Trying to avoid a losing season is not how Texas expected to spend its Thanksgiving weekend.
Yet, that is what faces the Longhorns on Friday as they host Texas Tech. Beat the Red Raiders and they guarantee coach Tom Herman's third season will at least finish above .500. Lose and they head into a panicky bowl season.
That's quite a fall for a team that began the season ranked in the top 10 and was among the favorites for the Big 12 title. Texas (6-5, 4-4 Big 12) limps into the game having lost two straight and four of its last six games.
Herman this week declared his program is heading into "big-time evaluation mode," from analyzing play calling and game-planning, to recruiting and player development. He still thinks his team will be ready to play.
Connecting you to your favorite North Texas sports teams as well as sports news around the globe.
"I think the biggest motivation is the winning record," he said.
While Texas frets a season lost, the Red Raiders (4-7, 2-6) have a chance to end a frustrating 2019 with a boost for first-year coach Matt Wells. The only Texas Tech coach to beat Texas in his debut season was David McWilliams in 1986. Texas hired McWilliams the next season.
"Our bowl game will be this week in Austin and that's how we'll treat it," Wells said. "And our guys will be absolutely ready to go."
Herman said he expects his team to be loose but there are reasons to be uptight. The possibility of a losing season looms heavy, the assistant coaches are on notice that their jobs could be on the line and even Herman is facing intense criticism over play calling. And fan apathy could be strong with a Friday morning game the day after a holiday in a disappointing season.
"We're all in this together, but at the end of the day the buck stops with me. So that is a big charge of mine in the offseason is to find a way to get these guys better developed and put them in better positions to succeed," Herman said.
The Texas offense has done one of the great disappearing acts of the season. The defense that was so bad early in the season has tightened up, but the offense that was so good early hasn't reached 30 points in the last four games. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger is completing just 57% of his passes over that stretch with six interceptions. Last week against Baylor was the first time this season Ehlinger didn't throw or run for a touchdown.
Texas hasn't scored a touchdown in the first quarter of the last four games. The opening drives of the last three games have netted a total of six first downs and no points.
Texas Tech has lost five games it led in the fourth quarter or overtime, with four conference losses by three points or less. The Red Raiders just haven't been able to make the winning play at the end.
"Shows you the unpredictability of college football and the parity of this league," Wells said. "What if things turned different in one of those games or two of those games?"
BIG PLAY TURNER
Texas Tech's R.J. Turner has emerged as the team's big play receiver of late. He leads the Red Raiders with 619 yards receiving has touchdowns of 70 and 58 yards the last two weeks.