1. A Tide Shifted. A pass to a wide receiver, D.J. Polite-Bray picks up a fumble, that I think he caused after ripping the ball from the receiver, and starts sprinting down the sideline, almost scoring a touchdown. The problem was that it was all for naught as Breiden Fehoko was called for a roughing the passer for a late hit against ASU’s Manny Wilkins. I thought that the hit by Fehoko wasn’t that late, but I guess he could have pulled up a bit. Those things are such a bang-bang sort of thing. At that time, Texas Tech was up 14 to 9 and had Texas Tech scored, that would have put Texas Tech up 21-9. That would have been huge in a back-and-forth game and it’s small plays that end up not counting at all can sometimes be the difference between going home with a win or a loss. ASU ended up not turning the ball over for the rest of the game and I’m not sure that a touchdown there would have been enough to cover for Texas Tech’s defense, but almost immediately after this series of events, ASU began their scoring run against Texas Tech.
2. Special Teams Miscues. The decision of Cameron Batson to not field three punts ended up with the ball on the 1 and 2 yard lines and a third with the ball inside their own 10 yard line. Add a missed extra point and it felt like there were some things that I just didn’t like. Perhaps Joe Robinson has given Batson too much freedom, but he should have fielded both of those punts, without question. With Texas Tech on their own 1 yard line, an errant snap caused a safety and with Texas Tech on their own 2 yard line, they drove and score. Those aren’t the type of holes that you want to put your team into and Batson has to do a better of recognizing that. These were terrific bounces for ASU and maybe in any other day, they go the bounce the other way, but that’s one too many times for me. As an aside, I don’t necessarily blame Robinson for the missed extra point for Clayton Hatfield, especially because Hatfield has been near-perfect for all of last year. That missed extra point wasn’t the difference in this game and hopefully Hatfield is getting these things out of his system and not a sign to come.
3. Mahomes Can’t Do It Himself. At this point, it feels like the entire offensive performance is squarely on the shoulders of Patrick Mahomes. Literally, if he’s not doing it then the offense isn’t doing anything. Texas Tech has 612 total yards, of which, Mahomes was responsible for passing for 540 of them and running for 44 of them. That means that Texas Tech had 28 net yards rushing on the day. There is no running game and if you’ve ever longed for a running back that can carry the load, this is it. This thought really dawned on me when Texas Tech was facing so many 3rd downs, last year, Kingsbury would have trusted DeAndre Washington with some of those third downs. And Washington delivered time after time. Mentally, it has to be a lot for Mahomes to unpack, knowing that if he makes one mistake on third down, that’s it. With Washington to share that load last year, it makes a difference. Of course, here I am, criticizing an offense that scored 55 points, but it’s a problem. Teams are going to plan for this at some point. And I’d also acknowledge that last year, the offensive line was senior laden, but I thought that the offensive line was fine overall. Not perfect, but I thought they did make a pretty significant improvement. In any event, the point is that Mahomes needs help. He’s got the receivers and the running backs are terrific out of the backfield, but they need to be able to run the ball and make defenses pay.
4. I Don’t Even Know What to Say About the Defense. After last week’s performance, I felt a bit better knowing that the defense actually did a little something against an FCS opponent in SFA. Oh, man, that didn’t last. The defense gave up 7.2 yards per play. Per play. The Sun Devils ran the ball 53 times. 53 times, for 301 yards and 5.6 yards per play. It’s hard to talk about specifics without watching the game again, but the defensive line didn’t do a great job of filling their gaps and the linebackers were young and inexperienced and they just couldn’t get stops on the second level. The safeties weren’t big enough to stop the running backs and they were trucked too. I think, more than anything else, that I was really disappointed with how the defensive line couldn’t get a stop when it mattered most. This is one of those things where you supposedly have guys that played better this spring and preseason. Kingsbury praised the defense this spring and preseason, something he’s been hesitant to do, but he did it and here we are, 68 points. Even after the game, he says that this isn’t the defense that he’s seen in the spring and preseason:
“Tonight there is not a lot of progress that has been made. I think when you expect to win the game, which were our expectations, and it doesn’t get done, it’s hard to see beyond it. However, I think we will make progress. I can say we are already a better team than we were. We didn’t play like it tonight, but we have to just get some things straightened out and then we should be better for the rest of the year.”
