Kliff Kingsbury remembers the last time Texas Tech matched up against Kansas State.
Last season, the Red Raiders head coach traveled with his squad to face off against the Wildcats in Manhattan, Kansas.
In that game, which turned out to be a 44-38 Red Raiders loss, Kingsbury felt as though special teams proved to the be the difference. Byron Pringle returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, which gave the Wildcats a 31-28 lead and momentum right before before halftime.
“Last ayear, that kickoff return really changed the game for them,” Kingsbury said during the Big 12 media teleconference Monday. “Gave them a lead going into halftime and we didn’t recover from there. We understand they have dynamic playmakers, they’re well coached and that’s going to be a huge phase in this ball game.”
Kingsbury is hoping this go-around — an 11 a.m. Saturday home contest — goes a bit different as both squads head into the crucial conference clash with identical 4-4 overall records and needing two wins to become bowl eligible with four games to play in the regular season.
“Sitting at 4-4 with four games left, we know that every game is a big one,” said Kingsbury, whose squad is 1-3 in Big 12 play. “So, we’re preparing as such. I know Kansas State has a heckuva team and one of the all-time great coaching legends. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
And, once again, special teams will be the focus — for a bit.
Kansas State’s D.J. Reed was named Special Teams Player of the Week by the Conference on Monday. Reed returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown and combined for 189 yards kick/punt return yards as the Wildcats defeated Kansas 30-20 on the road over the weekend. He also tallied 152 kick return yards — best for a Big 12 player this season.
“That’s huge anytime you play,” Kingsbury said of playing well on special teams, especially against Kansas State. “They’re one of the most well-coached, most disciplined special teams units in the country.”
But that’s not the only thing Kingsbury and the Texas Tech coaching staff must prepare for this weekend. They’ll also have to prepare for three possibilities at playing under center for Kansas State: senior Jesse Ertz, sophomore Alex Delton and redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson.
Ertz, the regular season starter, missed the past three games due to a knee injury. Delton filled in during Ertz’s absence. Thompson earned second-half playing time after Dalton was sustained a hard hit to the helmet during the Kansas victory Saturday.
When asked of Ertz’s status, specifically whether he’d play against Texas Tech, Snyder was coy.
“We’re hoping so and planning on it,” Snyder said. “It’s a day-by-day thing. He will be back on the field, that’s certainly my understanding. ... He should be back on the field. Just how quickly remains to be seen.”
Snyder disclosed that Delton was feeling “fine” and “doing well” when asked during the teleconference.
If neither Ertz or Delton are able to compete, Thompson would earn his first career college start. He’s played in four games this season. But his most meaningful action came when he entered with a 10-6 advantage before leading the Wildcats to the road win.
“You have to be ready for any of the three,” said Kingsbury, who is attempting to snap a current three-game losing streak. “I don’t think we will know until Saturday in pregame warm-ups who the starter is going to be. They each have a different skill set, and all three have been effective in scoring points. Kansas State does what they do. I think each one of those guys is talented and brings their own unique talent to that offense.”
If Thompson is given the nod, some of the offensive load could shift to the running game and defense.
Alex Barnes, who leads all tailbacks with 92 carries, 572 yards but is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns, will be leaned on heavily. Coincidentally, the next three leading rushers are Delton (389 yards, five TDs), Ertz (387, three TDs) and Thompson (110 yards)
“We didn’t play as well defensively as I would like,” Snyder said of his defensive units performance against Kansas. “But we still held them without a touchdown through the first three quarters. But gave up a decent amount of field position during the course of the day. Special teams, in all reality, probably was instrumental in the victory as anything. I think we scored something like 18 points through our special teams unit.”
Get your coffee ready
The Texas Tech football team is already used to early-morning wake-up calls.
The Red Raiders will have another as they take on Baylor in an 11 a.m. Nov. 11 kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, as announced by the Big 12 Conference on Monday. The game is scheduled to be broadcast regionally on FOX Sports Net.
Texas Tech and Baylor, who for the past seven years have faced off inside the home of the Dallas Cowboys, have provided plenty of offense for a majority of that span.
Last season, the Red Raiders earned a 54-35 victory to end the regular season on a high note. The quarterback Patrick Mahomes II threw for 586 yards and six touchdowns passes, matching a career high, while completing 30 of 46 passes. Mahomes II is currently a backup quarterback with the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.
Texas Tech has been assigned an 11 a.m. kickoff six times this season.