Key Links: Texas Tech 69, Stephen F. Austin 17
— Texas Tech Football (@TexasTechFB) September 4, 2016
— Texas Tech Football (@TexasTechFB) September 4, 2016
1. Does It Mean Anything? In 2013, Texas Tech played Central Arkansas relatively close, winning 42-35, but for an FCS opponent, this was way too close of a game and one that we all left thinking that the offense looked pretty good, but we don’t need to pay all that much attention to the defense giving up 35 points and 406 yards including 178 yards on the ground. In 2016, Texas Tech dropped Sam Houston State, 59-45. Another game that was way too close, where SHSU rushed for 316 yards, 6.9 yards per rush, and over 320 yards passing. Same sort of thing, I think we were happy about the offense, but surely this was a hiccup with the defense and the defense gave up 14 points in the 4th quarter, 14 meaningless points.
This game though, the offense really did play nearly spotless football. On 10 possessions, Texas Tech scored a touchdown 7 times, scored 1 field goal and punted twice and the defense held their own. Through the first 12 possessions for SFA, their offense accounted for 3 points and 217 total yards, including two drives where the lost yards, and 3 drives where the defense went 3 and out.
I try not to take too much from these sorts of games because the stats can be deceiving and you maybe don’t learn as much as you like. Plus, I think that SFA was a worse team that UCA and SHSU, the competition just wasn’t as good, but I think what these guys did last night does mean a little something. There were some really good plays being made, both on offense and defense that shouldn’t be ignored because Texas Tech played an FCS opponent. These games tend to serve as a harbinger as to how the team will play over the course the year and if that’s the case, then maybe the preseason optimism is warranted.
2. Pipkins and Hill Can Play. I was ridiculously pleased with the play of the entire defensive line, so this really isn’t just about Ondre Pipkins and Kolin Hill, but when you put some guys out on the defensive line that aren’t soup cans (I remember last year, some of the Oklahoma radio guys called the Texas Tech defensive line a bunch of soup cans) then Breiden Fehoko looks like an entirely different player and much of that is based on the play of Pipkins absolutely dominating the interior of the line. It’s just amazing to see a defensive line that actually covers up the offensive line and allows the linebackers to make plays. Hill did a terrific job of playing on the end and creating havoc inside and on the edge. His play was contagious because both Kris Williams and Gary Moore looked like guys who could play. I’ve always been hesitant to think that these transfers can contribute. I’ve been burned way too many times by guys like Mike Mitchell, there’s a ton of promise, but they just can’t play. I’m ready to now say that each of these guys are independent of the other and Hill and Pipkins can both play. Pipkins registered 5 tackles including 1 tackle for loss, while Hill had 2 tackles, a sack and a pass break-up.
As a group, the defense gave up just 58 yards rushing on the night, allowing just 1.7 yards per rush.
3. The Offensive Line. Having not read any comments from the game day threads just yet, I’d guess there’s some concern for the offensive line and rightfully so. There were many circumstances where Patrick Mahomes was left completely abandoning a play nearly when the ball was snapped because of a missed block by one of the two redshirt freshman tackles, Terance Steele and Madison Akamnonu. In fact, after the game, Kingsbury said that Steele and Akamnonu will need to grow up:
COACH KINGSBURY: They did okay. Not great. I mean, it’s going to be a big step up in competition I think. Those two ends from Stephen F. are good, but we have to get a lot better in a hurry. Consistency and consistently doing the right thing fundamentally staying sound, I thought there’s a lot of room to improve there.
This is fair. I thought that there are some bright spots for the line, early, they were rough and Mahomes was running for his life, but they settled down quite a bit as the game wore on. There were a handful of instances of guys just completely missing blocks (I remember Akamnonu just not even picking up a block and a normal quarterback would have been sacked) and another instance where Steele simply didn’t continue to engage and drive his man who allowed the defender to make a play.
But there were bright spots too, when they were asked to run block, where it be man or zone blocking, I thought that they looked more athletic overall as a group than I can remember, from top to bottom. Especially the instances where they zoned blocked on a few plays, they looked absolutely terrific. However, they can be significantly better and will need to be significantly better against Arizona State on Saturday night. The communication will need to be on point because those free passes on Mahomes will catch up with you at some point.
4. 17. The final stats say that 17 different receivers caught a pass last night, led by Devin Lauderdale who had 7 for 49 yards Jonathan Giles, who had 4 catches for 89 yards. No one receiver caught over 100 yards and this is one thing that I think we got right, which is that there may not be just one guy that is going to be able to dominate, but there’s at least 8 guys who can contribute. We saw flashes from nearly every receiver that we thought would play. The wide receivers really helped stretch the field and playing against an FCS opponent, they took advantage deep. It was good seeing Dylan Cantrell back out there, he pretty much dominated an entire possession. Devin Lauderdale looks to be similar to Edward Britton in that when he gets it deep, he can be gone. Giles looks like an absolute beast inside and with he and Ian Sadler, who made a spectacular grab, inside is going to be maybe the best competition in the season. Derrick Willies proved to be a capable deep threat and can’t wait to see him catch something over his shoulder. Reginald Davis looked tougher his 2 catches for 80 yards is exactly what I hoped he would be.
