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FROM THE STANDS: Texas Tech

This is an interesting road trip awaiting the Texas Longhorns fans this weekend. By “interesting” I mean “terrible.” The kids at Tech hate Texas. That’s not a secret. If you haven’t been, here’s what is going to happen: They are going to paint themselves black, drink themselves into a frenzy and insult you. It’s coming, so prepare yourselves for it. Lots of one-finger salutes, two-word phrases like “___ Texas!” and some less-than-cordial conversations with them. With Halloween this Friday and Texas coming to town on Saturday, it’s going to be a war zone this weekend in Lubbock. This is like Mardi Gras, Spring Break and St. Patrick’s Day all jammed into two days. Stay away from anywhere with a cover charge or wristbands. Avoid the apartment complexes at all costs. The one by the stadium is almost unavoidable, so just keep your head down and do not engage. They don’t need any encouragement, because they are going to find you regardless. Stay in the end zone with the other Texas fans and DO NOT, under any circumstances, go anywhere near the student section during the game. Follow the same approach on the way out, and everything should be good.

Expect to see a lot of Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell on the video board pre-game as well since Saturday is the 6th anniversary to the day of Tech’s upset win over No.1 Texas on that last second catch.  The students are going to be liquored up and lathered up, desperate for a win and even more desperate for it to be against their most hated rival, the Texas Longhorns. I think a lot of the animosity Tech fans feel towards Texas is pretty simple: Texas gets more attention than they do and they feel a lot of it is undeserved. That’s a valid argument over the last few years, I guess. It isn’t helping Texas’ cause that they own the Red Raiders in football as well, going 14-4 against Tech since the Big 12 started (the teams were 5-5 the last 10 years of the SWC).  And more than once, they were sure Mack Brown’s career was coming to an end at their house. In 2004 there were “Mack Brown Farewell Tour” signs in the crowd as Texas limped in after they were shutout out by ou and struggled against Mizzou, but the Horns pounded them, 51-21. In 2012 a ranked Tech team hosted Texas and everyone, even the Texas fans, thought  Mack Brown would not survive the day. Texas hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent in over two years and, surely, after Tech put one on them it would be over. But it wasn’t. David Ash and Mike Davis went off, Carrington Byndom blocked a kick and DeLoss Dodds was on the sideline to give Mack Brown a weird, nervous hug after Texas won, 31-22. Add all that up and you get a frustrated fan base that’s ready to put Texas down.  Considering their circumstances now, it’s going to be even more desperate and emotional. So be careful, folks.

As for on the field, I think Texas could absolutely demolish this broken team; but I’ve seen better Texas teams go to Lubbock and lose and after the last two weeks it’s hard to predict what the Longhorns will do. And that crowd is a living, breathing thing when Texas comes to town, so anything can happen. Let’s talk about what will happen.

Game Nine

TEXAS (3-5/2-3) @ TEXAS TECH (3-5/1-4)

6:30 pm

Fox Sports 1

Everyone knows Tech was stuffed in and then shot out of a cannon last week by TCU. As Texas fans, we know how that feels to have someone embarrass you in a game. It’s not a good feeling and after watching the Texas players react in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2012, there was a pattern to their response. Texas was 3-1 after their blowout losses to ou and the intensity, energy and effort was miles higher than the week before. An embarrassed team is an angry team. They want to erase that memory from their minds, the coaches minds and the fans’ minds. They want to show the world that the blowout was the aberration and avenging that loss is all consuming. It’s the same for the coaches as well. Not only are egos and bowl bids on the line, but paychecks as well. After a blowout teams tend to cut loose a bit more as the fear of something risky blowing up in their face isn’t nearly as big a deal as is the fear of the blowout happening again. For Mack Brown it was the time he unleashed the freshmen in earnest, giving them the start over upperclassmen that started the week before. He became more aggressive and his team responded. Tech has lost before under Kliff Kingsbury, but not like this. Mack Brown was as good at circling the wagons after a loss and getting his team back on track as anyone in college football; now we see how Kingsbury handles his team after the blowout loss.