It didn’t help that D’Vonta Hinton didn’t play and their did Zach Barnes. You realize how thin the linebacker position actually is, when Hinton goes out, Brayden Stringer is getting a ton of snaps, as is Jordyn Brooks, who looked like he banged his shoulder trying to stop one of those ASU running backs. The freshmen linebackers are going to have to be significantly better because they’re about to get their fill of running plays right at them. The defensive line should be better and make life easier on them. They just should be and they have to be.
5. Mahomes Is Doing It Alone, But He’s Amazing. Really, Patrick Mahomes is amazing and for all but two interceptions (one of them I think was the fault of Reggie Davis not coming back to fight for the ball). Mahomes completed 72% of his passes for 10 yards per attempt, 5 touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown plus 44 yards rushing. That’s 584 yards of total offense. He is physically the most gifted quarterback to ever run through Lubbock and for me, it’s not even close. I do think that there was a point where he was frustrated. Frustrated that he couldn’t keep things going, that he couldn’t complete just one more pass. And even though ASU had over 7 yards a play, Texas Tech had 8 yards a play. The offense couldn’t score at will, although at times, it felt like Texas Tech was going to be able to do just that.
6. Let’s Just Play Freshmen at Cornerback Too. So, I’m totally not opposed to this. At least let these guys get to be part of the rotation, specifically Desmon Smith and Douglas Coleman to get snaps at cornerback, but if the defensive line isn’t getting pressure, then the defensive backs are very much overwhelmed. It’s not all their fault, they’re, at times, playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and I think this was part of Davi Gibbs’ thought process, which was to make the ASU quarterback beat them and that’s a bet that he didn’t win. Over and over.
7. The Safeties Are Small. When facing a team like Arizona State, with two power running backs, it becomes incredibly clear how undersized the safeties actually are and how that’s a tough thing when trying to stop a team like Arizona State. It would be one thing if they were completely adept at stopping big plays over the middle of the field, but that can be a deficiency for them too. The additional 20 pounds a running back is carrying while running down the field is significant. Still though, Texas Tech isn’t playing guys like Peyton Hendrix who does have size, but can’t get on the field.
8. Receivers Steped Up. I thought that the receivers were truly terrific, other than the Reggie Davis non-comeback. Cameron Batson had 9 catches for 148 yards and he was brilliant. It felt like Jonathan Giles caught numerous 3rd down conversions. I’d like to see Derrick Willies get more playing time, even if it is at the expense of Devin Lauderdale. Lauderdale is supposed to get down the field, but he failed to do that this game. Justin Stockton made a huge impact out of the backfield, which is exactly what Arizona State allows and Stockton made them pay as much as possible. I’d also be in favor of seeing Dylan Cantrell over Reggie Davis. Davis has always been inconsistent and that continues to be the case this year. One catch for 16 yards isn’t going to cut it.
9. What To Do At Running Back. I’ve been a proponent of Demarcus Felton at running back since the spring. I really like what Stockton does, but I don’t think he’s an every down running back that can be a threat to gain 3 to 4 yards at least every carry. The coaches have always said that Felton is a DeAndre Washington clone and I’ve always felt that way since watching him in the spring of 2015. he’s got enough wiggle and enough patience to find those 3 to 4 yards. And I honestly feel that the offensive line was okay last year, and those 2,000 yards was largely the result of how talented Washington is. I’m not about to claim that Felton is as good as Washington, but I think he fits what Kingsbury needs to do at running back more than Stockton. I’d also add that I know a lot of you are proponents of Corey Dauphine, and I am too, but the word is that he’s got issues with pass protection. You can see that pass protection is one of, if not the, main priority for the running backs at this point. If Felton does a better job of that, then I’d take whoever can do that. Stockton can still absolutely be a threat, but the running backs had 10 carries last night. Just 10 carries. At some point, someone is going to need to carry the ball.
10. You Won’t Hear From The Coordinators. I don’t remember who it was in the media that tweeted it, most likely Don Williams, but last year, we always heard from the coordinators on Monday. Apparently that won’t be the case this year. So we won’t get to hear David Gibbs talk about the defensive performance, or lack thereof. Or we won’t get to hear Eric Morris talk about how the offense is doing. This was Kingsbury’s decision and there’s already some grumbling about these guys not talking. The decision wasn’t made this week, it was apparently made before preseason practice. I’m guessing that Kingsbury wants one voice, but I’d still like to hear from them.
Ed. Note: I stayed up after the game, until about 2:30 in the morning to write these after the game. I usually let things sit a bit more than I did today, but given the need to get this published, I want to go ahead and get this done.