One of the first things I do after every game is scour through the drive chart and play-by-play on espn.com. As a stat junkie since my days of youth (my mother was making fun of me with my girlfriend a couple of weeks ago), I've found it one the most fascinating places to get information as I've aged about what happened in a football game. I think I picked this up during my banking days. You see a drive chart and a play-by-play are to a football fanatic what a balance sheet and income statement are to a banker. You may not be there every day to see what's going on, but you've got a pretty good idea of how management's running the show. Given you're not receiving fraudalent data, you can make a pretty informed decision about whether you want to extend credit to someone. Or if your coaching staff is making adjustments and exactly where those adjustments occurred. Or in the Nebraska game, that your DC was not making adjustments in the 2nd half, but I'll get into that during the post mortem tomorrow. Right now, I want to focus on what I thought was going on during the game, but jumped out and punched me in the face while perusing over financials of the Nebraska game. I'm not extending any credit to Texas Tech football unless I've got a personal guaranty from Baron Batch.
Now, let's throw this thing down Excel style and comb through this bitch:
Tech Offensive Drives vs. Nebraska
1st Drive: 5 plays, 13 yards, punt - Woods 3 touches for 13 yards - 0 points
2nd Drive: 7 plays, 80 yards, TD - Woods 1 touch for 1 yard; Batch 2 touches for 30 yards - 7 points
3rd Drive: 6 plays, 59 yards, FG - Batch 2 carries for 52 yards to the Neb 16; we then call 3 straight incomplete passes; the football gods punish us to a FG - 3 points
4th Drive: 4 plays, 70 yards, TD - Woods 2 carries for 4 yards; this was the drive where Ed Britton had the 56-yard catch and run to the Neb 14 on the first play of the drive - 7 points
5th Drive: 7 plays, 77 yards, TD - Batch 2 touches for 12 yards - 7 points
6th Drive: 3 plays, 8 yards, Punt - Woods 2 touches for 4 yards - 0 points
7th Drive: 10 plays, 80 yards, TD - Batch 5 carries for 27 yards; Woods 2 carries for 5 yards - 7 points
OT Drive: 4 plays, 25 yards, TD - Batch 2 touches for 29 yards (shit, they even made it harder on him); Woods 1 carry for 0 yards - 6 points
Batch - 13 touches/150 yards = 11.54 yards per touch
Woods - 11 touches/37 yards = 3.36 yards per touch
Return on Assets
Batch - 30 points/5 drives = 6.00 points per drive
Woods - 7 points/3 drives = 2.33 points per drive
Alright you get my point. The important thing is here that we've identified another weapon in this offense. He's at our disposal and we need to use him accordingly going forward. Now, my intent of this article is not to slight Shannon Woods. He's been a good player for us. For Christ's sakes, he led the Big 12 in tandem yards in 2006 and was the only guy on the team who showed up to play every week, and for that, I will forever be indebted to him as a fan. With all due respect to Taurean Henderson, I would also concede that with an average run blocking OL any decent back could throw up 1300 total yards and 12 TDs in this offense. Just ask BraggonUT how valuable Tech RBs are in college fantasy football.
Now while there's some evidence to support platooning your RBs, there's also been some strong evidence against it. Like in the case of Marion Barber and Julius Jones. Or Baron Batch and Shannon Woods. Batch came to Tech and played as a highly touted true freshman, but had some injury issues for a couple of years and this is virtually his first year. It seems as if we as fans had almost forgot how much talent this kid had coming out of high school as a 2000-yard rusher, who routinely flirted with sub-4.4 in the 40. I know I did. Let's see here: Speed? Check. Size? Check. Power? Check. Making people miss? Check. Breaking tackles? Check. Blocking ability becomes something you live with at this point. The one thing Batch could do a little better is being patient with his blocking, but you can tell in interviews and after plays, when he makes a bad cut he seems genuinely disappointed in himself and hungry to improve. OL love blocking for a guy like this and he'll get better with experience. If he finishes out his next 2 years like I think he will, Batch will easily become one of my all time favorite Tech players. You just have to love his attitude. Leach has never had a guy like this in his offense, and every time I see him play, I come away more and more impressed. He kind of reminds me of Brian Westbrook. It looks like you've got a play stretched out pretty well, and then bam, he cuts up field and you see LBs sliding off his thigh pads and he's one on one with a safety in the open field. Batch's ability to make something out of nothing has been a joy to watch. He's quietly established himself as one of the top 3 homerun threats at the RB position in the Big 12 along with Kendall Hunter at OSU and Mike Goodson at A&M. Marlon Lucky received preseason All Big 12 accolades and you can't tell me there wasn't a tangible difference between Batch's perfomance and his. With the way this offense opens up when Batch is in the game, it appears DCs in this league are already accounting for his presence on the field. If they haven't recognized yet that Tech has one other playmaker on offense besides Harrell and Crabtree, they'll learn the to the tune of 30 yard screen passes all day. The 27 yard catch and run by Batch in the 1st quarter out of the two-back set could effectively serve as our blitz prevention measure for the rest of the season. Batch ran through the middle of the line and then ran what appeared to be an option route to the flat. Teams that try to blitz us or man up at the line and maul our WRs will be forced back into a soft zone after a couple of Batch episodes featuring a LB chasing him in coverage, a 6'3", 215 lb WR pancaking a CB and a safety that had better already be running to get an angle.