I expect it to be similar to what I’ve seen in the past. Tech will be angry, emotional and ready to fight (as will the fans). With ou, Baylor and Iowa State left, there are very limited opportunities to get three more wins and go bowling. This is one of those opportunities and they must take advantage. You’ll see an aggressive game plan and better effort, and probably some young talent that maybe hasn’t been used as often earlier in the season. That emotion, the drive to erase last week, will make them borderline reckless and it could backfire as easily as inspire. If it doesn’t go well early, I could easily see an exhausted Tech team/stadium lose all their energy and fight. But if they get some early success, it will only fuel the fire. Even with the home crowd, memories of 2008 and an angry team, there are issues. Let’s take a look at Texas Tech.


Offense

If you think Texas has quarterback issues, take a look at Tech. Last year they had three quality qbs and a talented freshman coming in. Michael Brewer was hurt in training camp last fall and the job fell to 2 freshman, Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield. Mayfield started the season strong, and Webb took over when he was injured. A few different times during the season they would relieve each other, depending on who was playing  better. At the end of the regular season, it was clear that Webb/Mayfield would be the starter, so Brewer left. In a surprise move Mayfield did, too, in a very strange exit before the bowl game, and transferred to ou. It was fine in the spring and summer, because Webb was KK’s guy. Never mind that Brewer was now starting at Virginia Tech and went into Ohio State and beat the Buckeyes, or that Mayfield is now regarded as the likely starter for oklahoma next year after sitting out this fall (we’ve seen Trevor Knight play), Webb was at Tech. One problem. Webb wasn’t played nearly as well as Kingsbury, Webb or the fans have hoped. The 6-foot-5, 209-pound sophomore has thrown for 2,539 yards and 24 touchdowns, but he’s also thrown 13 interceptions. And now he’s hurt. He injured his shoulder in September and last week against TCU he had his ankle rolled and was on crutches on the sideline the rest of the game. He’s officially listed as “day-to-day” and could play, but he will certainly not be at his best. The only other option at this point is that talented freshman. Patrick Mahomes, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound 3-star recruit from Whitehouse, is a big-time athlete with a big arm and good mobility. He’s played in three games, has completed 52% of his passes and has two td’s and two picks. He’s more athletic than Webb, but he hasn’t played very much at all and the offense will be more limited with him in there. What was once a stocked cupboard is now completely bare. As I said, Mahomes is more of a runner than Webb. All of us are more of a runner than Webb, who averages two yards per game, but he does have one touchdown. Webb is an NFL prototype that is stationary guy that uses his arm to make plays. With a bad ankle, his mobility is even less of a threat now. Mahomes, on the other hand, will run. As all new quarterbacks do, when he doesn’t see the read he wants, he runs. For this offense go, they need Webb to be upright, clean and throwing bombs. If it’s Mahomes, they need him making good decisions and tucking and running when his read isn’t there.

This is Tech, so they run four- and five-wide sets almost the entire game. In the base four-wide, one-running back set, Davis’/Mahomes’ top targets are Bradley Marquez, Jakeem Grant, Reginald Davis and Devin Lauderdale. The 5-foot-6, 169-pound Grant leads the team in receptions (52), yards receiving (699) and is second on the team in touchdowns (five). He’s small, but he’s a lightning bug that gets lost in the trees on bubble screens and will drag underneath very well. He looks like a lighter Darren Sproles, but at receiver. Marquez is the biggest of the wideouts at 6-feet, 203 pounds and leads the team with seven td receptions. He is a super athlete with 582 yards on 47 receptions so far. Devon Lauderdale (6-feet, 180-pound sophomore) and Reginald Davis (6-feet, 192-pound sophomore) are similar players that average 74 yyg and have a combined eight scores, with five from Davis. Davis seems to be the one that finds holes in the zone while Lauderdale is the deep threat, averaging a team-high 20.9 yards per catch. They will rotate in others, like the 6-foot-3 Dylan Cantrell, but the four listed above make the offense go.

As does running back DeAndre Washington. The 5-foot-8, 201-pound junior is a classic Tech running back that runs and catches the ball well. On the season he leads the team with 699 yards rushing, but only has one score. He is also fourth on the team in receptions with 17. Tech uses the quick pass to the running back like the running game, getting him outside at the snap and the ball in his hands. It hasn’t worked as well is it normally does, evidenced by his 13.8 yards-per-game receiving. Still, they are going to try.

