TUCSON, Ariz. — There was no way Texas Tech’s defensive numbers from the first two weeks of the season could continue. Holding opponents to one touchdown every other game and a 13-percent conversion rate on third down is out of reach for all but the best in college football — maybe even the best.
But the Red Raiders would like to have stayed closer to those numbers than what they did Saturday night in a 28-14 loss to Arizona.
Arizona’s four touchdowns all came on drives of 75 yards or more, including an 84-yard touchdown run by quarterback Khalil Tate. The Wildcats converted 15 of 21 third downs and finished 1 yard short of 500.
Tech coach Matt Wells seemed most distressed by the Wildcats handling the Red Raiders in the trenches when they needed to.
“We’ve got to be stronger (in the secondary),” Wells said, “but part of that coverage has got to be tied to the front. I know we didn’t have enough pressure on him (Tate). He’s sitting back there combing his hair. It looks like 7-on-7 to him.
“Everybody wants to blame the secondary. It’s actually twofold. It’s got to be probably some tighter coverage, but I thought a few times early we played well in the secondary and we were breaking on balls.
“I think part of maybe being worn out was a lack of a pass rush. That was a result of it.”
Tech freshman punter Austin McNamara came into the game ranked No. 7 in the FBS and did nothing to damage that. McNamara averaged 46.7 yards on seven attempts and had two punts downed at the 1-yard line.
“Besides the punter’s mom and dad and the special-teams coordinator,” Wells said, “you don’t want to come in here and praise a punter after a loss. But I thought Austin punted very, very well — and that was a swirling wind out there tonight.
“That was an interesting wind, one I really hadn’t been in before. It was coming crossways and was swirling. I thought the guy was nails all night. He’s a weapon for us. He really is.”
Tech offensive tackle Terence Steele suited up for the first time this year and made his 38th career start. Steele was flagged twice early in the game for false starts, and Casey Verhulst replaced him for the third series, but Tech coach Matt Wells said that was the pre-game plan.
Steele played most of the way at right tackle, with Verhulst subbing in. Right guard Jack Anderson also returned to the starting lineup after missing the Texas-El Paso game with an undisclosed injury.
Double digits again
Tech linebacker Jordyn Brooks came into the game leading the Big 12 in tackles with 11 in each of his first two games. The senior from Houston Stratford got credit for 13 more, including three tackles for loss.
He also recovered a fumble.
“The guy spills his gut out there,” Wells said. “The guy left everything he had on the field. Tremendous player. Great teammate. Banged up. I can’t say enough about (jersey) number 1.”
Tech wasted a scoring chance about six minutes before halftime when a fake field goal didn’t work. Arizona defensive end Jalen Harris blew up holder Mark Richardson before he could get to the line of scrimmage.
Though it wasn’t well executed, Wells said it was a called fake.
“Miscommunication inside,” Wells said. “Heck yeah, I called it. Blame me for it. I’ll take the heat on that one. … Fake all the way. It was on me.”
Good and bad
Tech safety Douglas Coleman made 10 tackles, intercepted two passes and was angry at himself for letting a third go off his hands.
However, Coleman lost his cool after one of the interceptions, and it potentially cost the Red Raiders a chance to quickly get into field-goal range before halftime.
Big 12 referee Mike Defee stopped Coleman coming off the field and told him something, and Coleman appeared to brush him off. Defee flagged Coleman for unsportsmanslike conduct, and instead of having first down at the Arizona 40, the Red Raiders were back at their 45.
“That was one where it was kind of an awkward penalty with what happened,” said Wells, who then declined to elaborate. “But we’ve got to be able to control our emotions throughout the whole drive and be disciplined.
“I thought we were for the most part tonight. But that drive there, there were times that we weren’t, and unfortunately that did back us up a little bit more.”
Red Raiders players aren’t the only ones dealing with injuries.
Tech cornerbacks coach Julius “Juice” Brown directed his players through pre-game warm-ups while pushing around a three-wheeled cart. The cart supported his right leg, which was heavily wrapped below the knee down.
“He was demonstrating a route against one of his DBs, and he broke something down there,” Wells said. “He had surgery on his foot. He hasn’t got any eligibility left. He needs to quit doing that stuff.”
Once the game started, safeties coach Kerry Cooks coached from the sideline and Brown from the coaches’ booth upstairs, a reversal from their usual deployment.
Officials ejected Tech cornerback Desmon Smith for targeting in the second quarter. Smith swooped in low on Arizona receiver Stanley Berryhill as Berryhill was going down at the end of a 22-yard reception.