2015 CFB Preview – Texas Tech

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If there’s a team and a coaching staff building towards fitting exactly what the Big 12 is – and has been – it’s this Texas Tech team and Kliff Kingsbury’s group.

By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

Oklahoma is going back to more of an Air Raid style of offense. TCU switched everything around last season and the results almost turned into a playoff appearance. Baylor has turned into a powerhouse under Art Briles with its dangerous attack, and Texas A&M left the Big 12 and became an instant player in the SEC with its stronger, more dangerous offensive style.

Right in the center of the storm of big offensive numbers has been Kingsbury, playing at Texas Tech, seeing a little time in the pro ranks, and then hooking up with Kevin Sumlin both at Houston and Texas A&M as the hot coaching prospect with the big-time rep.

But you occasionally need to play a little defense, too.

The 2014 Texas Tech offense did exactly what the Texas Tech offense was supposed to do, cranking out over 500 yards per game and coming up with some big performances, but Texas Tech was out-Texas Teched by TCU to the tune of 82 points, and by Baylor late in the year. Even so, had the defense been just a wee bit better than the third-worst in college football in terms of allowing points, the season might have been different.

Texas Tech allowed 42 points or more six times in the last ten games and yet was right there in losses to Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Baylor. And that means in Year Three under Kingsbury, he and his staff have to show that there’s more than just a pretty offense.

Because almost everyone can crank up the offensive numbers now in the Big 12, Texas Tech has to do the same and come up with a few defensive stops and stop committing so many penalties and start to win the turnover margin. And it has to show it can do all the little things right.

With 50 returning lettermen and with ten starters back on offense, the firepower will be there again. Seven starters are back on a defense that can’t be any worse, and there might be a little bit of depth, too.

For a program that won eight games or more 11 times in the last 13 seasons, the 4-8 2014 season wasn’t just lousy, it was the worst campaign since 1990. In the new, better, One True Champion Big 12, Texas Tech has to prove this year it can keep up the pace.

What You Need To Know About The Offense: Expect more of the same, even more of it. The offense that averaged over 500 yards per game and finished fifth in the nation in passing should be even better once the quarterback situation is settled between Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes. The receiving corps needs more weapons around Jakeem Grant, but there are several nice options. Le’Raven Clark and the line will be strong, but it’s not deep and will be in big trouble if a rash of injuries strike. The passing game is the star, but DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton will be among the Big 12’s most dynamic rushing tandems.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: One of the nation’s worst defenses is trying to start over with new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. After finishing 122nd in the nation in total D and 123rd in scoring defense, there’s nowhere to go but up. The pass rushing tandem of Pete Robertson and Branden Jackson should be outstanding, but the entire front four has to be better against the run, especially on the inside. The linebacking corps is the defense’s big question mark with three new starters, but Micah Awe is a good one on the inside. The rough secondary will be helped with more from the defensive front, but J.J. Gaines is a good safety to build around and Justis Nelson is one of the Big 12’s bigger corners.

What to watch for on offense: Don’t forget about the running game. As always, Texas Tech’s bread will be buttered with the high-octane passing attack, but two of the team’s best players are in the backfield. DeAndre Washington is coming off an All-Big 12 season with the talent and experience to do a little bit of everything as a runner and a receiver. While he’s the main man, Justin Stockton is about to make his presence felt with lightning speed and the ability to tear off yards in chunks after averaging more than eight yards per carry with a team-leading four rushing touchdowns. Again, it’s Texas Tech, so the ground game probably won’t hit the 2,000-yard mark, but it’ll still be effective.

What to watch for on defense: More quarterback pops. New defensive coordinator David Gibbs will bring the pressure from a potentially devastating group of ends. Pete Robertson is back after generating 13 sacks, and Branden Jackson is a very big, very experienced end who’ll be turned loose behind the line. While the top Big 12 passing games are great at getting the ball out of their hands in a hurry – Texas Tech only allowed 13 sacks – but the porous Red Raider D would be helped in a huge way with more big plays from the outside. Gibbs will dial up the pressure.

The team will be far better if … the run defense is stronger. Texas Tech will never control the clock, but it can’t be miserable at time of possession again after keeping the ball for just 26:05 a game. Part of that has to do with the offense, but long, sustained drives don’t matter if the offense is clicking. The defense has to do its part by just getting off the field. Opposing offenses have been able to roll out really, really long drives, keeping the Tech offense on the sidelines, and that has to stop by doing more against the run. The Red Raiders allowed 200 yards or more in every game against FBS teams except Oklahoma State (loss) and Kansas (win). Even with an extra game in the 2014 equation, Texas Tech allowed almost 500 more rushing yards last year.

