Halfway through the 2015 campaign, Texas Tech sure looks & feels much different in a lot of ways than it did 6 games into 2014. I thought it would be a helpful exercise to dive into the numbers and variables to see if what our eyes are witnessing is closer to reality or simply just a mirage. This isn’t meant to be the definitive judgement on this season’s team, mind you; there are too many other variables not covered here that factor in. Rather, it’s a simple heat check to see if the stove is actually hot rather than just looking like it.
I’ve chosen to use a lot of relatively simple stats as opposed to advanced statistics, as a) simple stats work perfectly fine for what we’re doing, b) they’re much more accessible, c) my eyes start to cross after the 3rd S&P% and I would be doing a disservice to y’all by trying to break down and analyze those numbers instead of just waiting for Bill Connelly’s 2015 post-mortem.
We’ll start by breaking it down by unit, looking at coaching changes/personnel, then get into the nitty gritty of some different statistics I’ve compiled from the indispensable cfbstats.com. All stats are taken over the first 6 games of each season.
THE STATE OF THE 2015 SQUAD
Overall, the 2015 Texas Tech football team (4-2) is faring much better than the 2014 iteration (2-4). 2014 saw the Red Raiders struggle early against the likes of Central Arkansas and UTEP before getting steamrolled in the 2nd half by the Arkansas Razorbacks. Those two wins were they only ones ’14 Tech would see until Game 7 against Kansas, falling additionally to Oklahoma State, Kansas State, & West Virginia in the interim. However, Tech has handled lesser foes more than adequately in 2015 and even savored some sweet, sweet revenge against the Hogs in their own house. The two losses came from two of the top 5 teams in the country, which just so also happen to sport two of the current top 3 offenses in all of college football, and one of those losses came off of an absolutely insane play in the last minutes of the game. Not shabby!
Before we look at either side of the ball, let’s look at a classic Achilles Heel that affects the entire team: penalties
|Penalties (number/yardage)||11.17/104.3 per game||7.5/60.3 per game|
Fantastic. In 3 of the first 6 games of 2014, Tech notched over 100 yards in penalties per game. 10 first downs! The mistakes reached a fever pitch on the Thursday night Oklahoma State game, where the Red Raiders were good for 16 penalties for 158(!) yards. Final score of that game? 35-45 Pokes, just a 10 point loss. This year’s team has played much cleaner than even the above number indicates, as the 17/148 Baylor game acts as a sort of outlier. Excluding that horrid penalty showing, Tech has averaged 5.6 penalties per game for 44 yards. Kliff has always said that penalties and turnovers would be a priority for the team. In Year 3, it looks like he’s making good on at least one half of that promise.
|Defensive Coordinator||Matt Wallerstedt/Mike Smith||David Gibbs|
|Defensive Line||John Scott Jr.||Mike Smith|
|Outside Linebackers||Mike Smith||Trey Haverty|
|Inside Linebackers||Matt Brock||Zac Spavital|
|Cornerbacks||Kevin Curtis||Kevin Curtis|
|Safeties||Trey Haverty||David Gibbs|
The wheels came off in 2014 in a hurry. Matt Wallerstedt was unceremoniously dismissed after the Arkansas game for allegedly being under the influence of an unknown substance, leaving co-DC and former Texas Tech linebacker Mike Smith to take the reins. Following the end of the season, John Scott Jr. left Tech to join the coaching staff at Buffalo, David Gibbs was tagged as the new Defensive Coordinator, Matt Brock was retained as a defensive quality control assistant and replaced by Zac Spavital at inside linebackers, and the remaining coaches were shuffled accordingly. Gibbs left a newly successful Houston defense as the architect of its turnaround, espousing a gospel of turnovers above all at the expense of gaudy total yardage numbers.
