As the game was winding down, I was thinking to myself in the stands about what June Jones’ post game interview might sound like. I kept thinking of the scene where Chief Karlin is interrogating Fletch and figured it would go something to the effect of, "We like men. We like to be manhandled. We like you." Texas Tech simply overmatched SMU trench personnel on both sides of the ball, and that was the story of the game. It is SMU, so this was to be expected. Tech can’t depend on that in the Big 12, but they are improved. In the past, we beat teams like this with superior skills players and a precision passing game. In this particular game, Tech won with solid defense, a strong running game, and playaction over the top to Michael Crabtree. Somewhat traditional in a sense, and that might be a better formula to lean on in conference play.
Last week, I was frustrated with the playcalling in which Baron Batch and Shannon Woods only received 13 carries combined for 92 yards. This week, that number jumped up to 23 and netted 184 yards, not to mention 7 catches for 117 yards versus 2 for 15 in the Nevada game. I’m not sure if you’re counting, but that’s 30 touches for 301 yards out of the tailback position.
Graham Harrell was much improved on his previous week performance, but I noticed some things live and on the TV replay that I hadn’t picked up on. His biggest issue right now is poor mechanics. He’s throwing off his back foot too much and not stepping into his throws. Harrell can get away with it against SMU. This will cost us a couple of games at some point against Big 12 teams with speed in the secondary.
Taylor Potts saw time in this game and looked impressive. Leach has never had a QB in this offense with the kind of arm Potts possesses. His 27 yard completion to Rashad Hawk split two defenders and never got more than 8 foot off the ground. Harrell would have had to put more air under it, and I’m not so sure he even would have attempted the pass. Potts is greener than goose shit, but should make for entertaining football at a minimum.
Shannon Woods is a nice little back, who’s greatest strengths are reading blocks and pass protection. Baron Batch is a little bigger back, who’s greatest strengths are speed, strength and breaking tackles at the second level. Batch is a different kind of back than Leach typical fields and I think he knows it. I’m not sure if Leach will have his sometimes routine brainfart against quality opponents, but Batch needs to be receiving 15-20 carries a game with another 5 catches. Woods needs to be relegated to that 10-12 touch role. He runs better after standing on the sideline and watching his college career slip away to a more talented back, who runs hard every play.
An interesting formation emerged from the depths of the Leach playbook. Something I haven’t seen much of since the early years. It consisted of a single back, two-wide set with a tight end and H-back lined up tight. Except we don’t really have this type of personnel on our roster, so we roll with Adam James at tight end and Ryan Hale at H-back. Hale is a converted LB, who I suddenly have a mancrush on for knocking the shit out of people in the running game. Batch’s 43 yard TD run was one of the better designed running plays of the Leach Era. It was of the counter variety to the 3 hole, but instead of asking two slow footed OL to pull, Leach used RG Brandon Carter and Hale from his H-back position. No one touched Batch on the way to the end zone, and it displayed what he brings to the position, which is speed. Woods would have gone for a nice 12 yard gain on this play and been taken down by an arm tackle. Unless of course, he was coming off the bench. We’ll touch upon this formation more in a moment, but to my knowledge this is the only time we ran out of it. Sit tight, I discovered some interesting stats when I re-watched the game on DVR.
Crabtree dominated the overmatched SMU secondary, but he also dropped a TD and should have held on to a 50 yard gainer even though it was a tough catch. I still thought he caught it. Overall, they dropped way too many balls especially Detron Lewis, who’s built a reputation of having great hands. RS Freshman Rashad Hawk dropped another TD pass, but also displayed what he can bring to the table with his 6’4" frame and 10.5 hundred speed. He’ll be a dandy some day. Now, let’s get back to that formation that has me intrigued.
I counted 6 plays we ran out of the aforementioned formation and here are the results:
1. Batch 43 yard TD run
2. Crabtree 27 yard TD catch
3. Crabtree 50 yard incompletion that should have been caught
4. Crabtree drop in the end zone from about 5 yards out
5. Crabtree 50 yard TD catch
6. Britton 8 yard TD catch
If you’re into play charting and shit, that’s 28 of our 43 points in this game. 6 plays for 128 yards to be exact, and should have been 6 plays for 183 yards and another TD. We only ran one time out of the formation, but SMU took the bait and left their safety in one on one scenarios with Michael Crabtree. Now, I’m not saying this should be our base offense, but it sure makes the reads and throws easier on a QB, who is struggling to find a rhythm and also lends itself to more creative blocking schemes in the run game with a fast, physical back to carry the load. Which in turn, lends itself to advantageous opportunities in playaction for big gainers in the passing game. Funny how that shit works. Now, if you run out of it 65 plays in a row and Donnie Hart is your deep threat, eventually teams will adjust to stop it. However, at current day Texas Tech, it makes for a nice change of pace and should be utilized for 12-15 plays, especially against teams that are manning up on our WR and playing press coverage i.e. Mizzou. We know they can maul our WRs at the LOS, but let’s see how far they can run. It would also allow for max protection, if required. Hale and James were both available on numerous occasions in the middle of the field and in the flats as check downs. A package of 6 to 8 plays would suffice, and I would like to see how efficiently we could move the ball in this formation for a whole offensive series. If, we would quit scoring out of it every time.
