Preview: Montana State Bobcats vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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Texas Tech Red Raiders
Montana State Bobcats
August 31st @ 3:00 p.m.
Jones AT&T Stadium – Lubbock, Texas
Texas Tech -25
Partly Cloudy, 90-66.

Something New. First game of the year and I’m going to be doing some different things in terms of a preview. One big preview, just like always, but decided to move away from the 7 Points that I had relied upon for a few years. I tend to get in a rut and even though it’s not always fun, I think it is good to try some new things, and this is that.

There will still be plenty of stats, and thoughts about the game and all sorts of things, including video when available. I’ll still do the uniform tracker, but I’ll do it as a Twitter post rather than a separate point in a preview. Let’s be honest, it was filler and I’m comfortable admitting that.

So let’s go and get this party started.

When Texas Tech Has The Ball

Don’t pay too much attention to the math here. The comparison is not apples-to-apples. The stats are NCAA ranks and Texas Tech’s is obviously based on FBS, while Montana State’s ranks are based on FCS numbers and that’s even a stretch as at the time of compiling this, I couldn’t find an actual rank on the NCAA’s site based on category. It’s relatively accurate, I hope, but just know that it is difficult to compare stats between FCS and FBS teams. If anything, you get the impression as to what those teams were at the end of 2018 and of course, lots of things will change with both teams. For Texas Tech there will be a tight end and only three receivers for what we’ve been told a majority of the plays. Last year with a full stable of tight ends, Utah State apparently ran 11 personnel (1 running back + 1 tight end = 11 personnel) for 97% of all plays. Head coach Matt Wells has said that there’s a chance that Texas Tech will run 20 personnel (2 running backs + 0 tight ends = 20 personnel). I think the talent at running back is probably better than it is at tight end at this point of the process (*FN 1).

Alan Bowman was absolutely fantastic as a true freshman, but his season was cut short by a punctured lung suffered twice during the season last year, thus resulting in only 8 games played. Bowman is highly accurate, a 70% completion percentage and averaged 8.1 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

The receivers are probably going to take a couple of games to work out a rotation. We know there are two wide receivers and that will most likely come from a group of T.J. Vasher, Erik Ezukanma, R.J. Turner (the transfer from Louisiana), Caden Leggett, and KeSean Carter. With the addition of a tight end, you’re likely to see McLane Mannix (transfer from Nevada), Dalton Rigdon, and Xavier White. At tight end, the beefed up Donta Thompson, JUCO transfer Travis Koontz and Tyler Carr will probably share snaps at tight end.

You can expect a lot more running out of the offense as offensive coordinator David Yost ran and passed the ball about on a 50/50 basis last year for the Aggies and I’d almost guarantee that same ratio. There are some talented backs for Texas Tech, led by Ta’Zhawn Henry, SaRodorick Thompson, and Utah transfer Armand Shyne. Last year for Utah State, they had 480 rushing attempts, and there were two main running backs, but a third worked in as well. The competition should be terrific.

Theoretically, the offensive line should be improved if the coaching has anything to do with anything. Utah State only allowed 10 sacks all year last year, which is really just sort of amazing and probably a credit to how quickly the quarterback gets rid of the ball, but let’s credit the line as well. And the Aggies were 15th in the nation in yards per rushing attempt, 5.50, which is almost 2 yards more than where Texas Tech was last year.

Montana State returns some key components on the defensive line and they also have some transfers from Washington that have a bit of a pedigree (*FN 2). Before we get to that, Montana State’s new defensive coordinator is from Washington (the Huskies), where they ran a 2-4-5. I wonder if they’ll run the same thing here when that’s a spot with so much talent. The guy that pops off the page is Bryce Sterk, also a transfer from Washington, but has played a year in Bozeman. An astounding 17 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.

Travis Yates is the other quality defensive linemen returning (6-3/266) and had 8.5 tackles for a loss, probably from the nose or interior spot as he didn’t have any sacks. The two big Washington transfers are Armandre Williams (6-2/248) and Jason Scrempos (6-6/299). The Texas Tech offensive line may have their work cut out for them.

Safety Brayden Konkol (6-2/215) is the leading tackler from last year and he’s from Belgrade, Montana. He had 93 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, and 3 fumble recoveries. That’s not a bad stat line. Linebacker Michael Jobman (6-4/211) had 73 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss. Konkol and Jobman are probably those tweener types, maybe a linebacker, maybe a safety, but doesn’t matter because they can play.


