7 Points: Texas Tech vs. Houston

An extensive preview of the Houston Cougars hosting the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

1. The Setting

Good Guys: Texas Tech Red Raiders (2-0, 0-0)
Bad Guys: Houston Cougars (2-0, 0-0)
When: Saturday, September 23rd at 11:00 a.m.
Where: TDECU Stadium; Houston, Texas
TV/Stream: ABC / ESPN2 (ESPN Watch)
Radio/Stream: 97.3 FM | Affiliates | TuneIn App

2. Uniform Tracker

How about that, the white helmets are 2-0 to start the year. Bet you never would have thought that.

3. The Big Storyline

* The Primer: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
* 2017 Game Posters: High Plains Houston
* Quote Board: Kingsbury, Shimonek & Johnson Talk Houston Cougars
* Chit Chat: Assessing the Arizona State Win
* The Big 12 Report: Week 4 Previews
* Let’s Talk About Stats: Arizona State vs. Texas Tech
* Eats & Bounds: Lubbock Concerts, Events and TTU Sports – 09/21/17

It’s amazing to think about the firepower of the offense had some players stuck around to see this thing through. It’s difficult to imagine how much better the offense could be with Jonathan Giles and Tony Brown, but you tend to think that this was the way it was supposed to be. You would tend to think having those two guys would be problematic because there simply aren’t enough passes to go around.

But on the other end of things we also maybe wouldn’t see Cam Batson as much, juking receivers out of their shoes, while Keke Coutee makes playing receiver look effortless. The outside guys seemed to have been in place for some time so that’s not an issue.

But the Giles transfer has always bothered me a bit. I’ve tried to figure out what Giles was chasing. I’ve always believed that Giles was talented and that if there’s talent anywhere, the NFL will find you, so moving to LSU to find the NFL doesn’t make any sense. And regardless of what Giles thinks, Kingsbury and Eric Morris can and should take credit for the player that Giles is right now and the player that we’ll see at the beginning of next year. Maybe Giles wanted a position change, being inside doesn’t scream NFL dollars, but you’d think that the coaches would accommodate Giles if that was the case.

Which makes me think that this was a personality issue, or better put, a difference in personalities. For most of these discipline issues, I think we’ve seen Kingsbury be pretty strict with how he ran the program and I don’t know if that strict attitude changed over the course of this year as he morphed into more of a head coach role, but something clicked to where Giles left. Maybe Giles could feel the emergence of Coutee and Batson, although I think Giles is more talented than Batson, but you get the feeling that Batson is the harder worker. And that’s not to offend Batson, but Giles had a bit better size than Batson and that’s always a plus for NFL folks.

Regardless, this is an interesting case and it’s one that I’ve tried to figure out because the answer just isn’t really that obvious, at least not to me.

4. Keys for Texas Tech

  • The obvious key is the interior of the offensive line and that’s where this thing starts and stops. Jack Anderson, Paul Stawarz and Jacob Hines will have to be terrific. I’m pretty confident in the ability of Brandon Jones getting these guys read. What we thought would maybe be a liability has been surprisingly fairly consistent and although Shimonek was under some pressure last week, I thought the line did a good job of protecting him. As good as some of the defensive line players for Arizona State are, and they’d bring some heat, I think Houston and Oliver in particular are probably better. This game is about consistency and I hope that they keep that in mind. Just try to be better each play.
  • Houston hasn’t proven to be a really great running team, which is a bit of a departure from the last two years where Greg Ward was a significant part of the running offense. The Texas Tech defensive line has been significantly better for stopping the run and if given the choice, I’d want the defense to be stout against the run. I should mention that the defensive line havoc rate is at 4.1% for the year, which is 51st in the nation. Texas Tech is averaging 5.5 tackles for a loss, which is higher than last year which was 3.9 and Texas Tech also has 4 sacks on the year, which isn’t on pace from last year, but last year the defense had 5 sacks against SFA, while Texas Tech had 3 sacks against Arizona State.
  • The receivers are going to need to continue to do what they’ve done thus far, which is catch passes and kick ass. Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell, Cameron Batson and Derrick Willies are all catching over 70% of their passes. Your guy Batson has a catch rate of 92.9%, Cantrell is at 80.0%, Coutee is at 77.3% and Willies is at 72.7%. We’ve all thought that Cantrell has velcro hands, and he does, but a 93% catch rate is pretty awesome.
  • This game is going to be different for the defensive backs and the cornerbacks won’t have to be concerned as much with the passes to the sideline. Kyle Allen doesn’t have that arm, he’ll throw the screen pass, but he doesn’t have that sort of touch. If anything, I think the middle of the field and the safeties are going to get worked over for this game. With the injuries to Vaughnte Dorsey and Desmond Smith, that’s a bit problematic, while Douglas Coleman has been awfully quiet this year.
  • I think that the running game is going to be significantly better and Kingsbury is going to have to drive those guys. I still really don’t like Stockton, his runs seem to be hit or miss and I’m sorta the kinda guy that likes for there to always be a forward push. I’m probably being too harsh here, but Desmond Nisby always seems to move the pile and I still like DeMarcus Felton as a change of pace guy. I think all three or four of those running backs, including Tre King, need to get some work.

5. What to Watch

DT Ed Oliver really is terrific, he’ll cave in a side of the line on a consistent basis and as a one-man wrecking crew, that’s really problematic, because he’s usually doing it while double-teamed. That means that it’s taking two offensive linemen to block just one guy and that’s how Houston can create some issues in terms of pressure. It’s not always Oliver, but sometimes it’s what Oliver does. You should check out this article on Oliver by BleacherReport’s Adam Kramer:

Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 4 overall defensive linemen in the country and No. 1 against run last season. One Big 12 head coach declared Oliver the best player in the country. Not just the best defensive lineman or defender—the best anywhere.