These guys can run block pretty well and are extremely physical, when provided schemes that coincide with their physical abilities. Now, I know the end around to Crabtree or Morris looks nice on the chalk board, but when it plays out in the wild, the end result is a bunch of big, slow guys chasing a bunch of small, quick guys to the sidelines. We don’t overuse this play, so I’m not complaining and it helps keep the defense honest. One or two times is more than enough in any game.
I’ve been pretty hard on Brandon Carter and his ability to identify and effectively defend against stunts and blitzes. However, the dude just flat out mauls people in the run game. He’s the best run blocker on this team. Kudos to Carter as this was the best game I’ve seen him play at Tech. Maybe because SMU sucks, but hell, he earned some street cred with me anyway. And that and a nickel will get you a van down by the river.
When this unit is simply required to utilize their 330 pound bodies and 500 pound bench presses to seal off and turn the guy closest to them, Mangino could run through most of the holes created. In certain cases, they can effectively zone block and get to the next level. Carter does this surprisingly well. Stephen Hamby at center is a nice option as a counter-puncher to match up with mismatches in pass protection, but SMU’s noseguard pretty much had his way with him. That rushing total would have exceeded 250 yards were it not the case. I like Hamby and think he has the best feet on the team, but his style and the rest of our OL’s style don’t co-exist in perfect harmony for what we do successfully in the run game. Byrnes is a much better mauler and more compact for drive blocking. Louis Vasquez playing with a high ankle sprain is somewhat of a liability in the running game. Everyone knows this guy can play, so my guess is that he’s having trouble pushing off of it. He was noticeably limping between plays throughout the game. I guess my only question would be why is he playing in non-conference against a CUSA opponent? Chris Olsen has done well in spot duty and needs the experience for next season anyway. I hope we could still beat SMU with our backup guard in the game. Anyway, if Louis says don’t keep me off the field coach, then I’m not going to complain as he’s earned that right in my opinion. Rylan Reed has still not recovered his quickness and was outplayed by his counterpart Marlon Winn in this game. Winn wasn’t spectacular, but he did his job and was by no means a weakness. Plus, I think he reduced his false start penalties per game from 5 to 1, but I might have missed a couple.
I’m still not completely sold on where this unit is at, but they are improved. Whether that’s improved enough for Big 12 play is tough to say until we see K-State. One thing is for certain, we have more playmakers. Schematically speaking, we’re about half way there. Meaning, I love what McNeill is doing on passing downs and still throw up in my mouth a little on running downs. In week 1 of the NFL, Cover 2 purist Rod Marinelli learned that a fat DT with the ability to dominate, but takes occasional plays off, is better than no DT at all. With a rookie QB making his first NFL start, Marinelli chose to put the game in the hands of his undermanned run defense and protect his secondary. It played out on screen like a porno titled "Back to Gag School" to the tune of 10 yards per carry for a talented RB playing behind a below average OL. The next week said RB totaled 42 yards on 14 carries against the Godfather of Cover 2, who has seen enough games play out in his career to drop a safety in the box. Check out the rushing defense statistics for the NFL through 2 weeks and see how many of the teams at the bottom run Cover 2 schemes almost exclusively.
McNeill is skating by for now on running downs because his DTs are pushing in the shit of the FCS, Mountain West and CUSA guards they are facing. On passing downs, he is wisely utilizing a "Jet" package, which features 3 down lineman consisting of usually Brandon Williams at DE, Rajon Henley and McKinner Dixon at DT, and Daniel Howard as a pseudo LB/DE coming from multiple alignments. I’m a big fan of this as we have been able to get pressure on the QB without blitzing and it puts our 4 best pass rushers on the field. Actually, Dixon was our best defensive player in this game whether at end or tackle, and Howard was next. In my opinion, they effectively put Jake Ratliff on the bench, and if you don’t believe me, go watch the first series when backup Logan Turner came in. It’s like rooting for the hometown kid in the Special Olympics watching Ratliff try to chase him down after losing containment. This didn’t and wouldn’t happen with Dixon or Howard in the game. Howard’s speed and range put him on the brink of playing LB. He was not only lethal in stopping the run whether aligned at LB or DE, but was relentless as a pass rusher.