FN 1. We’ve talked about this before, but one of the distinct things about this offense is that it mirrors in personnel the LA Rams, in that both teams run 11 personnel and try to run a ton of things out of that one look. I think this is a good thing.

FN 2. Lots of Washington connections for Montana State, from the head coach to the offensive coordinator to the defensive coordinator to a handful of players that are from University of Washington. This is probably not a coincidence.

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When Montana State Has The Ball

I think the strength of the Texas Tech defense will be up the middle and at linebacker, but I think depth is a concern at linebacker (*FN 1). I do like the rotation of Broderick Washington, Nick McCann, and Eli Howard manning the 3-down linemen. The thought is that they’ll put more pressure on opposing offenses and I think that at three years, you’re either going to show that you can play or that you can’t, you’re probably not going to get that much better after this until you can move on to the pros and then I think there is a similar learning curve. The depth behind those three may be one of the more interesting aspects of the team. Nelson Mbanasor, Quentin Yontz, Jaylon Hutchings, and Tony Bradford, Jr. are all going to be part of the group that’s backing up and they have played sparingly at best. My guess is that they’ll be fine as second-teamers, but I think they’re probably a year away for some of them.

At linebacker, I’ve said it all offseason and I do love Jordyn Brooks and Riko Jeffers at linebacker. I am all but certain they can play. I feel a little bad for Brayden Stringer, who looked like he’d step into a spot this year, but I think Jeffers is that good and I think he’s probably the most versatile player on the defensive side of the ball.

Your Raider linebacker will be freshman Tyrique Matthews (5-11/220) or Riko Jeffers (6-2/240). Just looking at the roster, I don’t know that there are a ton of rushing linebackers on the team so I think this is a tricky spot to fill (*FN 2). Xavier Benson has maybe been banged up this preseason practice, and he was the leader in the clubhouse at the Raider. Evan Rambo is the starter at Spur with Adam Beck as his backup. Again, other than some high school video, there’s not a lot for me to base my opinion on how either will do at this spot.

The secondary has been problematic for quite some time, but I think I liked the direction that David Gibbs was moving towards with the same type of profile of cornerback, about 6-0 to 6-1 and in that 170 or so range coming out of high school (*FN 3). With that being said, I really like Douglas Coleman, Adrian Frye, Demarcus Fields, Quincy Addison, Thomas Leggett, and John Davis, with Desmon Smith the one guy that has frustrated me to watch. Like I mentioned above, by year 3, which would have been last year for him, we kinda know what he is, which is a tall physical corner, that lacks quickness and elite speed. That part is most likely not going to change (*FN 4). I am somewhat excited about the way that Coleman has bought in and he seems like a completely different player, just sort of embracing the opportunity and maybe seeing his senior year right in front of him has motivated him immensely.

Montana State is one of those teams that I’m not sure what we’ll see, but they have made improvements over the past two years. I’ve previously mentioned the Washington Huskie transfers at defensive line and I am sure that our friend Brian DonCarlos does not care when and if they played there, he still wants to beat any and all Huskies down (*FN 5). So you have Division I defensive linemen who just didn’t cut it at Washington and have transferred to Bozeman for hopefully greener pastures. It worked tremendously well for Bryce Sterk and it may work well for the others.

I really don’t have any idea what to expect from the MSU offense other than I think they’ll run a lot more than they’ll pass. They ran for over 3,000 yards last year and passed for a shade over 1,800. Of course that was with linebacker Troy Anderson at quarterback. There were 37 rushing touchdowns and just 8 passing touchdowns last year. I highlighted a receiver in the player profile, but that’s really the offensive player that has some pretty nice statistics who is returning. I’d expect that Montana State will just grind the heck out of the ball out of some spread formations and the running attack will be led by sophomore Isaiah Ifanse (5-10/202).

The offensive line is led by left tackle Mitch Brott, an all-FCS tackle, while the Bobcats return 4 offensive linemen, the only new player is freshman Zach Redd at center. You’d think that this will be a point of emphasis for McCann.

I don’t have meaningful any stats about redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Bauman, this is his first time where he’s really taking the reins of the offense, so this will be new for him. Bauman is a bigger quarterback, 6’7″ and 235, but I don’t get the idea that he’s going to be a statue back there, I think he’s probably decently athletic, but I don’t know if he’ll be the runner that Anderson was when he was under center last year.


FN 1. I think that depth is a concern most of the time at most positions, so this isn’t necessarily unique to the defense or linebacker or anywhere else.

