This was a special day. I could feel it in the air when I popped out of bed, wide awake at 7:00 a.m. The opening day for the 2008 Red Raider season is always a big one for me. Always has been, since the days of hearing my dad clanging his Saddle Tramp bell early in the mornings as a small child. The last fungicide treatment went well as the incessant itching was gone and my St. Augustine was magically green again when I got back from vacation. With kickoff less than 12 hours away, it only meant one thing. Time to mow the turf. I wanted to knock this out early, so things were in peak condition come game time. Plus, I hate mowing when it's 103 degrees in the shade with 80% humidity. I had heard through the grapevine that Eastern Washington had a particularly speedy outside receiver, so for good measure, I raised the lawnmower up a level. By 9:00 a.m., the grass was clipped to perfection, I had made it through my stretches and was half way through carry-okie drills in my front yard. My neighbors assumed insanity as the demographic mix of pseudo-art liberals, East Coast yuppies, and Hispanics on my street don't quite understand the dynamics of being a hard core college football fan. Kickoff wasn't until 6:00 p.m. and I was much drunker than anticipated once the whistle blew.
I think the title says it all in that it's tough to tell much when facing a D-II team. Especially when you're listening to the game in your shed because your car radio is the only one you possess that gets good reception of the broadcasting station. Plus, I can put my head through the wall if necessary in the shed because that's "my happy place". Eastern Washington wasn't quite the D-II garbage Tech usually schedules, which made for an interesting challenge. Most opposing fans probably looked at the box score and said, "Improved on defense my ass, they gave up 364 yards to a D-II school!!!", which is true. However, that wasn't the whole story and that's why I'm here.
Up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and well on their way to an 84-0 blowout, Graham Harrell made the first significant mistake of the game, a pick which set up a short TD for EWU making it 21-7. The next signifant events were more Tech TDs and a string of penalties including two that extended EWU TD drives. Even though the score was 35-24 at the start of the 4th quarter, the game still had that blowout feel to it and I never really felt threatened. It very easily could have been 49-10 at this point or worse. To shorten this thing up, I provide the Cliff's Notes I jotted down after the game.
Things That Concern Me
- Texas Tech set a school record with 18 penalties for 169 yards. It wasn't a huge factor in the game due to the opponent, but a pass interference and roughing the passer call led to 14 points for EWU, which obviously is not acceptable against quality teams. Another 15 yard kick catching interference call after a punt led to favorable field position for EWU on their other TD.
- Surprising pressure on Harrell. LG Louis Vasquez went down in the first quarter with a high ankle sprain. He returned to the game for a series, but left shortly thereafter. This really wasn't much of a factor as Stephen Hamby and Chris Olsen filled in admirably. The problem existed on the right side and it appears the communication issues between Brandon Carter and Marlon Winn on picking up stunts and blitzes carried over from last season. We didn't allow any sacks, but it was enough pressure for Harrell to never really find his rhythm.
Things That Please Me
- 23 rushing yards allowed on 22 carries. Granted EWU is a passing team, but Whitlock and Henley controlled the line of scrimmage exactly like they should when facing a D-II team. Henley recorded an interception, and Whitlock forced another one due to a hit on the QB.
- Brian Duncan. We may have finally found a serviceable MLB. The first offensive two plays EWU ran resulted in an interception by Duncan and a tackle for no gain on a dive play. He batted down another pass to the tight end later in the game on a 4th down play. His stat line for the night: 6 Tackles, 2 PBU, and 1 Interception. Not bad production for a MLB against a team that threw 63 passes in 85 plays.
- Playmakers other than Crabtree. Crab had a rather pedestrian outing for Crab with 9 catches for 74 yards and a TD. Eric Morris aka "Rabid Chupacabra from Shallowater" struck fear in the EWU secondary and ended the game as the leading receiver with 9 catches for 164 yards. Detron Lewis delivered on the spring and fall hype with 9 catches for 163 yards, including an "electric" 77-yard catch and run. It might have been the static from the fabric off the couch in my shed, but I got shocked while it was happening. Any time your role players account for 18 catches and 327 yards, it's a good thing.
- Backups Lonnie Edwards and Chris Olsen blowing guys 10 yards off the ball. Leach has done an excellent job in recruiting talent on the OL and this bodes well for our future.
Things That Could Go Either Way
- 341 yards passing to a D-II team. Sounds like a lot and it is. However, EWU only average 5.4 yards per pass attempt (63 attempts) and we recorded 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. That's considered good pass defense to a lot of defensive folks. Point being, this formula of shutting down a team's running game and making it a my pass offense vs. your pass offense plays to Tech's advantage. It worked against OU, and it allows the Tech offense to receive more possessions and plays per game. Since my transmission was via radio, it was tough to tell what packages we used, but I can only assume from what I heard that we primarily went with base 4-3 personnel, Cover 2, and OLB over slot receivers. EWU did most of their damage with the short passing game that Cover 2 concedes. This worked against EWU because Whitlock and Henley controlled the line of scrimmage, but I still believe you'll get exposed in the run game at some point if you keep requiring your MLB to play 2-gap technique. This also allows for dual threat QBs to scramble untouched for first downs on 3rd and long. It wasn't so long ago that we gave up a 47 yard run to Jordan Palmer. We'll get a test this weekend as Kaepernick and Nevada rolled up 426 yards on the ground last week.
- The somebody else make a play syndrome. After cruising to an easy 21-0 first quarter lead, the Tech team seemed to relax and hit a lull. This is something a lot of good teams are subject to and doesn't concern me too much. EWU kept fighting and once Tech woke back up, it was over.
Up Next: Nevada. This should be a good test to determine, if the run defense has improved as I really don't think we answered any questions this week.
More from Seth C. @ DTN.