Le’Raven Clark is a big, talented guy at tackle for Texas Tech and they have some talent up front, but I don’t see anything like they’ve had in the past. This Tech offense is not as prolific as it has been, ranking fourth in total offense, fourth in pass offense and seventh in rushing offense. And the quarterback has been hurt. Twice. I know that’s not on the offensive line, but the Tech offense has experience in the skill positions and they just aren’t playing consistently on offense. I think that’s the line.

Tech might have to tweak this week offensively. Expect no huddle and a wide-open attack and expect them to attack the safeties and linebackers in coverage, as K-State did, and try and push tempo. I don’t expect to see Davis holding onto the ball long with that bad ankle, and if Mahomes plays look for lots of quarterback draws, screens and dump offs to the backs to limit mistakes. If Mahomes goes, I see a lot of bootlegs and rollouts to get him outside and pressuring the edge of the defense, making Texas defend his running ability. It isn’t something Tech has done much, if at all, in the past, but it might be their best option this week. Even in the blowout loss last week, Tech scored points and made it competitive for a while. This offense is built to score, and they should have some chances early on, depending on the quarterback situation.


Defense

Defense has never been Tech’s strong suit, and this year it’s as non-strong suit as it can be. They are allowing 507 yards per game (dead last in the Big 12), a league-worst 42.5 points per game, over 260 yards passing per game, 149.4 pass defense efficiency rating (also last) and 247.2 yards per game on the ground. That’s also last. They have eight turnovers forced and 20 committed, which is not good at all. The one thing they do well enough is rush the passer, totaling 15 sacks on the season. But that is offset somewhat by EVERYTHING ELSE.

There is some talent on this defense: Bandit linebacker (a hybrid of a defensive end and linebacker) Pete Robertson is having a great year with a team-high 58 tackles and eight sacks. At 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, the junior has great athleticism and is very quick off the edge. He also has five additional qb hurries, a forced fumble and two passes broken up. Boundary corner Justin Nelson has a team-high 13 passes defended and at 6-foot-2, 177 pounds, has the size to match up with just about anyone in the league. But the other nine, not so much.

I am certainly not saying they don’t have players on the defense; these are all D-I scholarship athletes, but the production just isn’t there. They run a variation of the 3-4 or even 3-3-5 at times in an attempt to confuse offenses, but it just doesn’t work very well.

I expect all-out blitzes about every other play. They are going to bounce their Raider and Bandit backers around, moving them inside and outside, and they are going to stunt their smallish d-line to try and beat the Texas ol to spots and make plays. Statistics don’t lie, so Tech knows they struggle at defending the run. They are going to try and overwhelm the Texas offense at the line of scrimmage, sealing off running lanes and getting to the qb (which they do pretty well) before he can throw it. I don’t think it will work for an entire game, but it’s the best approach.


Special Teams

Taylor Symmank averages a solid 43.6 yards per punt and Ryan Bustin is 7-8 on field goals. Jakeem Grant averages 24.7 yards per kickoff return. That isn’t terrific, but they don’t allow much, either- 20.5 per return. They are as brutal at returning punts (2.3 yards per) as they are good at covering them (2.9 yards per). This is a pretty average special teams unit, but this is also the same unit that did this last year in Austin.

They are going to need some of that this year, and if there was ever team to try that on, it’s this Texas team coming to town.

The records are the same and the match ups on paper look fairly even, but I think Tech is going to have to work very hard to win this game. Harder than Texas. Things haven’t gone well for Texas this year, but things have gone decidedly worse for Tech. Texas had a bad game last week, but things are trending downward for Tech, especially with a less-than-100% quarterback.

I expect all the tricks. All the halfback passes, onside kicks, fake punts, reverses… You name it, they will try it. They are desperate for a win. They aren’t getting it.


Texas

It wasn’t 82-27, but Texas was also embarrassed last week. It was the first shutout in 10 years and a giant step backward for an offense that had shown so much promise the last few weeks. Like Tech, they want to show that last week was an aberration and they are better than that. This will be an angry, emotional Texas team as well; they need three more wins to go bowling, too. I think this older, wiser, more veteran coaching staff is also more comfortable in these waters than Texas Tech. You don’t have experience with something until you’ve done it, right? These Texas coaches have all be through things like this before. That might not be the case for a lot of these Tech coaches, who seem younger across the board then the Texas staff.