SFA didn’t press at all and I would expect Arizona State to try to push these guys around, something that was relatively successful last year. A terrific opening act, now let’s continue it into game two.
5. The Linebackers Were Free. For once in what seemed like a really long time, the linebackers looked free to make plays. I thought that Malik Jenkins, freshman Jordyn Brooks, and especially D’Vonta Hinton played well. Hinton looked like a wrecking ball, Brooks looks like he belongs and doesn’t look out of place (yet) and Jenkins looks solid. It seems like a really far cry, but all these guys need to be is competent and the defensive line helped them immensely. Maybe that’s going to be the key for the defense, something that we just talked about with the receivers, it’s not about one guy, but a collective group of guys that gets the job done. They’ve talked about it all spring, just 11 guys doing their one job and if they do that, then I think we’ll see this group look relatively competent (fingers crossed).
6. Mahomes Is Pretty Special. We’ve gone 5 items through this thing and haven’t talked about the night that Patrick Mahomes had. Mahomes was 30 of 43, completing 70% of his passes, for 11.2 yards per attempt, including 4 touchdowns and he also led the team rushing with 57 yards on the ground and had 2 touchdowns. He saved the offense’s butt way too many times, deftly avoiding rushers who thought that they had Mahomes in their grasps, only to be left with a lot of air. Kingsbury indicated that early, Mahomes was free-lancing a bit too much and as Kingsbury attempts to build the machine, the ultimate quarterback robot, there probably will be this struggle between what Mahomes wants to do and what and how Kingsbury wants Mahomes to be more Terminator-like, which is to have a plan and be relentless in the execution of that plan.
Enjoy every second that Mahomes plays. He’s one of a kind and absolutely special.
7. Second Team Defense. With Texas Tech up by 35, I noted that defensive coordinator David Gibbs had not rotated the second group of defensive linemen. Through the spring, we were told that Gibbs and Kevin Patrick wanted 8 guys that he could rotate. SFA would score a field goal and the Texas Tech offense would have a scoring drive that ended up with a punt and a long return, the line drive that resulted in a short field for SFA and good field position for the Lumberjacks. Now, the second team defensive line entered the game and SFA immediately began to drive the ball. It was not the same as it was when the first group was in the game. In fact, the defense had to call timeout just to get lined up correctly at some point during this drive and SFA drove into the red zone, threatening to score a touchdown. Gibbs immediately substituted in the first group again and we saw a terrific 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 stand by the defense, denying SFA twice, the first stop by Pipkins and the second stop, a terrific open field tackle, by Tevin Madison. The second group did end up making some plays and they did settle down a bit, in fact, I thought that the second group of defensive linemen played relatively well in the second half, tackles for loss by Broderick Washington, Joe Wallace, Mychealon Thomas and Lonzell Gilmore all bode well. But it is a bit concerning that the drop-off between the first and second units was so dramatic. They need to be better.
8. Coaching From the Bottom Up. I think Kingsbury was talking about the second group of offense, but I think this applies to the defense as well:
Guys had an opportunity to play and didn’t play very well. That’s something to work on. We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to coach from the bottom up and get those guys going.
The second group on offense looked really rough as they had their first opportunity to play. Immediately giving up touchdowns and the offense having to punt and turning the ball over almost immediately. A drive that resulted in 3 plays and -10 yards, a drive that resulted in another punt and then turning the ball over on downs. I don’t have the expectation that the second team offense is going to be the same as the first team, but they did look really rough. Nik Shimonek was running for his life on a regular basis and once the offensive line did settle down, he looked respectable.
9. Punt Returns Are Back Baby. I’ve got nothing here other than Cameron Batson having 4 return opportunities and going 75 yards, including a 33 yard return. I don’t know who was holding Cameron Batson back last year, if it was Kingsbury not wanting to turn the ball over and put the defense back out there (which is absolutely plausible) or Darrin Chiaverini who was pulling back the reins, but those two returns were a sight for sore eyes.
10. The Running Game. There really wasn’t much of a running game at all and Kingsbury acknowledged afterwards that he should have done a better job of calling that aspect, but he felt that SFA was loading the box just daring Mahomes and Kingsbury to throw the ball. I think part of this is that we’re just not sure what to do with Justin Stockton, he ran hard and when he did run inside, I thought he looked good, but there are also times where he reverts to old habits, looks to bounce things outside and not get positive chunks of yards. We were spoiled last year by DeAndre Washington, who seemingly gained 3 to 4 yards out of nothing last year. It’s why I think that Demarcus Felton is going to be part of the rotation, but truthfully, Quinton White could fill that role too. I think the pieces are there, Kingsbury just needs to figure out how to make them all work.