By Betsy Blaney
The Associated Press
LUBBOCK, Texas — Texas Tech is off to an unbeaten start under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury and if anyone’s surprised, well, the players say they shouldn’t be.
Kingsbury’s got swagger, and he’s just oozing confidence. Those around him say the 34-year-old’s energy and enthusiasm have fueled the Red Raiders’ hot start and their surprising climb up the rankings to No. 10.
“As coaches, we try to feed off of him and as players, they hopefully feed off of him as well,” said Sonny Cumbie, the team’s co-offensive coordinator and a former Red Raiders quarterback who’s been on the coaching staff since 2010. “I think it’s kind of like the X-factor for us this season so far.”
Kingsbury, the first in a long line of record-setting quarterbacks at Texas Tech under former coach Mike Leach, returned to his alma mater in December to try to revitalize the program. A lot was made of his age — at the time he was hired on a four-year deal averaging $2 million a year, he was the youngest head coach of a BCS school and the second-youngest in the Bowl Subdivision behind Toledo’s Matt Campbell.
So far, so good. The Red Raiders (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) lead the conference after being picked seventh in the preseason poll, but a big test looms Saturday.
They head to Norman to face No. 17 Oklahoma. Sooners coach Bob Stoops said Kingsbury has done a great job on both sides of the ball since taking the reins, though he and the rest of the Big 12 have seen plenty of the Red Raiders’ prolific passing offense through the years.
“Kliff has his wrinkles to it and all, but again, all those principles you can see,” Stoops said. “It’s still difficult to stop.”
Kingsbury said he hopes his confidence is infectious.
“Since day one, I told them we’re going to cut it loose and make sure you’re having fun and you’re confident when you’re out there,” he said. “As long as you’re going 100 percent if you make a mistake, we’ll live with it. It’s when you’re out there playing hesitant that we’ll have to get on you.”
His mental toughness as a player, both in college and the pros, and from his time as Johnny Manziel’s coach last season at Texas A&M also is rubbing off. The past two weeks, the Red Raiders have come from behind to beat Iowa State and West Virginia. Last week, freshman backup quarterback Davis Webb led the Red Raiders to a come-from-behind 37-27 win after they trailed by 11 late in the third quarter.
Kingsbury, who played at Texas Tech from 1999 to 2002, told reporters after the game that Davis’ leadership personified what could become the team’s mantra: “Fortune favors the bold.”
Davis and his teammates showed they won’t wait for opportunities. They’ll create them.
“They’ve stepped up and made some big time plays in some crucial moments,” said Kingbury, who brought in four other former Red Raiders as coaches. “So that’s been fun to see them do that and then the confidence they’ve gained from those moments.”
Jace Amaro, one of the favorite receivers for Davis and Baker Mayfield — who started the first five games but twisted his right knee at Kansas — said Kingsbury is more of a peer than was former Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville, who left in December for Cinncinati.
“It just makes him almost like another player on our team,” said Amaro, who leads the conference in receptions per game with 56 catches for 742 yards. “He brings a lot of fire to our team and a lot of energy. It just helps us because we know he’s been there just a couple years ago.”