Seth C from the SB Nation Texas Tech blog Double T Nation was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about the Red Raiders. What follows are those answers... to my questions.
1. The Red Raider defense has done a solid job stopping the run (126 ypg, 39th in nation), while struggling to contain the pass (280 ypg, 114th in nation). Defending the Oklahoma State offense is a bit of a "pick your poison" proposition as Kendall Hunter is 5th in the nation in rushing while the passing game is ranked 2nd... do you believe the Tech D will have to key on Hunter (as most opposing defenses have), or will Tech take their chances at containing him without committing extra men to the run?
2. Oklahoma State's kick coverage team has been just awful. I mean "dead last in the nation, teams are averaging 36 yards per return" awful. Does Texas Tech have a returner that can make us pay for our kick coverage issues?
I don't think there's much of an option other than to try to control Hunter. With OSU being a bit light in terms of receiver depth (possibly three receivers may miss the game) it seems like it would make some sense to see if those other receivers can make the plays that Cooper and Anyiam have made all year for Oklahoma St. Generally speaking, the Texas Tech front four have been pretty good this year and other having their rears handed to them against Iowa St., they've been pretty good. Texas Tech has lost some depth over the past week as starting DE Scott Smith was suspended for the rest of the year (reason undisclosed) and backup OLB Aundrey Barr is out for the rest of the knee with injury. So the Texas Tech defensive line is a bit banged up, however, the defensive coordinator, James Willis, I think will try to give OSU multiple looks, move some linemen around. There have been instances where OLB Brian Duncan (6 sacks on the year) has moved to nose guard while DT Myles Wade (6-1/300) is lining up at defensive end. Texas Tech really had to keep everything in front of them last week with the threat of Robert Griffin III taking off every play. The big thing that Willis has preached most, if not all of the year, is that he's implementing a one-gap defense and if each player fills their gap, then it should work. Emphasis on the word "should". I mentioned the other morning that I think that Hunter is a terrific running back and he's so danged quick, making defenders miss when they shouldn't. Texas Tech is going to have their hands full.
Hells yes. This is the one area of special teams that Texas Tech is not an abject failure. Sophomore RB/KR Eric Stephens just set the school record last week for total kick return yards. As a sophomore. Stephens is averaging over 25 yards a return, which is good enough for 4th in the conference. He's never taken one for a touchdown, but he's been close a few times. In fact, if I had to compare Stephens to any player in the conference, it just might be Hunter. Hunter has obviously done a lot more for his team thus far, but Stephens played quite a bit as a true freshman and he's not disappointing this year.
The running game started off slowly. Very slowly. I've been preaching the past two weeks that the running game has improved significantly, but this has more to do with touches rather than carries. Two weeks ago against Iowa St. Stephens and RB Baron Batch combined for 22 carries and 120 yards on the ground and 10 catches for 79 yards receiving. Against Baylor, these two improved on this and had 31 carries and 150 yards on the ground and 11 catches and 80 yards receving. It's about production for the running backs overall. Most of those receiving yards come in the form of screens or dump-off passes that help keep the defense honest. The TTU offense needs to continue this type of production, again to keep the OSU defense somewhat honest and opens up the passing game in turn.
Pressure will probably come from the aforementioned Duncan. He started off really fast against SMU with 3.0 sacks and had 1.0 sacks for the next three games, but didn't garner a sack last week against Baylor. Of course, not many teams sack Griffin, so that's not a huge surprise. Duncan played middle linebacker last year and was converted to an outside linebacker during the spring. He's got a nice first step and he has a good understanding of containment as well. Redshirt freshman CB Jarvis Phillips already has 4 interceptions for year and he's proved to be a pretty good playmaker, although the secondary is relatively young. The cornerbacks are freshmen and redshirt freshmen for the most part. TTU did get back CB LaRon Moore last week, and he had been out for most of the year and the spring with a leg injury. Having him back helps the experience factor tremendously. Big hits could really come from a number of different players. Willis stated during the spring that he wants to play 25 players. Of course, that number has changed a bit because of injuries, but he does like to utilize a handful of players and in this wide-open Big 12, the defense has certainly taken their lumps, but I think this may be a product of trying to get guys out on the field that could contribute.
If you win, everyone loves you, if you lose . . . That's the bottom line. I tend to think that the culture at DTN believe that Mike Leach was done in by the administration (not all of the administration) and so there's still quite a bit of ill-will and comparisons being made to Leach. Of course, Tuberville didn't fire Leach, but that doesn't mean that fans can't show their displeasure after losing to Iowa St. and having an offense that just didn't even show up against Texas. I think fans were willing to give him a chance, but when you lose two in a row, fans start asking questions. Generally speaking, I think the older alums love Tuberville. He's a hand-shaker, something that Leach never was. Some fans have rallied around the idea that Leach was never a hand-shaker but he won. Sure, he did win, but Leach had his stinkers too. Every coach does. Some fans don't like the fact that Tuberville likes to talk about winning championships, but this doesn't bother me that much. I'd rather him talk about championships than finishing dead-last in the Big 12 South. In the end, it really just comes down to whether or not he's got the right coordinators calling the plays and if he can recruit. One of the things that Tuberville said when he was hired was that he hired guys that could recruit and thus far, he's assembled a pretty nice list of commits. I don't think that Leach went out and recruited very much, but Tuberville seems re-energized by arriving at Texas Tech and is making an effort to be the face of Texas Tech football, to alumni and commits. Although Texas Tech and Oklahoma St. fans may not like to admit it, I think this is really about these two schools trying to do whatever they can to get over the hump that is Texas and Oklahoma and I thought that last year, OSU and TTU were pretty much neck and neck in terms of program success (before the Leach termination).