The 4-0 Mountaineers travel to the West Texas Plains to do battle with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
TEXAS TECH PROFILE
Record: (3-2). Texas Tech has put up points against everybody, but have been on the wrong side of shootouts against both Arizona State and Kansas State.
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury. Kliff is in his 4th year in charge of Texas Tech, going 22-21 over that period. He’s got the offense humming again in Lubbock, but has as of yet failed to shake their habit of losing games they shouldn’t.
Offensive Coordinator: Eric Morris. 4th year at Texas Tech and 3rd as offensive coordinator. The Raiders have been Top 10 in total offense in each of his first 2 years, and find themselves sitting in 2nd nationally again this year.
Defensive Coordinator: David Gibbs. 23 years of experience between college and the NFL, but just his 2nd year in charge of the Texas Tech defense. Gibbs’ multiple 3-4 look led to an uptick in forced turnovers last year, but they still gave up a ton of yards and points.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: DT Breiden Fehoko, LB Jordyn Brooks, S Jah’Shawn Johnson
Tech returns 8 starters from last year, but it’s unclear whether returning 8 starters from a unit that gave up 44 points and 550 yards per game should be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. Actually check that: I don’t feel comfortable saying it’s an objectively bad thing, but I think we can safely say that there’s not much that’s good about this defense. The Raiders currently rank 99th in scoring defense (38.6 ppg), 81st in run D (179.4 ypg), 100th in pass defense (265.6 ypg), and 116th in total defense (445.0 ypg), and the only 2 teams they’ve held under 40 are Kansas and Stephen F. Austin. They’re only slightly below average in terms of limiting big plays, but that’s mainly due to the fact that they’ve been decent about preventing big pass plays; the explosive runs that they allow on 15.2% of opponent carries are good for just 98th in the country.
Despite that though, they do have some pretty good individuals littered around the defense. Breiden Fehoko and Michigan transfer Ondre Pipkins have been decent up front, Jah’Shawn Johnson has stood out on the back end, and true freshman Jordyn Brooks has walked right into the starting Mike linebacker spot to lead the team in tackles. They also have good experience at all 3 levels, especially in the secondary where 3 of the 4 spots are filled by seniors, which probably explains why they’ve been better at limiting big pass plays this year.
Schematically, they seem fairly vanilla and reasonably predictable. There’s not a whole lot of stunting or blitzing and they don’t seem to deviate from their base defense all that often, possibly due to the fact that they just don’t have guys with the versatility to get overly creative. It seems like what you see is basically what you get.
Overall, it’s a unit that I imagine our offense is excited to go up against. The good teams that Tech has played this year have been able to move the ball at will, both on the ground and through the air, and I don’t think it’s biased of me to say that ours will be the best offense they’ve faced so far.
We ran the ball 57 times for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns last year, and I expect the ground game to be the priority again this year, especially considering how much trouble we always seem to have throwing the ball through the wind down there. I still think that we can hurt them through the air, but this game is going to be won on the backs of the offensive line and the legs of Crawford and Shell. Our run game has been sub-par for a couple weeks in a row now, so I think this is the perfect opportunity to give the whole group a bunch of work and get some of their confidence back.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Pat Mahomes, WR Jonathan Giles, WR Cameron Batson, WR Dylan Cantrell, WR Devin Lauderdale, WR Keke Coutee
Offensively, with the very notable exceptions of DeAndre Washington and Jakeem Grant, they’re basically the same group that we saw last year. They have the same air raid scheme, the same offensive line, and most of the same talented receivers. Most importantly though, they’re still led by Pat Mahomes, who I rate as the best QB in the country.
And as good as he was last year, this year he’s a different animal entirely. We talk about the leap that Holgorsen’s QB’s make between years 1 and 2, but check this out:
Mahomes 2015 (13 games): 364/575, 63.5%, 4653 yards, 8.1 Y/A, 36 TD, 15 INT, 357.9 Y/G
Mahomes 2016 (5 games): 166/228, 72.8%, 2274 yards, 10.0 Y/A, 20 TD, 4 INT, 454.8 Y/G
Mahomes 2016 projected (13 games): 432/593, 72.8%, 5912 yards, 10.0 Y/A, 52 TD, 10 INT, 454.8 Y/G
Those numbers are ridiculous. Completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns are all way up, while interceptions are down. Most impressively though, those 454.8 yards per game are a full 20% better than Luke Falk in 2nd place, and put Mahomes on pace to break the single season yards record set by fellow Red Raider BJ Symons in 2003.