Charbonnet’s 3 picks were half function of Cover 2 and half function of a true freshman QB making his first start against a Big 12 secondary. I thought the first SMU play was a TD until the ball began to slowly drift towards the center of the field versus to the wide open WR headed towards the pylon. We then learned that Charbonnet would be a safe option to field punts were Eric Morris to succumb to injury. Overall, the secondary did make some nice plays, though, and Charb always seems to be around the ball, or at least, close enough to give himself a chance to make a play. I like the shit out of him even though Josh Freeman would have cashed in that TD check.
Breaking Down 3 Plays
Instead of going through the individual units, I want to focus on the first 3 plays of SMU’s 2nd offensive possession. It reveals all our strengths and weaknesses, and provides an abridged version of what happened in this game for the Red Raiders defensively. I also want this game tape burned, so Big 12 OC don’t pick up on the things June Jones did. He doesn’t have the horses to make it work, but he was damn sure on the right track.
- Play 1: 1st and 10 – SMU comes out with 4 wide, trips to the left. McNeill counters with base 4-3 personnel and slides the LBs over to cover the slot receivers to the right side of the defense. This effectively leaves Marlon Williams as the MLB in our defense with an undermanned front. Bront Bird and our best run stuffer and future star in this conference, Brian Duncan, chicken fighting with SMU receivers. Jones calls the shovel pass, and predictably, Marlon jumps around in one spot and gets sealed off by the center coming off a combo block on the playside DT. McNeill gets bailed out on the backside by DT Brandon Sesay, who is facing an overmatched SMU guard, and drives him 5 yards into the RB waiting on the shovel to disrupt the timing of the play. Duncan then comes all the way over from the slot to clean up the mess for a 2 yard gain, while Marlon is grabbing his ankles and being lathered down in Vasoline by a CUSA center. This play would have gone for 30 yards against Big 12 caliber offensive linemen.
- Play 2: 2nd and 8 – SMU comes out in the same formation. McNeill comes out in a dime package, which again features Marlon Williams as MLB. For some mysterious reason, McNeill decides to remove Bird and Duncan from the field in this package in lieu of our slowest, least physical and worst coverage LB. On the contrary, he does some brilliant strategic moves with his DL personnel. Dixon is at LDE, Henley is a DT, while Howard is playing as a standup LB to execute a stunt on the backside with RDE Brandon Williams. SMU runs a half ass zone read play and the stunt forces the give to the RB, although I don’t think June Jones had any plans for Bo Levi Mitchell to test the perimeter. You immediately see the difference between what Dixon brings to this defense over Ratliff as he stays at home, whips the block of the pulling guard, and drops the RB for a 3 yard gain to force 3rd down. Marlon Williams never gets closer than 3 yards to the LOS as the play progresses, and in the end, is being driven back to the 7 yard range before the whistle is mercifully blown. Once again, this play would go for 30 against above average Big 12 OL personnel.
- Play 3: 3rd and 5 – SMU is lined up in a 4 wide balanced set. McNeill is rolling with his dime package again except he has Howard at LDE, Henley and Dixon at DT, and Brandon Williams at RDE. Marlon Williams is still at MLB and blitzing on this play. Marlon doesn’t really do much on the blitz, but aggregately they force a quick throw by the SMU QB on a shallow in-route, where in the secondary we are playing aggressive man coverage underneath with 2 deep safeties and allow our All Big 12 CB to make a play on the ball, which falls harmlessly to the ground forcing the punt.
There it is in those three plays. It’s all there for us to have a respectable, tough defense or for us to be outcoached formationally. I’m not sure where this thing is headed, but Tech has more players on this side of the ball since the days of fielding Zach Thomas, Marcus Coleman, and Monte Reagor. Brian Duncan is legit at MLB as are Dixon and the rest of the DL. Bird is solid against the run and in coverage. When they’re not on the bench. I think this series is a microcosm example of how Tech’s defense will play out this year. Talented players making exceptional plays mixed with formations that exploit our weakest players and give up long drives to teams with good QBs, who don’t throw punts and are mobile. Hopefully, the former overcomes the latter. But at this point, I would say Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma will pretty much do what they please, offensively. It was a brilliant game plan for an overmatched SMU team, but I’m praying that it’s not our universal plan for the Big 12.
Be sure to check Seth C. @ DTN. He has a report card.