Confidence in the fanbase seems to be growing after a sound victory over the Eastern Washington Eagles in week one. Paired with the stumbling start to the season for Arizona State, narrowly defeating New Mexico State and falling to San Diego State, expectations for this game are growing for Texas Tech. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury, QB Nic Shimonek and DB Jah’Shawn Johnson discuss this week’s challenge hosting ASU.
First up is a question regarding preparing for the Sun Devil defense which is led by first-year DC Phil Bennett, former Baylor DC.
Q. This Arizona State defense, what kind of sticks out to you about these guys and maybe what they’re doing differently this year than they were last year?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Just Coach Bennett has his philosophy what he does, the type of coverages he’s run. He’s had a lot of success with it. So you can see his influence on it, definitely. Still a lot of good playmakers, a tough front, good linebackers that can fly around and tackle, so it’ll be a good challenge. I think they’ve played well in the first two games. The first game, late in the game, New Mexico State came back but they had pretty much dominated that game throughout and then obviously San Diego State had a couple long plays
There’s some discussion on whether the familiarity in facing Bennett will help Texas Tech or Arizona State. I can be persuaded either way on this, but I think I mainly think it’ll help Tech in that Kingsbury knows how to attack the Bennett defense, and without the athletes that he had at Baylor (with them learning a new system), the Tech offense should be able to move the ball.
Q. What was the most frustrating part of last year’s game in Tempe?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: I think just getting dominated in the field position area. I think we started five drives inside our 7-yard line, turned it over twice, had a safety, a bunch of things you can’t do on the road against a good football team and win, but I think more than anything, they dominated us in special teams and the field position battle.
I think Tech is in a better position this year regarding special teams, especially if Tech is forced to punt. If the Tech special teams is able to pin the ASU offense deep in their own territory and force Manny Wilkins and their maligned offensive line to drive the length of the field, your defense should be in a decent position (as long as you don’t give up the big play).
As many of you might remember, Kalen Ballage scored four TDs running the same play inside the five yard line and Kingsbury addressed that.
Q. Is that Sparky Formation something specifically in your game plan?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Yeah, I think we’ve taken a long, hard look at that. I think after last year, the problems that gave us we’ve definitely had some focus on that, and hopefully we can do a better job of slowing that down this season.
Q. (Indiscernible) having young linebackers, you weren’t sure what they were going to do at times?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: That’s what it looked like, but they’d been effective against everybody with it, just probably not to the extent they were that game. They gashed us every time they ran it. So hopefully we’ve improved in that area, and you know it’s coming at some point during the game.
Kingsbury also addresses Manny Wilkins and his performance from a year ago.
Q. Manny had a pretty good game, as well. What stands out about him?
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Manny Wilkins?
Q. Wilkins, sorry.
KLIFF KINGSBURY: Yeah, I think last year he probably played one of the best games we had played against us as far as accuracy and moving around, extending plays and not turning the ball over. I thought he had a heck of a game last year, and he looks good this year. I know they had a couple protection lapses here and there the first two games, but he can get out and he can hurt you with his legs. He’s an accurate passer. So I’m really impressed with him.
Many people will point to the QB when the offense is struggling, but the idea outside of the ASU fanbase is that Wilkins isn’t the issue. Their offensive line has yet to completely come together, which has led to Wilkins being chased and sacked, as well as the running backs have struggled to find space. The Tech defensive line will have an opportunity to prove their improvement.
Shimonek is asked about the energy following a week 2 bye and the health of the team.
Q. Energy-wise does it feel kind of like you’re back to full health, having had a little bit longer wait time?
NIC SHIMONEK: Yeah, I wasn’t — didn’t really like the fact that we had a bye the second week, just because we played so well, you kind of want to keep that thing going. But you know, that’s how the schedule ended up. You can’t do anything about it. We definitely got better this past week with corrections and having the extra week to install this game plan. So yeah, I’m just eager to get back out there this Saturday.
He’s also asked about what the team was working on and addressing from week 1 and Shimonek singles out needing to start faster.
