7 Points: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech

1. The Setting

Good Guys: Texas Tech Red Raiders (1-0, 0-0)
Bad Guys: Arizona State Sun Devils (1-1, 0-0)
When: Saturday, September 16th at 7:00 pm
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium; Lubbock, Texas
TV/Stream: FSN Affiliates (FOX Sports Go)
Radio/Stream: 97.3 FM | Affiliates | TuneIn App

2. Uniform Tracker

Week 1 is in the books. Am guessing that since Texas Tech is celebrating cotton, that the look just might be all white, but we’ll see.

3. The Big Storyline

* The Primer: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
* 2017 Game Posters – ASU: Vengence
* Quote Board: Kingsbury, Shimonek and Johnson discuss ASU Sun Devils
* The Big 12 Report: Week 3 Previews
* Let’s Talk About Stats: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
* Eats & Bounds: Lubbock Concerts, Events and TTU Sports – 09/14/17

The best part about the bye week has nothing to do with me, but it really has something to do with Kliff Kingsbury and David Gibbs having time to game plan for an opponent, which I think there are few people that game plan better than Kliff Kingsbury. And given Kingsbury’s familiarity with Phil Bennett, you’d think that he’ll have more than decent clue about what Bennett has in store.

Maybe the least remembered thing is that some way, somehow, the team earned the double-t back without much fanfare. The team just seemingly showed up with the double-t on their helmets and jerseys and everything seemed to be in order. It’s strange how these things work internally and there seemed to be little doubt, at least from me, that the team wouldn’t have that double-t on their jerseys and helmets when they walked on the field at Jones AT&T Stadium.

The question though is if the team had any doubt that they would have the double-t on their uniform when the game rolled around. Had they done enough, as coaches and as players, during the offseason to earn by the privilege of wearing something that we, as fans and I’m sure as players, believe is so important. We’ve always said that we’re a proud group and the path that Texas Tech football has had over the course of the last few years has been anything but encouraging.

I hope that this was a culmination of the spring, summer and preseason practice. I hope that what we saw from the team against Eastern Washington is but a taste of things to come from the team in 2017. I hope that the long bet of trusting in Kliff Kingsbury and the mandate to ask that he be more of a head coach and less of an offensive coordinator is what turns this around.

We talked last week about how this program has become a team of transfers, for better or worse. A sack and an interception from Tony Jones, a JUCO transfer. A pick-six from Willie Sykes, a transfer from Arkansas. A near perfect day from Nic Shimonek, a transfer from Iowa. Huge plays from Derrick Willies, another JUCO transfer. Big running plays from Desmond Nisby, a JUCO transfer. Starting at offensive line were Paul Stawarz and Jacob Hines, both JUCO transfers. In the secondary, you had Octavious Morgan making plays along with Vaughnte Dorsey, both JUCO transfers. Mych Thomas on the defensive line, a JUCO player.

4. Keys for Texas Tech

  • I think Texas Tech will have the most success going down the field, which is obviously much tougher than some of the short stuff. This might mean big games from guys like Dylan Cantrell and Derrick Willies. Get past those cornerbacks and leave the safeties beind you and there could be some pretty good yardage to have. Arizona State wasn’t exactly stopping anyone offensively thus far so, that’s interesting to me.
  • Overall defensively, you get the feeling that if the coaching staff felt like they needed to play it safe against Eastern Washington, they’ll certainly feel that way against Manny Wilkins, who can can very well. I don’t think that Texas Tech can really afford to be that conservative on the defensive side of the ball with pressuring the quarterback.
  • I also wonder how well the stretch play will work against Arizona State. Arizona State is seemingly built to play very well laterally, so those lateral screens and stretch plays may not be as effective as they were last week. The key will be if the offensive line can really punch and effectively knock off the defensive line and linebackers.
  • I need to see more from the cornerbacks Desmon Smith and D.J. Polite-Bray. They get the play at one of the cornerback spots, but they were continually picked on by Eastern Washington last week and EWU was successful for a period of time. We all sorta thought that the weak link going into to season was the defensive line, but I might be thinking that this cornerback spot could be really targeted through the year.
  • With that being said, I do worry about the defensive line against these big running backs. These are big backs and this will be a huge test for guys like Mych Thomas, Broderick Washington, Nick McCann and any other that get in some work. They’ve got to hold the line (not literally, but in a military sense) and allow guys like Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks to do their work. It worked so well last week, but this is a much tougher opponent with legitimate Division I talent.
  • You wonder if this will be Desmond Nisby’s coming out party, sort of a “do unto others as they do unto you”. Nisby really was a revelation last week, and Kingsbury held him back a bit, or maybe he wanted everyone to get some burn. Tre King, Demarcus Felton, Justin Stockton and Nisby could all be pretty significant in terms of how they contribute. I think this may be like the receivers a bit in that it may be a different guy each week, totally dependent on the situation.

