As I sat in Jones AT&T Stadium Saturday I realized that I was watching a return to form. Maybe it’s not the perfect form (we don’t want ‘Bama) but it’s the form that I’d surmise many Red Raider fans have come to hope for and enjoy. The Texas Tech offense was pretty much prolific Saturday. I know the running game didn’t get going the way Kliff would like, but Bowman and company were able to stretch the field vertically and keep Houston’s defense running and on their heels when it counted. I’m certainly not saying I’m happy to see the defense giving up 49 points, but I was happy to watch a brand of Texas Tech football that I enjoyed for over a decade. I may not have realized until yesterday how much I’d missed it. A tweet from ESPN Stats & Info really captured what has always made this brand of football fun, exciting, and yes sometimes infuriating.
Rudy Slow Clap Award
I love the way Ta’Zhawn Henry runs. He brings a quickness to the backfield Tech hasn’t seen in some time. Henry is a 5’7″ 170lb true freshman out of Houston Lamar. At first glance, his diminutive size seems like he’d be a situational scatback but he looks to be proving his usefulness as a full utility back for the Red Raiders. While he’s not barreling guys over with power, maybe his finesse style is more well-suited to Tech’s offense and offensive line. Also, as a true freshman, I’ll bet we see Rusty Witt get ahold of him and build onto that frame. Henry has an impressive first step cut upfield and he appears to do a great job reading his blocks. He gained 111 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He also chipped in 7 receptions for 42 yards (on 9 targets), reminiscent of the dual-threat skillset that Taurean Henderson brought to the backfield in the early 2000s. With Da’Leon Ward nursing a groin injury he aggravated earlier in the week and SaRodorick Thompson and DeMarcus Felton only combining for 4 yards on 10 carries, it appears we’ll be seeing more of Ta’Zhawn Henry in the short term and possibly longer. I also think it’s just satisfying to see true freshmen like Bowman and Henry living the dream. Above is a picture of Henry following his third touchdown, that’s just pure joy, that’s why he gets the Rudy treatment this week.
Alan Bowman, QB
Freshman Alan Bowman is now a record-setting Texas Tech quarterback. Bowman broke Patrick Mahomes’s Big 12 record for most passing yards in a game by a freshman. Bowman finished the day 43/59 for 605 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s a QBR of 91.4, a completion percentage of 72.8%, and an average of 10.3 yards per completion. So from Lamar to Houston, we saw Bowman drop only 1.5 yards per completion and his QBR dropped a little under four points. That’s not too shabby from a bad FCS team to a 2-0 FBS G5 team with the best defensive lineman in the country. Bowman continues to take excellent care of the football. He is still without an interception in 133 passes and has no fumbles in 264 snaps handled. Credit also goes to the offensive line, giving up the first and only sack this season Saturday to Houston. Bowman continues to show a strong grasp of this offense and has obviously gained full confidence in his outside receivers. Bowman does a good job moving the pocket and creating time and space to make the right throw. He threaded the needle today and went over the top successfully. As always he wasn’t perfect and there’s always room for improvement. He’s been thrust into a difficult situation and only the grumpiest observer can complain about his play at this point. You can see Bowman’s touchdown passes on other awards, so below are gifs of some other great throws.
The pass below from the end zone to Collins was a specific example of Bowman overcoming challenges. He opened the game 6/6 but then went 0/4 in the following drive. He hit Wesley for a first down on the sideline but that was negated by a holding penalty on Travis Bruffy. Another penalty pushed Tech back into a 2nd & 28 situation and rather than fold, Bowman maintained poise and found a way to get the ball downfield and earn a new set of downs.
Antoine Wesley, WR
Like Bowman, Antoine Wesley now owns a record, this one a school record for receiving yards in a game. Wesley had 13 receptions for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns with a long of 58 yards. That’s a 20.1 yards per catch average, which is a WOOOO on its own. Wesley also was 13/18 catching the targets sent his direction. I’ve been expecting either Wesley or Vasher to have a coming out party and it looks like Saturday was Wesley’s day. His marquee catch of the day saw him shed two defenders and use his speed and downfield blocks to take a short catch on a curl route 58 yards to the house to tie the game at 14. The junior product of Cibolo Steele is a serious target on the outside at 6’5″ 200lbs with a ton of speed and athleticism. Wesley also had hip surgery over the summer and it appears he has recovered quite well. Wesley surpasses Joel Filani (255 yards vs Kansas state in 2005) to take the top spot on that list.
