Welcome Back to the Snakepit
Neal Brown has finally developed an identity on offense in his 3rd season as offensive coordinator. And, it's really not a bad strategy. Unlike most spread passing teams, you can't be willing to yield yardage to Tech between the 20s. Why? Because of the 84 passes that Eric Ward and Darrin Moore have caught, every 4th one has been a touchdown. If Tech gets inside your 40, one out of every three passes will be a shot to the end zone. And giving up a first down at that point, means the law of averages is starting to catch up with you.
This puts a lot of pressure on defenses in how they should choose to defend Tech and forces them to take more chances earlier in possessions. When Seth Doege has had time and Tech has avoided self-destructive turnovers, the offense has effectively moved the ball on all the best defenses in the conference. Teams have stopped us by sending pressure in calculated situations to force negative plays, especially early in drives.
If you kick the ball out of the end zone and Tech starts on its own 25, they only have to drive 35 yards to become a big play threat. That could be as little as a deep out, hitch screen, square in and draw play away. Tech has a series of relatively safe plays that require strict discipline to defend and, with the way our receivers generally catch the ball, that's not always enough. When the Michael Crabtree of tight ends is in the lineup, the Red Raiders have shown the ability to be a different animal. Jace Amaro is the most dynamic tight end in the country and a lock for the 1st round, but his status is questionable at best. Without Amaro, Tech is still stocked enough with experience and toughness at wide receiver to string together a few chain moving plays down the field, however, lack the serious matchup issues for defensive coordinators.
Tech's receivers are just as big a threat blocking in the run game, which allows them the opportunity to grind it out in a physical game by passing the ball. On any given snap, you are likely to see a defensive back getting a swirlie in the Gatorade cooler on the sideline by Ward or pinned down on the turf being forced to lick taint by Tyson Williams. Stalwarts Alex Torres and Austin Zouzalik have teamed up to replace Amaro and, while they are willing blocks, the offense has sorely missed the ability to dominate linebackers and defensive backs in the screen and run game. It's not always flashy, but it makes sense to me and it's sound football for our personnel, especially since big play threats Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell are done for the year with injuries. Tech will also try to exploit oversized linebackers with shallow crosses to the diminutive, but uber-fast Jakeem Grant.
Tech's run game can be described as subtle and opportunistic, but it hasn't been an asset they have beat anyone with due to inconsistency on the line. They can burn you with a draw or fold play here and there, or maybe even convert a 3rd and short out of the Wildcat, but that's about it. The zone blocking is generally a mess as a result of athletic deficiencies across the board. RG Le'Raven Clark is by far the most talented player of the group and he's just a redshirt freshman. If Tech runs successfully, it's behind Clark. LT LaAdrian Waddle takes too many plays off and the notion that he is a 1st team all conference player or NFL talent is myth. RT Terry McDaniel has been playing above his head, but speed rushers can get the best of him. I expect Alex Okafor to largely kick his ass. C Deveric Gallington and RG Beau Carpenter are wildly inconsistent and have been smashed by any quality defensive linemen, although they both played serviceable against K-State. With that being said, I would make an argument for Clark being the best young guard in the league and a future star.
Kenny Williams has been the most threatening back to date and he is more than capable of exploiting shoddy tacklers at 5'9", 220 lbs. SaDale Foster is Tech's version of John Hubert and Brown will stick with whoever has the hot hand. Eric Stephens is not the same, but has carved out a role as a short yardage specialist primarily from the Wildcat. Foster is the only homerun threat.
The bizarro schemes of Manny Diaz could actually be an asset in this contest, so long as the defense isn't getting burned by running plays on 1st and 2nd down. The line hasn't been the most adept at handling movement or blitzes.
The primary reason for Tech's defensive improvement is Kerry Hyder and Delvon Simmons have elevated themselves into the upper echelon of inside players in the conference. Hyder is tied with Okafor in tackles for loss (6.5) during conference play leading all interior linemen in that category along with sacks (3.0). They've got a chance to get Tech to 3rd and long. When teams have been able to scheme around them, they have been able to run the ball on us. At will, in the case of Kansas State and TCU. If you've got a plan for Hyder, then the defense is extremely Big 12ish.
Defensive ends Jackson Richards and Dartwan Bush got the Sisterhood treatment from K-State tight end Travis Tannahill last week, which they both out-weigh by 10 pounds. If you've got a serviceable blocking tight end, then I wouldn't get away from testing this duo all game long. They've struggled more in conference play at setting the edge, but will make some efforts plays from time to time. Redshirt freshman Pete Robertson is the future at the position, but was playing safety at this time last year and is still hovering around 230 lbs. Branden Jackson is another redshirt freshman with a Ugo Chinasa-type frame. The coaching staff just doesn't quite trust the discipline as much this early in their careers. The linebacking crew hasn't pursued well to the perimeter or challenged blockers appropriately when not behind the safe confines of Hyder and Simmons.
Up to the K-State game, Cody Davis had been playing really, really good football. Given the state of safety play in the league, he's most likely a default all conference player simply based on his open field tackling ability. Tre Porter has done a great job at nickel back in eliminating slot receivers. He was out for the K-State game, but will return this week. For the majority of snaps this year, the secondary in general has been disciplined and adept at preventing big plays, a category in which Tech leads the nation. They've only really struggled when facing teams of two dimensions.
Art Kaufman and John Lovett are aware they don't have a flawless unit. Therefore, the focus has been to take away the one thing a team does well and make you beat them with a perceived weakness. K-State was largely bottled up for most of the first half until Klein began completing passes based on the leverage opportunities being yielded to stop the run game. Lovett will play a lot of press-bail Cover 3 with the secondary allowing Davis to get involved in ground defense. Overall, they have done an outstanding job at playing the sticks to reach Cover 2 scenarios on 3rd and long.
I suspect the power sweeps to Gray with Espinosa and a guard pulling should be the bread and butter this week, if the UT staff has been watching the same film I have. The key will be Barrett Matthews' ability to secure a hook block on the Tech ends. A good gameplan would call for a minimum 10-15 reps of this play and a solid playaction/rollout package off it to take advantage of the run biased defense Tech will most likely be playing on early downs. A heavy dose of jet sweeps should also be in the cards to continually test the perimeter pursuit. Given that Ash is anywhere near serviceable passing the ball, I don't expect UT to have trouble scoring points. I don't see the blowout by Tech that many UT fans are calling as the matchup isn't a bad one for the way this particular Longhorn team is built.
Well hipsters, it's time to squeeze into those skinny jeans and test your ability to witch for water, given your balls are big enough to make the journey to man's country.