Texas Tech junior Joe Garcia of Clovis, left, jokes with teammate Darcel McBath during the final minutes of Saturday’s 55-21 win over Baylor at SBC Jones Stadium in Lubbock. Garcia had two tackles and an interception. (CNJ staff photo: Rick White)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
LUBBOCK — Even a fat lip, courtesy of a Texas Longhorns player last week, failed to hide Joe Garcia’s infectious gapped-tooth grin. Got kicked in the face, he explained matter-of-factly.
It’s the kind of toughness that has won over his Texas Tech teammates and coaches.
With two tackles, it was a slow day for Texas Tech’s leading tackler as far as human carnage was concerned in The Red Raiders 55-21 win over Baylor on Saturday at SBC Stadium. Garcia did, however, record his first career interception, leaping high for a pass 40 yards downfield just before halftime.
“I knew they were probably going to be going deep,” said Garcia, in his first season as the Red Raiders’ starting strong safety. “I saw No. 3 (wide receiver Mikail Baker) blow by the linebacker, so I figured I’d better get out of my backpedal. And then I just went up and got (the ball).”
Meanwhile, Graham Harrell passed for 483 yards and four touchdowns and Shannon Woods and Joel Filani scored three times each as Texas Tech (6-4, 3-3 Big 12) became bowl-eligible with the win.
A 6-foot-2, 217-pound junior, Garcia said after redshirting one year and spending two seasons as a backup, it took him a few games to settle in.
“The basic thing was taking what I had learned and applying it on the field,” said Garcia, who hits the books as hard as he does opposing running backs and receivers. “It took a little while to get used to tackling again and making my reads.”
Garcia, who helped Clovis win its most recent state football title in 2001 with end zone interception in the final seconds, has emerged as a leader in the Tech secondary, according to his position coach, Carlos Mainord.
“When you’re a tough guy and physical guy like he is, teammates respect you,” Mainord said.
“I really enjoy coaching him. He’s dedicated to what he’s doing. Whether it’s the football field or the classroom, he wants to be the best.”
A computer science major with an eye on a master’s degree in business, Garcia looked like a traffic cop Saturday, motioning to get teammates into position against Baylor’s four- and five-receiver sets.
“The safeties get the cornerbacks and linebackers lined up and make the coverage calls,” said Garcia, who won Class 5A state titles in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles as a senior at Clovis.
Ranked 12th in the nation in pass defense, the Red Raiders held Baylor (4-6, 3-3) to 197 yards in the air, nearly 100 yards below its season average.
“We had a lot of coverage sacks today,” said Garcia, who has made 65 tackles in 11 games. “The defensive line went wild, so it’s not that hard to cover someone for six seconds.”
A punishing tackler who excels in defending the running game, Garcia has proved he can hold his own in pass coverage despite his relative lack of foot speed, Mainord said. “He’s done a real good job of realizing his limitations and has done things like learn to read patterns.”
Garcia, who took the time to take off his arm bands and pass them to an adoring thong of young Red Raiders fans on his way to the locker room, considers himself lucky to be playing major college football.
“Right before the game I look around and think about how it’s everybody’s dream when they’re in seventh or eighth grade to play college football,” Garcia said.
Clovis is still a big part of his life, said Garcia, who was disappointed his ailing mother, Rosetta, couldn’t make his game Saturday because of her prolonged illness.
The news was about the only thing that could wipe away his smile.