Q. What were the things from the opener after you got a chance to really dig into the film from it that you really felt like you guys needed to correct or fix?
NIC SHIMONEK: Like I said right after the game, we’ve got to start faster. Our defense started extremely fast, a couple turnovers, three-and-outs, and we were kind of sluggish those first three or four drives. But yeah, I think if they can continue to play like that and we can find our groove a little earlier, I think that’ll be beneficial for us.
Q. You said as an offense you just have to start faster. Personally, what are the biggest corrections you kind of saw when you looked at the tape this week for yourself?
NIC SHIMONEK: You know, there was a couple balls that I was completing that maybe I could have hit something deeper down the field, and even a couple balls that I pulled on run plays and tried to throw a little screen to Keke or somebody that maybe I can just let that ride, hand it to No. 4 or No. 32 and let them do what they do. But you know, there’s going to be correct — whether I went 10 for 40 or 40 for 40, there’s always going to be corrections. So yeah, it’s just a matter of getting back in the film room afterwards and sitting down with Coach Kingsbury and correcting what we need to correct and putting it behind us and getting better, moving forward. Yeah, hopefully this Saturday we can come out clicking on all cylinders.
It’s always great to see players acknowledging the possibility for improvement. We know Shimonek had a pretty clean game against EWU, but he knows he has areas to work on. That’s refreshing.
And finally, he addresses this week as a possible payback game for last year.
Q. Is there any feeling of this kind of being a payback game knowing that you guys should have and probably could have won last year?
NIC SHIMONEK: I wouldn’t say payback. We are anxious to get out there, just along with last year’s loss, along with this bye week that we just had. We kind of wanted to keep it going. But I wouldn’t say payback is the word. We’re treating every game like we have to go 1-0, whether we play Eastern Washington or whether we play Oklahoma or whoever the case may be. We’ve got to prepare and go throughout the week like it’s a win-or-go-home game, and if you do that, you’re putting yourself in a position to have success on Saturday.
Johnson is also asked about last year’s game and how it’s affected the team.
Q. How much does last year’s loss sting?
JAH’SHAWN JOHNSON: I mean, last year was last year. It’s a new year. We’re excited to get a new opportunity to play such a great team and compete against some great athletes.
And the point everyone is anxious to see is will Texas Tech be able to stop Kalen Ballage this year or not.
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges that a running back like Ballage brings?
JAH’SHAWN JOHNSON: I mean, he’s just so skilled running the ball and out in the receiver position and things. I mean, he’s a big back. He’s fast. I mean, he’s very powerful. He makes great moves. He can either run you over or he can juke you and things like that. He’s very unpredictable, but I mean, we’ve just got to prepare well this week and get after it.
Johnson addresses the differences in the linebacking corps and how different these two teams are from last year’s game.
Q. What’s been the biggest difference from the linebacker corps last year to this year, especially with the experience they’ve got and some of the guys getting bigger?
JAH’SHAWN JOHNSON: I’d say the biggest difference is the knowledge. I think more of the guys last year was just kind of threw in the fire, had a lot of young guys playing. But Coach Bab has done a great job of getting them in the film room and in the playbook and learning their playbooks and their plays and what they have to do and things like that. I mean, they’re just playing fast now that they know the defense.
Q. Do you kind of feel like that makes it almost a new game considering all the new guys that you brought in, and obviously some of the guys have that knowledge now that they didn’t last year?
JAH’SHAWN JOHNSON: Yeah, like I said, they’re playing a lot faster now. They’re making their reads and they’re trusting it now, and that cleans it up for us on the back end as we try to fit off them and things like that, so it should be better.
And finally, he’s asked about if the team has set any expectations or goals in their preparation for this weekend’s games.
Q. Do you guys set any type of goals heading into the Arizona State game considering how many points they were able to put up last year?
JAH’SHAWN JOHNSON: Definitely. We’ll go over that later on today when we meet. I mean, yeah, they put a lot of points on us last year, and we know we have to improve in order to win this game and just give our offense a chance at the end.