Now that we've had a Batch suckfest, let's talk about his role in the Tech offense. I think Seth Littrell is one of the best young coaches in this league. He's certainly Tech's best recruiter and has a magnificient eye for talent. He also seems smart, his players respect him and he also looks like the kind of guy that would get up in your face behind closed doors and tell you, you're running like a pussy. I'm not saying that about Woods, I'm just saying hypothetically, if he was, Littrell would probably be the first to say something. Woods has worked hard to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff, it's his senior year, and he's earned a role on this team. As a backup to Batch. And there's absolutely no shame in that, Mr. Woods, it's just Batch is a special player and you've fallen victim to improved recruiting efforts. I think Littrell knows this, and there can only be one logical answer as I'm pretty sure he's responsible for the RB personnel throughout the game. The problem is he's playing with fire. I've got to think at some point Littrell will start shifting the bulk of the touches to Batch as we get deeper in conference play, especially on the road. However, I don't think he's going to do it until he has to, and at this point, he seems to think we can beat every team on our schedule up to the UT game by splitting carries with Woods. If A&M and Kansas are beating us or playing close, I think you'll see a heavy dose of Batch, but in a 2 TD or more game, he'll keep platooning. Littrell wants to use just enough of him to win, but more importantly, stay healthy until the UT game. I can agree with that philosophy. To the extent that it almost gets us beat.
Leach hasn't quite figured out how to use a guy like Batch yet with an above average run blocking OL to hold a lead. We had just gone up 24-10 in the 3rd quarter and this is where Tech opponents do one of two things: (A) They shit their pants, abandon their gameplan, and get rolled 52-17. (B) They stay patient with the running and short passing game against our conservative defensive scheme and reduce the number of possessions in the game. It's almost like if you coached against Tech to simply cover the spread and not beat their ass, then you've actually got a pretty good chance of winning the game. Nebraska chose Plan B and got the game back to 24-17. Now, I'm sitting in my chair, knowing we're probably rolling conservative on defense until this thing gets to overtime. I'm in the shoes of a Tech opponent hoping we hold onto the ball, give them a steady diet of a RB who had 3 carries for 55 yards in the first half, and run some time off the clock ending with a TD. Nothing fancy or cute. Quick dive plays against honest fronts and hot routes to slot receivers or deep passes to Crabtree against overloaded fronts playing man coverage or blitzing. This would take the lead back to 2 TDs, give the ball back to Nebraska with about 7:00 minutes on the clock. We needed about a 5 minute drive. Considering our defensive scheme allowed Nebraska to score, but we were going to make them do it in 6 minutes game-clock increments, I liked our chances of victory getting the ball back with a 1:00 on the clock, up by a TD and three plays to Batch to get it down to 0:00. Especially with the way our OL was run blocking, and since Batch had exposed Nebraska's lack of speed on the defensive side of the ball, they were going either going to die a slow death or have to make some adjustments to stop it opening up something else we're good at, the passing game. Out rolls Woods, a 5 yard run in which he succumbs to an arm tackle and a piss poor effort on 3rd and 1 later, the game is tied at 24 with 6:06 on the clock. Forturnately, Littrell and Leach realized their mistake and sent Batch back out to get the lead back. Now this is cute and all, and the fact that of our 48 plays, 22 of them were handoffs, is a good sign that we won the game. But, we need to look at the opportunity cost here of Batch not receiving 10 more touches per game. I will add this up later after I re-watch the game, but I think Batch's 97 yards to Woods' 36 would also be a close representation of the differential in their yards after contact. By not giving a homerun threat like Batch 10 more touches per game, you could effectively be costing yourself up to 2 or 3 TDs per game. He may not get it all at once, but 1 yard losses turn into 3 yard gains, 3 yard gains turn into 7 yard gains and 7 yard gains turn into 50 yard TDs. If we lose to either A&M, Kansas or both, I'm guessing that a lack of touches by Batch will play a factor. I agree with Littrell in that we need to have him healthy in order to have a chance to beat UT as he's the only RB we have that can run through the arm tackling of an out of position DB or juke one of their LBs, but let's not fuck around and let that get us beat in the mean time.
Next season, Tech will be losing 3 OL starters and replacing them with guys who are arguably better drive blockers. Leach will have Batch back and promising redshirt freshman Harrison Jeffers, another Littrell find. He'll also be breaking in a new QB with a big enough arm to not underthrow WRs 40 yards down the field. I know he won't have Crabtree to scare people, but I'm convinced the monkey that's tied to the blue heeler at the pre-game festivities for the Bar None Rodeo every year could get behind a safety in this offense, if a little more element of running game was established. And no, I didn't mean that in a racist sense. I meant it in a sense that it's the funniest thing I can recall witnessing in person that might work as an analogy to what would suffice as a deep threat for the Tech offense. If you're offended, then just replace with "clown on a unicycle". Let's make this easy on Potts, and if Leach can lean on his strengths in 2009, I think Tech could end up being better than they'll be predicted to finish and he'll really understand the definition of creating space.