The schedule: The Red Raiders need to have fun with Sam Houston State and UTEP to start the season because it gets really rough really fast. Everything needs to be tuned up over the first two weeks because …
– At Arkansas, TCU, Baylor in Arlington. Kliff Kingsbury’s club will know where it stands early on. Split those two huge games against the Big 12 favorites, and all of a sudden the narrative of the Texas Tech season changes.
– The mid-season run of three road games in four weeks will be a fight going to Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. If the offense clicks, the Red Raiders will be the team no one wants to play.
– It’s a long season before finally getting a week off before the final game of the regular season. Getting time to prepare for the Thanksgiving game against Texas in Austin will help.
– WATCH OUT FOR … the road trip to Kansas. The Jayhawks don’t have many winnable opportunities, and they’ll see Texas Tech as a possible shot. The Red Raiders go to Oklahoma the week after going to Lawrence – the focus has to be there.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Davis Webb. Or sophomore QB Patrick Mahomes. RB DeAndre Washington might be the best all-around part to the puzzle, and Jakeem Grant should be an all-star receiver, but the main man for Texas Tech is always going to be the quarterback. Webb is hurt with a shoulder problem, but he was terrific at times as a freshman showing the upside to become something truly special – if Mahomes doesn’t take over the gig. Webb threw too many interceptions, while Mahomes threw 16 touchdowns and just four picks. It’s going to be a fight throughout the fall camp, but it’s a good situation.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Pete Robertson. One of the most dangerous defenders in the Big 12, the speedy pass rusher came up with 13 sacks and was always coming up with something big. The problem? The rest of the defense stunk, and now he’s going to be keyed on all season long and will have to learn how to deal with double and triple teams at times. Even so, his quickness off the ball will make the rest of the veteran front four better.

Key player to a successful season: Senior LB Micah Awe. There’s experience on both sides of the ball, and outside of the O line, there’s plenty of depth, too. The linebacking corps is going to be a big question mark for the sketchy defense, and Awe has to use his range to become more of a factor in the middle. Sam Eguavoen held down the gig last season and finished second on the team with 70 stops. Awe was a spot starter and came up with 58. This year, he should be a statistical star, but he has to be physical against the run.

The season will be a success if … the Red Raiders win eight games. That’s the norm for the program over the last decade-plus, and that’s what Kingsbury and company will shoot for even with a rough schedule. Sam Houston State, UTEP, Iowa State and Kansas should mean the record will at least be as good as it was last season, but four more wins would make the Red Raiders a Big 12 factor again.

Key game: Sept. 26 vs. TCU. Even if Texas Tech isn’t good enough to win this game, it’s a measuring stick compared to last year’s 82-27 loss that actually could’ve been far worse – and yes, it was possible if TCU really and truly tried. The Horned Frogs came up with 785 yards of total offense in the blowout, and now Texas Tech gets to kick off its Big 12 season by exorcising the demons. And here’s the problem – Baylor up next.

2014 Fun Stats:
– Red Zone Scores: Opponents 52-of-57 (91%) – Texas Tech 29-of-38 (76%)
– Penalties: Texas Tech 112 for 1,070 yards – Opponents 69 for 645
– Time of Possession: Opponents 33:55 – Texas Tech 26:05

Players You Need To Know

1. BAN Pete Robertson, Sr.
He was ready to come into his own and become a dangerous all-around defender at the Bandit position, and he was everything and more. He turned into a truly special end making a team-high 82 tackles with 13 sacks with seven quarterback hurries and three broken up passes showing off his amazing athleticism and quickness. Terrific at getting behind the line, he’s disruptive with a fast first step and great closing ability, but he’s going to be keyed on throughout the year now that he has the All-Big 12 reputation. At 6-3 and 238 pounds he’s bulking up to become more of a true end, and now the former high school running back should be even tougher to deal with.

2. OT Le’Raven Clark, Sr.
After an off year for the Texas Tech line in pass protection, it turned terrific again last season. Clark was fantastic starting every game at left tackle two years ago, and was terrific once again at handling the Big 12’s better speed rushers. At 6-6 and 316 pounds he has great size and a terrific frame, and he’s a bull when it comes to pounding away for the ground game when needed. A top prospect and a great get for the program, and he has lived up to potential after needing a little while to get his feet wet. Tough enough to see time at guard early on, he’s now a mainstay at left tackle with first round draft pick potential. An All-Big 12 star, he’ll once again be among the league’s best blockers.