He’s throwing to arguably the deepest group of receivers in the country, as well. The aforementioned Grant and his 90 catches are gone, but sophomore Jonathan Giles has filled his shoes nicely with 35 catches for 614 yards and 7 touchdowns. They also still have familiar guys like Batson (28 catches, 341 yards, 5 TD), Lauderdale (26, 249, 2), and Sadler (11, 174) running around. However, the most notable differences (read: improvements) from last year are the emergence of Keke Coutee (11, 232, 3), the return of Dylan Cantrell (26, 319, 4), and the addition of Derrick Willies (9, 168, 2).
Cantrell actually got hurt against Kansas State last week and will miss our game, but he and Willies in particular have brought a different dimension to the Red Raider offense. All of those other guys fall into the <6′, <200 lb mould that we’ve come to expect from Tech over the past few years, but Cantrell (6’3, 210) and Willies (6’3 215) are both freaks that are cut more from the Michael Crabtree cloth. They provide a physicality that balances very nicely with the finesse of rest of the rest of the group, and by throwing one or both of them out there with 2 or 3 of the others, they really make you cover the whole field.
One final thing of note before we move on is Pat Mahomes’ injury. Mahomes sprained his throwing shoulder against Kansas two weeks ago, but played through it last week at Kansas State and was still extremely effective (45/62, 504 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT). However, an argument could be made that it’s changing the types of passes that he’s throwing. Through the first 3 games Mahomes passed 132 times for 1493 yards, averaging 11.3 yards per attempt, but since the injury he’s passed 96 times for 781 yards and an average of just 8.1 yards per attempt. That’s a pretty big drop-off, and I think it’s clear that the shoulder injury has affected his ability (or atleast his confidence in his ability) to attack teams downfield. This isn’t all flowers and sunshine for us, as he still looks great in that short to intermediate game that we’re awful at stopping, and he still has the Roethlisbergian ability to extend plays with his legs, but at the very least it may allow us to play a little more aggressively with mitigated fears of getting beat deep.
Now let’s talk briefly about their running game, in-so-much as it exists. Mahomes’ scrambling is a big part of it (technically leads the team with 50 carries), but the guys getting the lion’s share of their handoffs are sophomore Demarcus Felton and junior Justin Stockton. Both have been decent and they’ve scored a few touchdowns, but they’re barely getting 15 touches per game between them and haven’t really filled DeAndre Washington’s quietly large shoes. Overall, Tech’s rushing “attack” is averaging just 105.8 yards per game (121st nationally), and if we’re being honest, shouldn’t be the reason we lose this game.
The key defensively will be whether or not we’re able to knock them off their rhythm, either by establishing something resembling a pass rush or pressing their skill guys at the line (or in a perfect world, both). We can’t stop them once they’re out in their routes because Mahomes and those receivers are simply too good, but if we can get to him early and bother him a bit, it’ll be provide a huge boost for our secondary. Tech are really good at what they do, but no quarterback likes getting hit (especially ones nursing shoulder injuries), and like all passing games, if you can disrupt the timing you can slow them down. And as bad as their defense is, that might be all we need to get out of there with a W.
Tech’s special teams units are either average or just below average pretty much across the board. Their punt and kick return units are both decent and have players who can cause us problems, but their coverage units are worst and 2nd worst in the conference, respectively. The kicking game also seems a bit shaky, with their punter averaging less than 40 yards per and the kicker already missing couple of extra points. We’re obviously dealing with our own special teams issues (LAMBERT!!!), but in general I feel like we can hold our own in the 3rd phase this week.
It’s been par for the Red Raider course so far this year. Their offense is good enough to score on anybody, and has only been held under 50 once in 5 games, but their defense is bad enough that they can still lose to anybody, and has given up atleast 40 thrice.
However, they do have several things going for them this week. Obviously they have the home field, but it’s also their Homecoming week and they haven’t lost a Homecoming game since we joined the conference. You also have to consider that it’s our first true road game, and Lubbock is just a weird place to go play. Finally, they have Mahomes, which by my calculations means that this is the first game this year where we won’t have the advantage at QB, and that always ends up making a difference in close games. Throw it all together and it’s easy to see why this was one of the few games that terrified me this year.
If we’re going to get out of there with a win, it’s imperative that we follow the formula we laid out last year: run the ball, run the clock, and minimize big plays. We held them to their lowest yardage and points totals of the season with that strategy, and based on what I’ve seen from them this year, the best way for us to slow them down will again be to simply keep them off the field. I’m absolutely terrified of what Mahomes and Co are capable of doing to us, but if we can control the clock and limit big plays, I like our chances. If we can’t, it’s going to be by far the longest Saturday of the season. Let’s go.
West Virginia 41 Texas Tech 34