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September 11, 2012I typically value more how a team plays than who they play. With that in mind, it feels nice to have some sunshine pumped back into the Texas Tech football program. It seems like a long time ago that the Red Raiders were walking off the field in a four score loss to Baylor. This team will be just fine in the Big 12, so long as they keep playing well. I tend to agree that stats don't mean everything. However, I also tend to value them as well. I'll drop a view interesting stats to me throughout the recap.
There was a monumental shift in Tech's offensive disposition this week, if you didn't notice. Last week, the Red Raiders relied on a heavy diet of stretch plays in the run game and threw the ball horizontally across the field. I thought it was interesting that Neal Brown mentioned this was to protect his young guards. If last week's gameplan was protecting them, this week's was about seeing what they were made of. The offense was rewarded to the tune of its top two ball carriers combining to run 11 times for 124 yards and its top five receivers catching 20 passes for 320 yards. Time of possession becomes meaningless when you gain 11 yards a running playing and 16 yards a passing play. Why? Because every four plays you are standing in the end zone.
This week, Tech favored a more north-south approach with lots of power plays featuring pulling guards and lead backs tastefully mixed with draw and fold plays. One thing the Red Raiders have done consistently over the past two games is implement an aggressive play-action game off of whatever running plays are the preference of the day. With a north-south identity and new weapons in the lineup, Tech flexed its vertical muscle against the Bobcats.
Good, it was just nerves. Nothing to see here but five touchdown passes from Seth Doege. Spectacular. Michael Brewer made an impressive throw at the 11:03 mark of the fourth quarter.
When you put a couple of lead blockers in front of Kenny Williams to read and head him downhill, his 5-foot-9, 220-pound frame seems well suited for anywhere from six to sixty yards. Williams also impressed on draw and fold plays. I should have mentioned last week how phenomenal his blocking was and I'm still trying to decide what the team has here given the versatility he has displayed. A cross between Tom Rathmann and Roger Craig? Surely not.
Eric Stephens thrived in a north-south environment as well ripping off a 46-yard run on a fold play. SaDale Foster had a good day and seems to have some electricity of sorts about him.
After a while, this was like watching an And 1 streetball game with each rotation of specialized skillsets entering the field of play with an "I'm gonna git mine" swagger about them. Brown showed off his new toys and the group seemed to feed off each other. Jace Amaro, Javon Bell and Jakeem Grant change the way the Red Raiders can play football. The shallow cross made its return in a big way and play-action attacking the seams was en vogue. In the past couple of seasons, the issue with Alex Torres, Austin Zouzalik and Adam James as the primary options at inside receiver is that the same type of player can cover all three guys -- say a Kenny Vacarro or Shaun Lewis type. That's not going to be a successful formula with matchup contrasts like Amaro and Grant. This unit most resembled the Globetrotters. Grant and Bell were explosive.
While it's tough to say that Tech will be able to play this kind of football facing a Big 12 defensive line, this unit was more than capable against Texas State. Le'Raven Clark has played like a star in the molding process the first two games. He may have some growing pains in conference play, but the Red Raiders landed a good one. Alfredo Morales and Beau Carpenter did a much better job at getting a hat on defenders. Terry McDaniel had a good day run blocking. LaAdrian Waddle was fine except when he got bored on a couple occasions. Deveric Gallington's limitations weren't an issue with this week's blocking schemes. I was somewhat amused at the proficiency of Tech's second team offensive line on stretch plays. Clark at tackle makes a significant impact, while the other primary facilitator is surprisingly true freshman Jared Kaster at center. He lacks the bulk and strength at this point to handle the big boys, but technically, Kaster does some things better than Deveric Gallington. His efficient footwork helps minimize inside penetration and he finds defenders more effortless at the second level. Traits that will sculpt into assets over time. He's a keeper.
Like all defenses in this conference, the Red Raiders will struggle with offenses who can effectively run and pass the ball. Tech could have enough to shut down a couple of the one-dimensional units. Overall, the team is just a lot better coached than last year and more talented.
The fact that they did not record a sack or tackle for loss is of little significance to me. Their early pressure led to a turnover and forced the Bobcats to turn to a short passing policy. The Red Raiders' plan at tackle is fairly simple. Attack and get penetration to bounce the play, record a TFL or attract two blockers. As a unit, they played better than the stat sheet shows. Delvon Simmons had some pad level issues on a couple of plays against double teams, but if they didn't, 2nd and 11 was the norm. The ends were challenged more this week and let a couple plays get away from them. However, they were largely solid in assignments and effective rushing the passer.
Here is another stat I value greatly. Generally, official turnovers are categorized as fumbles or interceptions. I also consider plays to force punts as a turnover. That's what it is. The Red Raiders forced five punts and a turnover on downs. Here is how those drives ended:
- On 2nd down, Sam Eguavoen and Will Smith force a 3rd and 9. Terrance Bullitt gets a quarterback hurry and forces a throw away on third down. Punt.
- Eguavoen and Simmons get a quarterback hurry and force a throw away on 3rd and 7. Punt.
- Micah Awe and Smith record a TFL on 3rd and 10. Punt.
- Bullitt and Smith stuff a 3rd and 2. Punt.
- Blake Dees and Zach Winbush stop a 3rd and 3 to set up 4th and 1. Dees crushes the power play on fourth down with Micah Awe assisting. Turnover on Downs.
- Winbush and Dees corral a draw play for a three yard gain on 3rd and 14. Punt.
All of the drives above were ended by someone in Tech's linebacking corps. This is a stat, which reflects a well prepared and well coached unit. You have to do some guessing on 3rd down as a linebacker and this game suggests they're guessing right. The Red Raiders lost containment on a few perimeter option plays, but they got Texas State off the field. These cats were all over the place making big plays.
In another display of coaching, Tech baited Texas State into three interceptions and caught two of them, one going for a touchdown. Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson are playing the best football of their careers. Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh were solid. Jeremy Reynolds had a nice theft. There is still reason to be concerned about this group against adept passing teams, but they've been much improved to date at preventing the big play and in run support.
Nice to see the special teams dominating a game. Foster showed flashes of being a weapon in the return game flipping the field a couple times. Awe's kamikaze style translates well to coverage units. The ability to make 50-yard FGs consistently is a different kind of weapon. The Red Raiders even recovered a kickoff. Normally, I don't mention special teams unless they are especially good or bad, and this week was all good.
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