Next, we’ll look at personnel. I’ve highlighted graduating seniors that were starters/big contributors and the freshman that have started or seen significant playing time
|WHO’S OUT||WHO’S IN|
|LB VJ Fehoko||DL Breiden Fehoko|
|DE Jackson Richards||S Jah’Shawn Johnson|
|LB Sam Eguavoen||LB D’Vonta Hinton|
|LB Kenny Williams||LB Dakota Allen|
|LB Austin Stewart|
As you can see, the linebacker corps took a huge hit after 2014, and freshmen/redshirt freshmen have been asked to step up and fill in. 5-star recruit Breiden Fehoko has already stepped in as a contributor and seems to improve with every passing game. RS freshman Jah’Shawn Johnson has forced his way into the line-up and been a welcome addition to the secondary, showing that he won’t shy away from laying the wood when the opportunity arises. Allen & Hinton are both promising young LB’s that will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. The amount of starting/contributing youth on the defensive side of the ball is both a testament to the recruiting of Kingsbury & co. and an indictment on the state that Tommy Tuberville left the defensive roster.
I’ve broken down the statistical categories into two large chunks to make the dissection of the numbers a little bit easier.
|Passing Defense||108/184 (59%)
1,366 yds (12.65/catch)
1,698 yds (7.9/catch)
|Rushing Defense||317 attempts
1,536 yds (4.84/carry)
1,702 yds (6.10/carry)
Weeeeelp. The long and short of it is that the defense is giving up more yards on less plays than it was last year, which included a 350+ yard rushing performance by Arkansas. The secondary, mostly comprised of veteran players, has given up more yards, but on more attempts, thus reducing the average yards per catch. Again, this could be attributed to the fact that Tech has already faced Baylor & TCU in back-to-back weeks, which may or may not be against the Geneva Convention. It will be interesting to see what the numbers are like here at the end of the season. As for rushing. . . whew. Attempts have gone down, and yards have gone up. After looking at what personnel Tech has lost (i.e. a majority of the starting LB corps), it’s kind of making sense to me why we’re seeing the drop off. Micah Awe has stepped in admirably at MLB and Dakota Allen currently leads the team in tackles, but the defensive line hasn’t progressed like everyone was hoping they would. Gibbs warned that yards would be had by other teams, but as of right now, those yards are being cashed in for points right now. Again, the silver-lining is the fact that Tech has already faced the two most frightening offenses on the schedule, so they have that going for them, and they haven’t given up more points than they did last year.
|Tackles for Loss||55||30|
|Passes Broken Up||20||23|
|3rd Down Conversion||45.83%||52.13%|
|Red Zone Conversion||92.86% Total
So first, the bad. The defensive line doesn’t seem to be getting any significant penetration, down 25 tackles for loss and 4 sacks from last year (again, a possible by-product of competition faced thus far). Opposing teams are also converting a greater number of 3rd downs. On the brighter side, the Red Raiders have pulled in 7 more turnovers at the halfway mark than they did last year, and the boon of those could be easily seen in the Iowa State game, where the offense quickly turned those turnovers into points. Gibb’s philosophy seems to be taking hold, and goodness is it a welcome sight. However, those turnovers are balanced out by those negative yardage plays for the Havoc rate (TFL/sacks + passes defended + forced fumbles ÷ total plays). But even then, stopping a drive with a turnover can be preferable to a few more negative yardage plays if the defense is prone to give up so much yardage.
Overall, is the defense better so far? Well. . . kind of! It all depends on what your metrics are for improvement. More yards are being given up, but opponent scoring has remained the same. The defense is generating more turnovers, and the offense has been capitalizing on those opportunities for the most part. Gibbs has said multiple times that he feels the personnel is lacking and that the defense would give up yards anyway, but the early returns on his turnover philosophy have been promising enough that I’m interested to see what he does with his first full recruiting class. Remember, Tech has 7 verbal commitments from defensive linemen already for the 2016 class, so the coaching staff is seeing what we’re seeing in terms of deficiencies
|Offensive Coordinator||Eric Morris||Eric Morris|
|Quarterbacks||Kliff Kingsbury||Kliff Kingsbury|
|Offensive Line||Lee Hays||Lee Hays|
|Running Backs||Mike Jinks||Mike Jinks|
|Inside Receivers||Eric Morris||Eric Morris|
|Outside Receivers||Eric Morris||Darrin Chiaverini|
Diametrically opposed to the defense is the consistency of the offensive coaching, which has seen very little change since Kingsbury arrived. The biggest difference between ’14 & ’15 is the fact that Morris had some of the coaching burdens eased by splitting receiver duties with Chiaverini, lessening his load to focus more on being (co-)offensive coordinator.
