Week 1 Awards: It’s Fine.

If there’s a reasonable way to be a cynical optimist then I think that’s a fair description of me as a Texas Tech fan. I can be cynical in my language, liberally sprinkling in sarcasm and a dash of facetiousness on occasion. Despite my ongoing smart mouth (subject to the eternal disapproval of my Granny), I am generally optimistic about Texas Tech’s team, coaching, culture, and ability to make surprising changes and unexpected turns towards the better. I’m talking specifically about football, although my optimism is generally more effective in a long-season sport like baseball.

I’ve been a Texas Tech fan since before I first arrived on campus in 2001. As a student, I was a proud and devoted member of the Goin’Band From Raiderland and an inaugural member of the Rowdy Raiders. Texas Tech trivia and history are a big part of my fandom and I will freely drop those useless nuggets of knowledge in conversation (just ask my friends).

I tell you all of this to provide some context for the player awards I’ll be posting after each Texas Tech loss game. I may throw out a snarky joke or argue both sides of an issue (another of my most endearing qualities), but at the end of the day I’m a Red Raider through and through and I’m going to root for our teams.

Dang Bro Award – T.J. Vasher, WR

In the Week 1 Big 12 Road Trip I predicted sophomore wide receiver T.J. Vasher would have a coming out party and make a cornerback pay for man coverage. Well 4 catches for 66 yards wasn’t quite the dominance I was hoping for, but these plays down the sideline are exactly the kind of performance Tech will need to keep seeing from Vasher. The athleticism in his 6’6″ frame is impressive. He has a great vertical and can really dominate for jump balls. As you can see, he can go up to catch a ball at its highest point, and with exceptional body control, he can salvage off-target balls coming from whichever quarterback happens to be sending them his direction. Averaging 16.5 yards per catch is nothing to sneeze at, but with no Tech receivers breaking triple digits this week, sending more balls Vasher’s direction would be a welcome growth point.

Slow Clap Award – Da’Leon Ward, RB

Da’Leon Ward led the way in yards rushing against Ole Miss with 17 attempts for 90 yards and both of Tech’s rushing touchdowns. He reeled off a long run of 19 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Ward was a welcome consistent force in the backfield that signals the Texas Tech offensive line has put together the pieces necessary to both pass block for a spread attack, and run block effectively. That is no easy task at all. My friends and I collectively yelled, “RUN MOAR” or some variation thereof, about 114,263 times during the first half. But when it was all said and done the Red Raiders rushed 39 times for 164 yards and 2 TDs, compared to going 33-56 passing for 322 and 1 TD. I’m curious to see more of what Kevin Johns and Kliff have in store for this stable of backs, but Da’Leon Ward was an early bright spot in this very young season.

New Guy Award – John Bonney, S

John Bonney arrived on campus on August 15th (that’s about two weeks ago for those non-mathmagicians out there), just three days before the final scrimmage of fall camp. He came in as a graduate transfer from the University of Texas and was immediately eligible to play. He has made the most out of his time in Lubbock so far. Octavious Morgan went down with a leg injury and team captain Jah’Shawn Johnson was a game-time decision that ended up not playing against Ole Miss. So Bonney became incredibly important in a depleted secondary which was further depleted with two targeting ejections out of the secondary as well. Bonney lead the Red Raiders in tackles Saturday with 8 (7 of them solo). He also forced a fumble which Tech recovered, as you can see above.

Shining Star Award – De’Quan Bowman, KR

Let’s just be honest, if there was anyone today that we could just say played atrocious football it was the Red Raiders’ special teams unit. There were two bright spots there and senior wide receiver De’Quan Bowman was the brighter of them in my opinion. He made an early mistake bringing out a definite touchback, but barring that, on five kickoff returns he gained 134 yards with an average of 27 yards per return and a long of 49 yards. A good returner can do a lot to build momentum and put the offense in a position to be successful with a shorter field. I hope to see Bowman continue this trend and hope Special Teams Coordinator Adam Scheier can coach this unit up. Building strong blocking walls and lanes for Bowman is obviously a positive, but the coverage team was a disaster all day.

Honorable Mentions

Alan Bowman, QB – Bowman stepped into a difficult situation unexpectedly and performed reasonably well. He took care of the football, threw it away appropriately, and generally lead the offense well. Most notably, Bowman showed excellent arm strength and dropped a beautiful fade route right in the bucket in perfect stride for a touchdown. That’s a pass Texas Tech has always needed in its arsenal. Kliff indicated that both he and Duffey will receive significant reps this week.