3. QB Davis Webb, Jr.
Can he take a firm hold of the job? It didn’t seem like he’d be needed as a true freshman with now-Virginia Tech Hokie Michael Brewer appearing ready to take over and walk-on and now-Oklahoma Sooner Baker Mayfield stunning everyone by taking over the job early, but after injuries struck and he got his chance, he took off. Really, really skinny when he started out, he hit the weights a bit and filled out his 6-5 frame to 227 pounds. He has a big arm and is in total command of the attack at times, but he threw too many interceptions giving up 13 to go along with 24 touchdowns. Athletic, he can move a little bit and take off when needed, but his mobility is used best making throws on the move. Incredible in the bowl win over Arizona State two years ago, throwing for 403 yards and four scores, he has the potential to put up massive numbers, but he needs to get over a shoulder problem and once again has to win the gig.

4. RB DeAndre Washington, Sr.
All back full after suffering a knee injury a few years ago, the 5-8, 198-pounder got more work and showed what he could do in an All-Big 12 season. A great pass catcher out of the backfield, he’s tremendously quick and has good pop and strength inside when needed averaging close to six yards per carry with 1,103 yards and two scores while catching 30 passes for 328 yards and two scores. While he’s not built to be a workhorse, he can do it with 29 carries against West Virginia and 23 a week later – hitting the 100-yard mark in each game. It’s not a stretch to call him the team’s most indispensable player considering all he can do for the offense.

5. QB Patrick Mahomes, Soph.
The 6-3, 221-pound stepped in as a true freshman and was inconsistent a bit early on, and then blew up once the light turned on over the final three games cranking out 393 yards and four scores against Oklahoma, followed it up with 328 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State, and closed out with 598 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. Those three games were enough to put him in a dead-heat with Davis Webb for the starting quarterback job, but he split his time this offseason playing baseball. Built for the job, at the very least, he can step in and produce if he doesn’t take over the starting job full-time.

6. WR Jakeem Grant, Sr.
The Red Raiders needed Grant to step up after losing their top two receivers, and Grant came up with another big year leading the team with 67 catches for 938 yards and seven scores. While he didn’t come up with too many deep plays on a consistent basis, he did his part throughout the season making 12 catches for 100 yards and a score and closing out with five catches for 155 yards and a touchdown against Baylor. At 5-7 and 169 pounds, he’s small, but he’s ultra-quick who can scoot in and out of traffic and is a nightmare to deal with one-on-one.

7. S J.J. Gaines, Sr.
Gaines went from being a decent reserve to a Big 12 all-star making 63 tackles with two picks and four broken up passes. At 6-0 and 185 pounds he’s not all that big, but he’s fast, active, and is able to deliver a pop when he gets around the ball. The former high school receiver and running back made 12 tackles against Texas and was steady throughout the season before missing the final two games with a shoulder problem.

8. C Jared Kaster, Sr.
The all-star anchor up front, Kaster isn’t the star of the line – Le’Raven Clark is – but he’s a sound pass protector who knows what he’s doing after starting 25 times over the last two seasons. At 6-3 and 293 pounds he has decent size to go along with next-level strength. Stronger than athletic, he can power away while doing a great job of holding up against the tougher defensive tackles.

9. CB Justis Nelson, Jr.
The Red Raiders didn’t do enough to come up with takeaways, and the 6-2, 177-pound Nelson didn’t come up with a pick, but he broke up 16 passes. An all-star on the field and in the classroom, he’s a special sort of different kind of player. He doesn’t necessarily look like a normal corner – he’s very tall and very thin – and he’s brilliant enough that Harvard was an option. It’s easy for him to be the leader and the star of the secondary after coming up with 44 tackles and all of those broken up passes.

10. P Taylor Symmank, Sr.
One of the Big 12’s best punters, he has a good enough leg to bang away a few huge kicks including a 61-yarder. He ended up averaging close to 43 yards per punt and forced 24 fair catches while putting 17 inside the 20. Helped by his ability to pin teams deep, and hang it up enough to force no return, Texas Tech allowed a paltry 3.6 yards per punt return.

Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury
3rd year: 12-13
Sept. 5 Sam Houston State
Sept. 12 UTEP
Sept. 19 at Arkansas
Sept. 26 TCU
Oct. 3 Baylor (in Arlington)
Oct. 10 Iowa State
Oct. 17 at Kansas
Oct. 24 at Oklahoma
Oct. 31 Oklahoma State
Nov. 7 at West Virginia
Nov. 14 Kansas State
Nov. 26 at Texas
Ten Best Texas Tech Players
1. BAN Pete Robertson, Sr.
2. OT Le’Raven Clark, Sr.
3. QB Davis Webb, Jr.
4. RB DeAndre Washington, Sr.
5. QB Patrick Mahomes, Soph.
6. WR Jakeem Grant, Sr.
7. S J.J. Gaines, Sr.
8. C Jared Kaster, Sr.
9. CB Justis Nelson, Jr.
10. P Taylor Symmank, Sr.