5. What to Watch

The things that stood out to me was how Arizona State did a terrific job of going deep, and that concerns me (see the comment about the cornerbacks). Watkins had some terrific touch on some of those deep passes and they weren’t exactly wide open. He found guys and guys made plays.

I’d also run the hell out of the ball between the tackles if I’m Arizona State. Last year, that wildcat mess created so many issues for Texas Tech and I’d honestly think that Arizona State will go straight back to that well, if for nothing else, for embarrassment purposes. As much as we’d like to think that this game means something for Texas Tech, it means something on the other side as well. Arizona State failed to finish strong and I’m sure they absolutely want to impart the same sort of offensive dominance that they did last year.

They key for Arizona State will be how well they protect Wilkins when he does drop back to go deep. Texas Tech will absolutely need to clean up any and all containment issues that they had last week covering the Eastern Washington quarterback, including wrapping up and getting the sack when it Wilkins is in the defense’s grasp.

I mentioned above that I thought that the lateral screen passes might not work. Bennett has an affinity to having his defenses playing a little dirty, especially their safeties. I’d fully expect Bennett try to intimidate both Willies and Cantrell with some slightly illegal hits with the safeties, especially since they are both relatively new and maybe a bit unproven.

With Arizona State having lateral speed defensively I’d think that they’ll absolutely attempt to pressure Texas Tech on the inexperienced offensive line.

6. Coach’s Corner

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham spoke to the media on Tuesday:

On the challenges of competing against different styles of teams…

“It’s just the way it is. Pac 12 is even more so that way. Seeing New Mexico St beating New Mexico. They were like a spread, read zone kind of team and then you play a team like how Stanford would line up and do things. This week were playing an air raid team that can do it better than anybody in the country. It’s pretty diverse; you then roll into the season where you’re going to have the same kind of deal. Starting off the conference with Oregon and then we have to go to Stanford, then we have Washington. The biggest thing, we need to stay focused on the goals at hand that we are trying to accomplish. The number one thing is not trying to give up cheap touchdowns. The other thing is the turnover ratio. Those are the two things that we want to continue to work hard on every day to get better at. We need to get better at running the football. That’s the bottom-line. We have been working really hard to get those things corrected to get it where it needs to be.”

On the personal for nickel downs on defense…

“Against a power team like they were. Coach Bennet is making those decisions on what he wants to do, whether going nickel or stay in base. We have talked a lot about as we move into our league and the spread teams, we will do more sub packages. But we did sub and rotate in. I thought Renell Wren did some nice things. We were doing more of a rotation. We are being active up front; getting TFL’s (Tackle for Loss), we’re getting sacks, with minimal pressure. We gave up a 3rd and 21, where we came off our guy. We have looked at those situations and that’s 14 points on those two plays. We only gave up 20 points defensively. We had a kickoff return for a touchdown. We kicked one out of bounce and they kicked a field goal off of it. We obviously gave up too many rushing yards. I thought there was a lot of improvement, especially on how we played on the defensive line. Our secondary played better too, but they weren’t a passing team.”

On the issues with protection…

“The whole thing is getting everybody on the same page. When you start of early, especially with newness, we need to keep grinding and getting better. We are working day and night. This program means an awful lot to me. We’re going to get it done, we just got to work and get better. It’s all about execution. I thought we did protect better than we had the week before. There is different factor involved in it that has to do with timing and execution. We have to work hard. It’s just getting everybody comfortable with what we’re doing. You start playing different people and you’re playing people on a lot of different things. Sometimes that’s a challenge to our execution. Now were on to Texas Tech. It’s a totally different thing this week. Every year there one of the best passing offenses in the country. Their very well coached on special teams and there playing a lot better defensively. I was very impressed with their first game.”

On Sleep-Daltons injury…
“We got some information back yesterday that said it was getting a lot better, so were hoping he will be ready to go with his right foot. If not, we have to have a healthy guy in there. He has done pretty good; the first one he put on the one yard line. I think it’s important to have someone ready to go and I anticipate he will be.”

On John Humphreys injury…
“He won’t be out the season. He will be questionable this week.”

On Demario Richards injury and others…
“He should be back and ready to go. Ryan Newsome should be back and ready to go. Demonte King will be available. Evan Fields will be available. We’re getting some guys back. It hurts us losing a guy like Demario (Richard); he is such a fixture for us in protection and running the football in our run game. It’s going to be big to have him back.”

7. Prediction

Do I think Texas Tech is going to win? Heck yes and by double-digits. I’ll take Texas Tech, 40-28.

Contributor Prediction
Michael Texas Tech will capitalize on ASU’s poor defense and rush for over 200 yards on the way to a 35-24 win.
Spencer 41-31 Texas Tech. This game will depend on the success of the Tech defensive line in slowing down Kalen Ballage and getting to Manny Wilkins (duh).
Brian 45-38 Tech. The TTU defensive play-calling gets a little spicy for the LB’s and they get to let loose a little, but ASU exposes the secondary to set up the run.
Dan 52-24 The TTU running backs roll, and our D looks good as we play our backup QB Carter all 4th quarter long.
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