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Is Texas Tech Bound for Another Late-Season Meltdown?

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Is Texas Tech Bound for Another Late-Season Meltdown?
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Texas Tech has been one of the best stories in college football in 2013. First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, one of the up-and-coming coaches in the game, returned to his alma mater and the Red Raiders got off to an excellent 7-0 start. As of Week 9, they were ranked No. 10 in the BCS standings. 

Since then, however, a little bit of that shine has worn off. Texas Tech lost back-to-back games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and has likely taken an irrecoverable step back in the Big 12 title race

With a tough schedule remaining, what are the chances of Tech going into full meltdown mode?

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It's happened as recently as last year under then-head coach Tommy Tuberville. Tech began the season 6-1, but finished the regular season 7-5. It was even worse in 2011 when the Red Raiders knocked off Oklahoma in Norman to improve their record to 5-2—only to lose their final five games and miss a bowl. 

Late-season struggles weren't solely limited to the Tuberville era; former head coach Mike Leach had a couple of cold finishes. In 2007, Texas Tech won six of its first seven games only to finish the year 3-3. Even the 2008 team, which began 7-0 and finished the year 11-2, had a mini-meltdown when it got blasted 65-21 by Oklahoma in November.

Of course, there have been recent examples, like 2004, when Texas Tech started the season slow (4-3) and finished hot (8-4). 

The Red Raiders have three games remaining this season: a home game against Kansas State, a neutral site game against Baylor and a road trip to Texas. None of these are beyond reach for Tech, but there are namely two areas that have cost the Red Raiders over the past couple of weeks that could continue to be problematic: mistakes and run defense. 

The sloppiness—penalties and turnovers—has been there all season, but it has only begun costing Texas Tech recently. The Red Raiders are minus three in turnover margin over the past two games and are actually among the worst teams in that statistical category (T-108th) in all of college football. 

And, in fact, that turnover issue has dated all the way back to 2010. 

As it so happens, Texas and Baylor are two of the more opportunistic teams in the Big 12, ranking in the Top 25 nationally in turnover margin.

Tech has also been far more vulnerable against the run in its two losses. Heading into its Oct. 26 game against Oklahoma, Texas Tech was 23rd nationally in rush defense (123.1 ypg). That rush defense number has plummeted 25 spots to No. 58 (157.8 ypg) after losses to OU and OSU. The Sooners and Cowboys had 277 and 281 yards on the ground against Tech, respectively. 

And, again, Baylor and Texas rank among the best rushing offenses in the Big 12, placing seventh and 29th in the country, respectively (K-State ranks 49th). 

But it's not just that TTU's final three opponents like to run the ball, it's how they run the ball. Though the Bears are able to go sideline to sideline with running back Lache Seastrunk, they have a physical offensive line that also opens running lanes for power back Glasco Martin. 

Texas and Kansas State also have leaned heavily on downhill running. The Longhorns use their stable of talented backs, which include Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, while K-State uses quarterback Daniel Sams and running back John Hubert. 

Texas Tech had a hard time stopping the downhill running game of both OU and OSU, probably because it's not built for it. 

The way things are trending, Texas Tech should be an underdog in two of its final three games. (The Red Raiders are a mere two-point favorite against K-State this Saturday, according to VegasInsider.com.) While this season should already be considered a success for Kingsbury and Co., starting the year 7-0 and potentially finishing somewhere around 8-4 would absolutely be considered disappointing. 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats from the NCAA. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval

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