth-and-shorts in a go situation for SFA.”
Added linebacker Collin Schooler, “If we win third down more, or limit the damage on third down — instead of third-and-8 giving up 7 (yards) where they say, ‘Oh, we can go for it; it’s fourth-and-1’ — put them in a fourth-and-5 situation, then maybe the punt-return team is on the field instead of us again.”
How Texas Tech stacks up against the best rushing attack it has faced so far could emerge as a major factor.
FIU’s powerfully built D’vonte Price has bulled his way to four consecutive games of 100 rushing yards or more after generating 111 yards on 23 carries last week in a 23-17 overtime loss to Texas State.
“He’s a big back (and) runs hard,” Wells said. “He runs behind his pads, and he’s got a big O-line in front of him. The two tackles are big and very athletic. I think the interior three guys are nasty. They look strong on tape.”
Quarterback Max Bortenschlager has produced games of 266 and 259 passing yards to give FIU balance.
Moving the ball against Texas State wasn’t an issue for the Panthers, as they churned out 400 yards. But three lost fumbles blunted any chance for offensive continuity.
“Turning the ball over that often, getting the ball in the red zone and turning it over, not scoring, getting explosive plays and having them called back because of penalties — those things are disastrous, and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is,” FIU coach Butch Davis said.