One AFC scout does little to refute this claim. “He was the best player on the field every time Houston played,” the scout says. “He was the guy from a prospect standpoint that you couldn’t take your eyes off. He can do it all.”

Against Arizona, the special teams made some terrific plays and the big thing for the special teams is that they can flip the field if given an opportunity. The best thing to do is for the kickoff guys to absolutely kick the ball out of the bank of the endzone and Dominic Panazzolo is going to need to do his rugby-kick thing. Keep it away from the Houston returners.

The defense can tend to over-pursue and that might be something that Kingsbury could use to force Houston into some bad defensive plays.

QB Kyle Allen can be prone to just make bad mistakes, probably doesn’t have the strongest arm and won’t be able to pick on the sidelines like Manny Wilkins can. There’s no question that the arm is strong enough to get the ball to the sideline on screen passes, but the out pattern is probably not something that Allen should do on a regular basis. And the first interception was just a really bad throw. Let’s hope Allen makes some more of those decisions.

The Houston receivers are no joke and can make some serious yardage after the catch. These guys are very athletic and I think if they had more of a passing quarterback (especially from Ward from last year) they’d all have bigger numbers. They are very good over the middle of the field and they can make defenders miss.

The Houston offense isn’t simplistic, lots of misdirection, especially in the running game. I actually find it fun to watch and I’d be surprise if Kingsbury doesn’t take some of that with him next offseason. This will mean that the Texas Tech defense wil have to be pretty disciplined and there’s a balance between that and letting those guys get after allen.

The Houston defense is opportunistic and I think the Texas Tech defense has been opportunistic as well. Those sorts of turnovers are big for teams and teams that are athletic seem to be more opportunistic.

6. Coach’s Corner

On what he tells the defense going into a game against an offense that can score quickly…

“You have to play 60 minutes, and I’ve been a part of those kinds of games. The game that I just mentioned in ’98 was a 60-minute game. It came all the way down to the last drive. In 2003, I was a graduate assistant and I remember Chance Mock throwing a ball in the end zone. BJ Simmons had just drove right down the field and scored right before that drive and we had to go back down and score. Probably the biggest thing that pops into your mind as a coach on how to prepare your team mentally for this game is that there are a lot of ebbs and flows, because there’s so many points scored. That’s if were doing our job offensively.

“You have to stay in it, you can’t pay attention to the scoreboard. We talk to our team all the time that scoreboards are imposters. Early on, you can’t pay attention to it. Whether you’re up 14 or down 14. Same thing we said in the locker room in Tucson, same thing we said in the locker room last weekend, that’s a general theme. Sometimes you can start evaluating the game before the game’s even been played. Settle down, settle into your pads, pay attention to your assignment, play with great effort, and don’t pay attention to the scoreboard. Each and every play and each and every series.”

On if they are putting an emphasis on offense this week at practice since last week they did not perform well in practice…

“It’s just more or less the standard that wasn’t being met that I was just disappointed with, but it was a handful of players; it wasn’t as a whole. There are a handful of guys that’ll taint your view of practice. Holding those guys to those standards from a head coach’s standpoint, from a unit coach’s standpoint, in terms of how they practice; it’s neither here or there. There’s no in between.

“It was good to see them come out Sunday and practice hard. The way they practiced, you can tell that they were focused. In fact, there was a point made in Sunday afternoon meetings, `Listen, we’re back to work, back to practice and these are our habits and these are what we do. If it’s not then everything we talk about is just talk. So let’s go put it out on the field.’ I was proud to see them focused in practice and go full speed yesterday. They have today off to get their bodies right to come back out Tuesday.”

On Texas Tech personnel…

“They play great in space. Keke Coutee, I remember looking at him and recruiting him out of Lufkin. He’s a very confident football player with great change of direction and very good hands. He’s very difficult to tackle in space. It’s the same thing with a lot of their other athletes as well.

“They’ll do that even with their backs. They’ll get (Justin) Stockton out in space. I remember watching him as a freshman. Great skilled players, (Nic) Shimonek does a great job of getting the ball to them, he’s a very good quarterback. He understands the system. He’s been coached very well. This is going to be a very big challenge for our defense. To play in space with him and make tackles in open space.”

On what he’s seen from the defense…

“There’s still so much football left. There are nine games left. I’m not ready to start talking about how the book’s going to end when we’re only on chapter two. Let’s continue to work on how we do things, why we do things and how we practice. Let’s put the premium on those things and how we prepare, then we’ll be able to reflect and say this was or was not the offense, defense, or special teams like we thought. We have hardworking and talented players. The opportunity and potential is there, but we have a lot of work to do.”

7. Prediction

I like Texas Tech, but just barely. Give me the Red Raiders, 38-34. I think the offense is going to be better than Houston and the defense will be just good enough. I forgot to get the predictions from the staff on Thursday, but I’ll update through the morning.

Contributor Prediction
Michael 35-31 Houston. This is Tech’s first away game, TDECU Stadium will be fired up, and it starts at 11am.
Spencer TBD
Kyle TBD
Brian 45-35 Houston. I think Ed Oliver gets more stops than our defense
Dan 48-45 Texas Tech. We win by a field goal, and don’t try to go for it on a 4th & goal late in the game in H-town.

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