My favorite thing I noticed in going through film and highlights was seeing the friendship between Wesley and Vasher. One was always first on scene to celebrate with the other. That is such a positive for a receiving corps, especially among top targets. Those two outside guys could be competing for targets (not that there aren’t ebough to go around) but instead they’re celebrating together. I love that culture and I love seeing that positivity between teammates. I’ll bet that receiver room is a fun place to be for meetings.
Shining Star Award
Dakota Allen, LB
Finally! We’ve been waiting to see Dakota Allen make his presence known and he did that today. Allen led the Texas Tech defense with 9 tackles (7 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups, and 1 quarterback hurry. Allen is a captain and the undisputed leader of the defense and this team. He has a real opportunity to go play on Sundays and although the media is beating his redemption story to death, it is a great story about an exceptional young man overcoming adversity. I think all Red Raiders want to see him succeed in life, but in the meantime, we’d love to see him be a difference-maker for this defense. The front seven for the Tech defense are incredibly important in counteracting the softness of the secondary. Allen has to continue playing at a high level, getting after quarterbacks, disrupting the passing game, and limiting running back and receiver effectiveness.
You Got Burned Award
Entire Tech Defensive Secondary
The Texas Tech front seven did what they could with 1 sack, 6 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 6 quarterback hurries. Unfortunately, the secondary got flat torched by Houston quarterback D’Eric King and his receivers. King went 30/51 for 431 yards and 5 touchdowns. Marquez Stevenson had 177 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns and Keith Corbin chipped in another 2 scores on 103 yards. Ja’Shawn Johnson was suited up but still did not play and the Red Raiders continue to miss the senior’s experience in coverage. With offenses like those of Oklahoma State and West Virginia coming up quickly, the Red Raiders desperately need to find a way to elevate the play of the secondary.
Deal With It Play of the Game Award
Alan Bowman, QB & T.J. Vasher, WR
Bowman to Vasher has become a highlight reel connection all season with Vasher’s ability to climb the ladder and make fantastic catches. This particular play is not one of those. It was 4th & 2 on the Tech 48 in the 2nd quarter. Bowman hit Vasher for an 18 yard gain on a slant route. Neat, they converted a fourth down, but why is this the play of the game when we saw bigger plays? I think this play is indicative of something Texas Tech was missing last season, the ability to capitalize on opportunities and convert/perform when it’s absolutely necessary. This conversion continued a drive that ultimately ended in a touchdown pass to Antoine Wesley to tie the game at 28. In my opinion, teams that win ballgames are teams that execute when necessary, showing the fight, fire, and poise to convert this fourth down made a difference in this game, and could be a factor in this team’s season.
What Just Happened Award
De’Quan Bowman, PR/KR
Bowman made a bonehead over the shoulder catch in the front corner of the end zone against Ole Miss, turning a guaranteed touchback into a bad kickoff return. Bowman’s mental miscues have continued seeing him muff a fair catch (that he could have let bounce into a touchback) ending with Houston recovering and scoring immediately. That accounted for the only turnover of the game. One mistake appeared to set up another when Bowman dropped another ball several times in a blooper reel in the end zone. Luckily he fell on it for a touchback. Mike Leach used to talk about executing on all three sides of the ball, well the offense held up their side, and defense had its moments despite giving up a ton of points and big plays, but special teams continue to look terrible. It’s unfortunate for Special Teams Coordinator Adam Scheier that his name rhymes with “fire,” because this is pitiful play and it’s going to start getting some memes and chants thrown his way.
