Kliff Kingsbury oozes offensive confidence and why not?
His Texas Tech football team is a juggernaut with the football, having ranked eighth, 10th, second and first nationally on offense in Kingsbury’s first four seasons, including this one.
And if you had a defense like the Red Raiders – which has ranked 84th, 122nd, 126th and 111th the past four seasons – you’d probably feel compelled to trust your offense, too. No matter what.
Still, what Kingsbury did late in the third quarter will go down as offensive arrogance that well could have cost Texas Tech the game Saturday night against Kansas State at Snyder Family Stadium.
On fourth and 7 from the K-State 41-yard line, and with the score tied 31-31, Kingsbury instructed the Red Raiders’ offense to go for it.
Even though, mind you, quarterback Pat Mahomes had just thrown two incomplete passes.
Kingsbury, a former Tech quarterback himself, likely thought Mahomes was due. And, really, what is seven yards to the Red Raiders?
So instead of punting to attempt to pin down the Wildcats deep, Kingsbury played aggressively. It didn’t work out.
K-State’s Reggie Walker chased down Mahomes for a 12-yard loss, the Wildcats went on to score the game’s next 13 points and won 44-38, although there was some late-game angst when Tech scored then recovered an onside kick with five seconds left.
The Wildcats unleashed a ferocious running attack, led by senior tailback Charles Jones. And K-State coach Bill Snyder finally let quarterback Jesse Ertz use his legs. The Cats also scored touchdowns on a kick return – 99 yards by Byron Pringle – and an interception – 35 yards by D.J. Reed.
On this night, at least, the Texas Tech defense wasn’t all that bad, even though K-State gashed the Red Raiders with its ground game.
But Tech did force three Kansas State punts.
Instead of trusting his defense to make a stand, though, Kingsbury decided he was going to win or lose with offense.
And given that this is Texas Tech, you can understand why even if you disagree with the premise.
The Red Raiders started throwing the football all over the place when Mike Leach took over as coach in 2000. It took him a couple of years, but by 2002 the Red Raiders had risen from 66th to 33rd to fourth in total offense.
It was a fun, gun-slinging style of offense that went over well in Lubbock. Fans flocked to see Texas Tech rip off huge chunks of yardage.
Here’s the thing, though. Even with all this offense, the Red Raiders have had only one double-digit win season. That was in 2008, when Tech was 11-2 with the nation’s fourth-best offense.
Leach never had a losing season during 10 seasons at Texas Tech, but he never was able to break through and make the Red Raiders a national power, either.
They were fun, they were entertaining, they earned Leach a profile on “60 Minutes” for his innovative offensive ways.
But that other side of the football, defense, has always been an issue. It wasn’t terrible under Leach and ranking somewhere in the middle was good enough to win eight or nine games a season. And that’s what Tech almost always did under Leach – win eight or nine games.
Since Leach left for Washington State in 2010, though, the Red Raiders have gotten significantly worse on defense, first under Tommy Tuberville and now under Kingsbury.
Which explains why, despite the still-dynamic offense, the Red Raiders are 43-38 after going 85-43 under Leach.
Bill Snyder does things differently at Kansas State.
Coaching in his 300th game, and having just turned 77, Snyder stresses a balance between offense, defense and special teams that has served him and the Wildcats well.
Snyder, who received a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from Kansas State’s students as he left the field, would never take the kind of gamble Kingsbury took Saturday.
That’s because he’s built the Wildcats into a three-dimensional threat and it was all in the mix during the win over Texas Tech.
The defense gave up 529 passing yards to Mahomes, but sacked the Tech QB three times and made him rush some other throws.
Don’t get me wrong, Mahomes was amazing, completing 45 of 62 pass attempts. But when he needed it most, he threw three consecutive incomplete passes at a time when the game was make or break.
The Red Raiders overwhelmed K-State offensively, with 592 yards to 335. But the team in purple strutted off the field with a win because it’s the one that can hurt an opponent in multiple ways.
With Texas Tech, it’s all about offense. And often, that’s enough. The Red Raiders are a spectacle and Kansas State’s defensive players were undoubtedly ready to collapse when Saturday’s game was over.
But that offense, good as it was, wasn’t enough. It must frustrate Texas Tech fans to no end to watch the Red Raiders get close to 600 yards and lose.
This is what you get, though, when your coach has faith in only one side of the football. That faith backfired Saturday.