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Winning Box Scores: Week 8

Why did Texas Tech fire Matt Wells now? A study of the Kansas State game explains why

When Texas Tech fired Matt Wells on Monday, the initial reaction for many people was bewilderment, and it was easy to understand why.

Wells got two and two-thirds seasons, one of them the COVID-marred campaign of 2020. His teams battled a number of injuries, especially at quarterback. He was 13-17, yes, but this year's team sits at 5-3, just one win shy of the program's first bowl trip since 2017. 

Normally, only scandal can trigger a midseason firing of a coach leading a 5-3 team. Given the facts listed above, one can argue Wells was more in line for an extension than a pink slip.

But a peak under the hood shows Wells' 13-17 record wasn't as strong as it looked, if that's even possible. Among his 13 wins: Montana State, UTEP, Houston Baptist (by two), Kansas (by three), Stephen F. Austin (by six), FIU and Kansas again. He beat two Big 12 teams that ended the year with winning records -- Oklahoma State in 2019 and West Virginia last season. (Tech does represent 6-1 Houston's only loss thus far.)

Furthermore, a study of Texas Tech's most recent game helps explain why AD Kirby Hocutt made this move now.

Texas Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead over Kansas State less than five minutes into the game and led 24-10 at the half. They more than doubled K-State's output on the ground, 171-80. They forced two turnovers and committed one. 

Final score: Kansas State 25, Texas Tech 24. 

In my season-long study of 527 (and counting) FBS box scores, I've chronicled how teams that win the rushing battle go on to win 78.5 percent of the time; teams who score first win 72 percent of the time; teams who lead at the half win 83.5 percent of the time; and teams who win turnovers are victorious more than 76 percent of the time.

Teams who win all four? 

To date, here is a complete list of games where a team rushed for more yards than their opponent, gathered more takeaways than their opponent, scored first, lead at halftime, and lost anyway. 

Kansas State 25, Texas Tech 24
Incarnate Word 42, Texas State 34
South Carolina 20, East Carolina 17

Teams that win all four of those metrics are 160-3 so far this season. 

So when you're already skeptical of your head coach and then find yourself on the wrong end of a .982 winning percentage? Yeah, it's easy to see why Saturday was the last straw for Hocutt.

Week 8 numbers: 

-- Win the rushing battle: 42-11 (.792)
-- Win the passing battle: 27-27 (.500)
-- Score first: 25-29 (.463)
-- Lead at halftime: 38-14 (.731)
-- Win turnovers: 34-9 (.791)
-- Win all five: 5-0 (1.000)

Year to date: 

-- Win the rushing battle: 412-113 (.785)
-- Win the passing battle: 306-220 (.582)
-- Score first: 380-147 (.721)
-- Lead at halftime: 419-83 (.835)
-- Win turnovers: 307-95 (.764)
-- Win all five: 91-0 (1.000)

Notes: 

-- All season long I've been surprised at how durable leads tend to be, but this was the first week in which scoring first was not at all determinative to the final score. We'll have to see if that continues. Just last week, teams that scored first went 40-12.

-- The rushing number above is not a typo: we've had our second tie of the season. Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green both rushed for 130 yards in the Eagles' 55-24 blowout of the Falcons.

-- South Florida out-rushed Temple 421-48 in their 34-13 win. Even more remarkable are the carry numbers: the Bulls ran the ball 73 times, the Owls 14. All in all, Temple snapped the ball 35 times and held it for 15:25.

-- Purdue returned to the AP Top 25 for the first time in 15 seasons, and then got completely flattened by Wisconsin. The Boilermakers were out-rushed 290 to minus-13 and committed five turnovers in a 30-13 loss.

-- This has been discussed plenty by now, but I'm going to bring it up now because we've long had a morbid fascination with Arkansas State's run defense in this space. Louisiana rushed for 424 yards, A-State for 113. Butch Jones' team ranks 130th in rush defense and 125th in rush offense. Below are the profit/loss numbers for the Arkansas State ground game:

vs. Central Arkansas: +152
vs. Memphis: -165
at Washington: -145
at Tulsa: -263
at Georgia Southern: -422
vs. Coastal Carolina: -276
vs. Louisiana: -311

In a related story, the Red Wolves are 1-6.