Matt Wells’ Bad Decisions Are Stacking Up in Lubbock
This is not a #firewells article. Though, if you search that hashtag on Twitter, you can probably scroll for several minutes with hot takes on Wells' job security.
I'm not arguing the validity of the fans' feelings; I just know it's mostly venting after another frustrating loss that seemed more on the coaching staff than the talent on the field.
Of course, if bold decisions work out in the coach’s favor, then they look like geniuses. If they don't work out, the feeling is the opposite. For Wells, those bold decisions seemingly don't work more often than they’re successful.
In the Oklahoma game, Wells went for an early 4th down and was unsuccessful. Later in the game, in a better position to go for it and down even more, Wells punted. The game outcome wasn't affected by those two decisions, but the inconsistent decisions made many scratch their heads.
With a 15-point lead against Texas and 3:15 left on the clock, Wells chose to squib-kick the ball back to the Longhorns. He said after the game the play was poorly executed, but the decision didn't leave the kicking unit with much margin for error. The game fell apart from that point forward.
At Iowa State this season, it was sticking with Alan Bowman for nearly the entire game when it was obvious he wasn't healthy enough to be a difference-maker. That's after the staff chose Jackson Tyner to start a game over Jett Duffey in 2019. The Iowa State game also featured Wells choosing to let the clock run out at the half, down 21-7, instead of trying to score.
Even going back to the Houston Baptist game, there was a chance to kick a field goal to stretch the Texas Tech lead, a blown fourth-down play put HBU back into the game.
Speaking of the 2019 season, it was riddled with decisions in close games that made Wells and his staff look like they were out of their depth. There were several fake field goals and punts that didn't work, namely one fake field goal in the red zone against Arizona on the road.
These are all arguable decisions that would look like great calls if they worked. The problem is, the success rate in these types of calls is incredibly low.
That brings us to Wells today in Fort Worth.
With 5:57 left in the second quarter, Wells chose to go for it from the TCU seven-yard line, down 10-0. He didn't trust the field goal unit to execute the 24-yard field goal. The half would end though, with Trey Wolff's first field goal make of the season on a 39-yard dagger.
Fast forward to the end of the game. Wells would pull the offense off the field on second down to attempt a 37-yard field goal.
Wolff, who was 1-1 on the day but 1-3 on the season, would miss the attempt. The Red Raiders were down nine points with 2:44 left in the game at the time. The decision would mean less moments later when Duggan raced for an 81-yard touchdown, but it certainly didn't put the team in a position to win.
Here was Wells in the postgame press conference talking about the decision:
The plan was always to kick the field goal. There was no adjustment when Texas Tech had success moving the ball and was gaining momentum. There wasn't a moment where Wells thought that quarterback Henry Colombi could get another first down at least to give his struggling kicker a little closer.
Wells doesn't always get the calls wrong. There’s a 4th and 11 that comes to mind against West Virginia that proved huge in that ball game. I'm not saying this is all on Wells, either. There are many 3rd and 4th downs where the play call and execution are just as baffling as the actual decision to go for it.
It's certainly not time for Wells to be fired, like Utah State fired his own replacement. But there definitely needs to be an improvement in the game management skillset of Wells and this staff.
Wells isn't the only coach to have a poor record in one-posession games. Gary Patterson is 2-8 in his last 10. Wells also doesn't have the added bonus of tenure and success at his current program.
Obviously, looking back at individual calls is easy to do, much easier to do than to make the decision in real-time, but Wells gets zero benefit of the doubt. The only thing that matters is his successes and failures, and Wells has seen failure more often than success through his first 19 games as a Red Raider. Especially when the program and culture he is so adamant about changing was more successful than he is on the field.