Eli Howard, DE – Howard didn’t have a huge stat line, but he was always flying to the ball. He was diving into the fray on Broderick Washington’s sack and he recovered the fumble caused by John Bonney. Howard also didn’t get ejected for targeting, so there’s that bright spot in his day as well.

Antoine Wesley, WR – Wesley caught 6 of his 10 targets for 65 yards with a 22 yard long, averaging 10.8 yards per catch. Many thought Wesley would be the top receiver this game and he certainly made a case for being a top target as a junior. He didn’t produce the highlight reel catches we saw from Vasher, but he moved the chains.

Ja’Deion High, WR – High caught the great touchdown mentioned above. He caught 4 of his 8 targets for 62 yards, 1 touchdown, a long of 22 yards, and a 15.5 yard per catch average. Seeing the senior from Hereford step up is the answer to another of the nagging question marks going into this game. However, the top three receivers all had 60ish yards, Texas Tech has to produce more than that.

Tony Jones, Jordyn Brooks, Dakota Allen, & Riko Jeffers, LBs – The linebacking unit had a fairly strong day with a combined 19 tackles (8 of them solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, and one of Tech’s 2 sacks. Obviously, there’s a lot more required from these guys, and it’s hard to brag on the defense after a game that hurt so much, but the linebacker corps was a bright spot. You’ll notice that Kolin Hill and Brayden Stringer are excluded from this list – that’s intentional. But hey, they didn’t get ejected for targeting, so maybe I’m being too harsh.

Clayton Hatfield, K – It was good to see Hatfield back healthy and kicking well. His lingering hip injury seems to be fully healed at this point and he nailed field goals of 25 and 41 yards today and went 3/3 in extra points. While no one likes settling for a field goal, having a consistent and reliable weapon in those situations is important.

Red Zone Defense – I know, you just did a spit take all over the computer saying, “Keith, Ole Miss was 4-4 in the red zone!” Hear me out. Yes, Ole Miss was 4-4, but all 4 were field goals. That means on four separate occasions Ole Miss got inside the 20 and Texas Tech held them EVERY TIME to a field goal. I know we’d rather see them force punts (which they did 3 times), but standing up and stopping this offense with the best wide receiver corps in the country is nothing to sneeze at. There could be brighter days ahead.

It’s Fine, I’m Fine, Everything’s Fine Award – Red Raider Nation

I’m giving this to recognize and affirm the frustrations of my fellow Red Raiders. I get it, and while I’m generally an optimist that will talk myself into a rose-colored happy place, I see and feel where you’re at. I hope everyone out there can remember a few things, hopefully, some bring a little comfort.

  • Our Athletic Director is literally one of the most respected people in the business. Kirby Hocutt will make a decision that’s best for the program, the student-athletes, and the university (that includes us).
  • This was the first game of the season, and while I know it is impossible to ignore the last five seasons of Kliff’s tenure, we do need to give the team a little bit of time to grow into the season before we pass final judgment. I mean, we saw them get better from one half to another Saturday, surely there is still growth to be realized.
  • Ole Miss was much better than I gave them credit for. Their offense was legitimately good. Their quarterback came in ready to play and their wide receivers are as good as advertised. It also helps that at the end of the day we had four starting defensive backs either injured or kicked out of the game. And to that point, I in the camp of #MakeFootballFootballAgain, but it’s still up to players to play with discipline within the rules. Both of those were easily avoidable. Don’t even get me started on a 13-yard swing at the goal line because you want to run your mouth.
  • Over the summer every talking head just slid right over the quarterback and wide receiver uncertainty and said “Kliff is the quarterback whisperer, they’ll be fine” and maybe they will be, but there was never a guarantee they’d be great, and they needed to be great by game one. They weren’t, but they may still be great this season. DO NOT translate that as “let the cake bake.” It’s baked plenty, I’m just saying it’s not unusual for a defense to be ahead of an offense early in the season, things can/will still get better.
  • Whatever happens this season and whatever happens to Kliff, I’ll continue to love my alma mater, and frankly, I’ll continue to love the first quarterback I watched at Tech from 2000-2002. I feel the pain just like you. Slowly but surely we all drank the Kool-Aid this summer and let ourselves believe one more time only to be disappointed at NRG Stadium. My only hope is that my fellow Red Raiders continue to show up. I remember watching 10,000 at a time walk away on Tommy Tuberville after each Cyclone interception, I don’t want to get to that low again. Fill the Jones, cheer for our boys, and if we’re 2-1 in two weeks let’s get ready to be hurt, because I know we’ll start to believe again. If changes happen let’s be the fans our team deserves.
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