Texas Tech’s season opener against Houston Baptist left a lot to be desired. On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary was torched repeatedly, allowing big plays that kept Houston Baptist in the game until the bitter end. On the offensive side of the ball, things were a little bit more hit or miss for the Red Raiders. At times they looked explosive and efficient. At others, they seemed to stall out and remained unable to pull away. So what gives? How does one explain that?
After the loss to Arizona last year in which the offense struggled, Matt Wells mentioned a statistic that has stuck with me ever since. He said his and offensive coordinator David Yost’s offense at Utah State scored on 89 percent of drives where they picked up at least three first downs.
It’s intuitive to think that if you’ve already picked up at least 30 yards on a drive, at a minimum you’re closing in on field goal range in most cases. Coaches I’ve played for in the past stressed the importance of getting two first downs on a drive. The thought process being: even if you don’t score, you flip the field position and give the defense a chance to rest up.
So how did Texas Tech’s offensive drives shape up last Saturday through the lens of getting three first downs?
On eight drives, Texas Tech picked up at least three first downs. The results were all five touchdowns scored by the Red Raiders, a punt, a turnover on downs, and the successful four minute drill at the end of the game to run out the clock. The drive that resulted in a punt started at Texas Tech’s own 1-yard line, and ended with a McNamara punt downed at the Houston Baptist 12-yard line. No points were scored, but flipping the field position by 87 yards isn’t a bad drive at all. The turnover on downs was the quarterback sneak that came up short in the fourth quarter, where Tech could have easily taken the points by kicking the field goal.
On four drives, Texas Tech failed to pick up at least three first downs. How did those go? Interception that gave Houston Baptist great field position, three-and-out, three-and-out, and a drive where two first downs were earned and McNamara punted into the end zone for a touchback.
I omitted Texas Tech kneeling out the clock in the first half from these drive summaries.
It’s clear that this offense relies on tempo and rhythm to get going. Furthermore, sustaining drives eats up time of possession, which can be incredibly advantageous when opposing offenses are as potent as many in the Big 12 are (or as potent as HBU’s was two Saturdays ago).
I’m going to stop well short of predicting an upset against Texas on Saturday. But if I slip into a coma before the game and wake up to find out we won, I’ll bet you a pretty penny if you showed me the box score that Texas Tech will have a vast majority of drives end in three or more first downs. There appears to be a pretty wide gap between the results of drives that earn three first downs and those that don’t. I’ll continue to be fixated on this stat throughout the season.