|WHO’S OUT||WHO’S IN|
|Reshod Fortenberry||Jonathan Giles|
|Bradley Marquez||Tony Brown|
|Zach Austin (SO)|
|Ja’Deion High (SO)|
|Patrick Mahomes (SO)|
Again, I’ve highlighted the newer players that have either started or contributed notably for the first time. Giles, Brown, & Coutee represent 3 of the 5 receivers signed in 2015 (Quan Shorts & Donta Thompson are the other 2), and have started to make noise already. Giles has shown consistent improvement every game, culminating in a 2 TD performance against Iowa State last Saturday. Coutee hasn’t had as many touches, but has displayed some of his speed and will hopefully find his way into some more games. And Tony Brown has done a little bit of everything and should be somebody to get excited about. Aside from a few mistakes, Brown has made touchdown catches over the shoulders of defenders, shown some moves with the ball, and blocked the hell out of some defenders for his fellow teammates. Tenacious. Zach Austin is finally getting some burn after redshirting his freshman year and being a reserve last year, and has done an excellent job of filling in for an injured Ian Sadler. Ja’Deion High is also getting a fair amount of playing time after solely being a special teams player last season, and was integral in converting that 3rd & 30 against Iowa State.
Last, but not least, I had to include Patrick Mahomes, because his presence is a massive difference between the first 6 games this season and the first 6 last season. It’s hard to express how much he’s brought to Texas Tech’s offense, and I’m running out of words to use for him in the Monday Morning Quarterback every week. So instead of words, lets use some numbers
|Rushing Offense||168 attempts
892 yards (5.31 ypc)
1,156 yards (6.35 ypc)
|Passing Offense||175/285 (61.4 %)
2,025 yds (11.57/catch)
2,634 yds (14.01/catch)
|3rd Down Conversion||45.12%||55.29%|
|Red Zone Conversion||80.95% Total
Wrap that point total around you like a warm blanket. That +134 point swing is absolutely huge, and it was against some quality competition as well. Looking at the numbers, the offense just moves with Mahomes at the helm. More points, more yards, more blood. So much blood. Another huge difference lies in where those points are coming from: rushing. DeAndre Washington has already tripled (!!) his TD total from the entirety of last season, and shows no signs of slowing down if some of his runs from Saturday were any indication. Also, look at that Red Zone Conversion rate. 80% from 20 yards out in 2014 is pretty abysmal in the grand scheme of things, and Tech being able to punch it in with the running game has been massive. Part of that has to do with giving the ball to Washington, and the other part of that is Mahomes (6 rushing TD) being able to take it in on his own. He just adds a complete other dimension to the red zone offense. Pat has also done a wonderful job of protecting the football (another one of Kliff’s big sticking points), which, given the defensive stats we just looked at, has helped protect a much more vulnerable defense than previously seen.
Year 1 of the Kingsbury/Gibbs tandem is off to a promising start, in my opinion. IF the Gibbs defense plays in tune with his philosophy, and IF the Kingsbury offense continues on the trajectory its currently on, the two styles are the epitome of a symbiotic relationship. Offense scores, the defense steals the ball back, the offense scores again, and it’s off to the races. I referenced the Iowa State game a lot in this article because, to me, that’s what this looks like when it’s hitting on all cylinders. It is cut throat, brutal, and my goodness is it beautiful to watch in all of its misanthropy. Mind you the defense still has a ways to go. The yards will be what they be, but the scoring absolutely has to come down a bit. And it will, given the way the schedule was offensively front-loaded. However, that offense is doing exactly what we needed it to do last year, and that’s score score score. And score. It’s the perfect way to hide defensive deficiencies while that unit catches up, and I firmly believe that it will. Texas Tech stands at 4-2, just 2 measly wins away from a return to bowl eligibility. And it still hasn’t played Kansas yet (sorry, Jayhawks). Every game on the back half of the schedule has been proven as winnable (thanks, Texas!), and I fully expect the Red Raiders to get theirs in the coming weeks and continue the Revenge Tour.
Because it’s just like Kliff said.