Much Better Award
Entire Texas Tech Team
Texas Tech committed 14 penalties for 139 yards against Lamar, that dropped to 9 for 82 yards against Houston. Not great, but certainly better. I think there’s a fair adjustment to make as well. Ed Oliver has been lining up at nose tackle this season, so Texas Tech’s center Paul Stawarz had a tough assignment this week. Stawarz had two holding penalties that I think it’s fair to give him a pass for facing the best defensive lineman in the country. The offensive line held Oliver to 6 tackles (4 solo) and 1 tackle for loss. Red Raider penalties were almost totally on the offense though. 3 for 27 yards were holding by the offensive line, 1 for 5 yards for a false start, 3 for 30 yards were holding on wide receivers/tight ends. The defense was responsible for one personal foul for 15 yards and a 5 yard roughing the passer. Penalties continue to be an issue, let’s hope this improvement continues and the offensive line can protect Bowman cleanly, losing yardage will be harder to overcome against the top half of the Big 12 as conference play begins.
T.J. Vasher, WR – Vasher finished the day with 6 receptions for 94 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s good 15.7 yards per catch with a long of 31. Vasher will almost definitely be “the guy” for this offense in the years to come, for now, he’s certainly valuable at outside receiver and a target that Bowman trusts to make the tough catches. Vasher caught 6 of the 10 targets that came his way, would love to see a little bit more consistency out of him.
Ja’Deion High – High was Tech’s second-leading receiver against Houston with 7 receptions for 120 yards and a 54 yard long. That’s a 17.1 yard per catch average, which is not only exceptional, considering high is playing inside is even more impressive because those yards are often coming after contact. The 5’9″ 190lb senior from Hereford has been poised for a breakout game and it was good to see him running wild. Getting to him in the end zone will be a positive growth point between he and Bowman. High caught all 7 of the targets sent his direction, that’s the kind of automatic production that gains receivers more looks.
Stand Strong Award
Red Raider Nation
Last week was but a fools hope, but that hope was founded in a sense of possibility. The possibility that Arizona was really that bad and that the Tech offense could be something to behold if it’s firing on all cylinders. The possibility that this offensive line could contain Ed Oliver and that the defense could get enough stops to keep the Red Raiders in the game. That fools hope panned out. For the most part, Oklahoma State looked similar to their other games against Boise State. I know from writing the Big 12 Road Trips that they’ve struggled to establish a strong running game. Justice Hill rushed for 123 yards and 1 touchdown against the Broncos but the majority of their point differential with Boise State wasn’t offensive, it was special teams. The Cowboys were 3/3 on field goals and returned a punt for a touchdown, the rest of their offensive performance wasn’t particularly special.
So what am I talking about? I’m saying there’s a chance and I want you to believe that too! This is not the Oklahoma State offense we saw under Mason Rudolph, they don’t put up a ton of yards or points and have still not faced a defense with a pulse. Boise State’s quarterback also fumbled four times, he only lost one but a bad snap or other fumbles can still kill a drive. The Cowboys’ defense deserves credit holding down that Boise State offense with 7 sacks and 10 tackles for loss, that’s where we’ll see a battle, up front.
My point here about fear is that we have nothing to fear. If the Red Raiders win this game that’s fantastic, if they lose it I think most of us had it marked down as a loss before the season began anyway. There are very real questions about this Oklahoma State team, especially if the offense we saw Saturday shows up in Stillwater. There are also very real questions about the Texas Tech defense, who didn’t force a turnover against the Cougars and need to pick up that production in a hurry to slow down some of these Big 12 offenses. The Cowboys struggled to protect the ball in their first two games but didn’t turn it over at all against the Broncos, Tech needs to get after them.
At the end of the day, we’re supposed to enjoy this whole process of fandom. That enjoyment isn’t only about wins and losses (or it shouldn’t be) but about school and team pride, camaraderie, community, and watching a team grow. I know, i want wins too, and I’m sure we’ll see more this season whether next Saturday is one or not. But, I’m determined to enjoy watching this team grow and find itself. The other frustrations and uncertainties of the season will take care of themselves later, for now, I’m looking forward to time with friends watching these boys play. The only things that will get me angry are bad calls, poor coaching, and anyone who quits.