Texas needs to hold on in the first quarter and weather the emotional storm from the fans and the Tech team, because if they do I think they will break them. Check that, when they do they will break them. Here’s what I would do:


Offense

Tech’s rush defense: 5.0 yards per carry allowed ON THE SEASON. I expect Texas knows this. Look for Texas to pound the rock against Tech. I expect 50 rushes in this game from Gray, Brown, Swoopes and Foreman and I expect to see WELL-EXECUTED reverses once that defense is sucked up to the interior expecting the run.

This game is on the offensive line. It’s your day, boys. Control the line of scrimmage, give the backs some room and this game is OVER. I know it won’t be that easy, but at the end the day this offense is going to go as far as the ol takes them. If they do their job, which they should, Texas controls the clock, the crowd and the game.

This is a terrible defense with a few nice pieces, but pieces Texas should be able to account for. If there isn’t a hundred-yard rusher on Saturday for Texas, things have gone wrong.


Defense

QB on the ground. Texas leads the Big 12 in sacks and while Tech has only given up seven, they haven’t faced a front four like Texas, particularly inside. An interior pass rush changes everything, because the quarterback doesn’t have time like he does when it’s coming from farther away (outside). From the outside, a quarterback can step up into the pocket and throw it. From the inside, it’s on him immediately and there is nowhere to step up. If it’s Webb in the game, I cut Ridgeway and Brown loose to unload on him. He doesn’t have the mobility this week to escape outside. Maybe it’s a little more controlled with Mahomes, coming from the outside and forcing him into the dynamite Texas dt duo, but I bring safeties and lb’s up the middle on Webb until he makes me stop.

Tech is going to test the linebackers and safeties in coverage and it has to be better this week. Last week Jake Waters picked them apart on third down. That cannot happen again. The tackling needs to be better, the coverage needs to be better. It all needs to be better.

This is a hurting offense and I think the dl goes off and the beneficiaries are the back seven, who collect a few turnovers and a touchdown, either from an ailing vet or a brand new starter.


Special Teams

Quietly it’s gotten better, although lack of blocking got Roderick Bernard’s ACL blown out last week. This is the week Texas can take the air out of the stadium with a big special teams play. Last time the Horns were here, it was a blocked field goal. Let’s make a play this week, felllas. Will Russ is killing the ball and I see him setting up the Texas defense with big play opportunities this weekend.

NO MISTAKES. It’s the one real way they stay in this game if you ask me.


So…

You  can see where I’m going here. Texas is struggling and they can’t seem to piece it all together, but I think everyone sees this is going in the right direction. I can’t say the same for Tech. Things look they are falling apart to me, and this is the last stand to get things corrected. I think a strong surge to start the game is withstood by an inspired Texas defense, who played pretty well last week save multiple third downs, and the Texas running game shows up and drains the energy and life out of the stadium. The Horns win this going away.

 

This Week in the Big 12

No.10 TCU (6-1/3-1) @ No.20 WEST VIRGINIA (6-2/4-2)   2:30 pm   ABC
The last time the top-rated team in the Big 12 went to WVA, they got beat by two touchdowns… They also committed 18 penalties for 200+ yards, dropped a ton of passes and generally looked lost and disinterested. I don’t think that will happen to TCU. I expect a hangover from last week and a dog fight, but I think TCU’s defense is better than Baylor’s overall and I think they will learn from the Bears’ mistakes. This is a shootout, but that’s what TCU does now, and the Frogs win.

OKLAHOMA STATE (5-3/3-2) @ No.11 KANSAS STATE (6-1/ 4-0)   7 pm   ABC
I don’t think Oklahoma State is that good. I’ve said that, right? I think K-State does what they do, which is nickel-and-dime you death and capitalize on your mistakes. You will make mistakes, Oklahoma State.

No.19 oklahoma (5-2/2-2) @ IOWA STATE (2-5/0-4)   11 am   Fox Sports 1
Good news! The Halloween party at my house will not affect the Warriors South final regular season game. It was moved from 9 am to noon. Everyone wins!

KANSAS (3-5/0-4) @ No.12 BAYLOR (6-1/3-1)   3 pm   Fox Sports 1
See TCU/Tech last week. That ugly, that bad and that fast.
Be careful in Lubbock, peeps

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