FN 2. Just looking at the roster, there just aren’t a ton of guys that fit that 6-3/230 quick-twitch linebacker and pass rusher spot, but as of Monday, Matthews and Jeffers are the co-starters. I’ve thought that Riko Jeffers is probably the best stand-up pass rusher for quite some time and here we are

FN 3. You wonder how many smaller guys that Gibbs simply didn’t recruit because they didn’t fit his athletic profile. I know that cornerbacks are trending towards just being bigger, but if he never waivered from his profile, you’d think there would be some player that was maybe really fast and quick, but only 5-9, but would maybe be perfect for defending a slot receiver.

FN 4. If Smith plays at cornerback, that’s at least two sets of defensive coaches who feel that his best position is at cornerback, which probably tells us that maybe safety isn’t his best position and they just don’t have another spot for him.

FN 5. Brian received his undergraduate degree from Texas Tech and his graduate degree from Oregon, where the Oregon State Beavers and Washington Huskies, I believe, may be hated equally or very close in terms of rivals. Brian also loves puppy dogs and does not want to beat down actual Husky puppy dogs.
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Special Teams

I don’t have an opinion at all about the special teams. There are a few returning players, but people were brought here on scholarship, the staff recognizing the absolute need for competition and to simply get better possibly. And an opinion from me here is disingenuous and not accurate since I really haven’t seen any of them play. I don’t have anything valuable to add other than I hope they can play. We’ll hopefully not have any additional information next week, which would mean no punts and no field goals, the ultimate goal.

Keys to the Game

I don’t know that I’ll always do keys to the game after previewing like above, but there may be some additional thoughts that I think are critical to a win or success.

  • It would seem that the offensive line is going to have their hands full with the Washington Husky-esque defensive line or we’ll see how good they actually are. Absolutely critical will be how the team does at left tackle with the Terence Steele injury and whether or not they flip Travis Bruffy or just let him play and get comfortable at right tackle and then hopefully whoever takes Steele’s spot will be their best.
  • I think with the secondary that we’re looking at essentially two starting fives and they’ll rotate either freely. My thought is that they know that Big 12 offenses just go zoom zoom and having a real two-deep is something that’s as critical in the secondary and at the receiver group. Wells has made it an emphasis to say that he’ll play at least two-deep in the receiving corps and there’s no reason to think that it will be different in the secondary as well.
  • I am excited about year-two for Alan Bowman as I think he’ll be better. Wells says quite often that his footwork is one of the few things that needs work and I think that footwork only needs to be corrected when you don’t have the arm strength or quickness to set feet and let it fly. Personally, I think that Bowman is going to be fantastic and there is little doubt that we’re going to find out that his freshman year is no fluke and he’ll be one of the top three quarterbacks in the Big 12 and the rest of the country will wonder how they missed on him. For the season, the key for Bowman is to get the ball out quickly, don’t give them an opportunity to hit him at all. And he’s smart enough to spread the ball around, which is exactly what Yost wants to do.
  • I’m interested to see how Yost’s horizontal screen game translates into vertical passing yards. We saw quite a bit of that screen game with Neal Brown was the offensive coordinator. Yost’s plan is apparently different from the standpoint that they’ll utilize the wide receiver screens to force defenders to bite and when they do he’ll pop the top off of the defense and go deep. I’ll be interested to see how that works in practice. How many screens before he goes deep and what’s going to be the distribution ratio between that and those plays to the running backs, inside receivers, and tight ends.
  • One of the most popular offseason cliches are that the old defense wasn’t aggressive enough and this new defense is going to be the bee’s-knees with blitzes from all over the field and stunts and pressure and all sorts of fun stuff. And then the season rolls around and in practice it is much more different. The defensive coordinators realize that they can’t be as aggressive because they don’t have the personnel to do what they want to do and giving up big plays plague the aggressive defense. I don’t think that Keith Patterson will back down from doing what he’s done. Patterson failed quite miserably at West Virginia and a few years back and really didn’t have great success with Todd Graham at Arizona State. I’d love for someone to ask him what he’s learned between his last jaunt in the Big 12 and now and exactly what he’s implemented to be better? It seemed like Utah State was a proving ground for him, as he had capable players that knew how to implement his scheme and they weren’t afraid of failure as a defense, especially in the backfield. The key, I think, to Patterson’s defense are linebackers capable of making plays all over the field and Riko Jeffers and Jordyn Brooks are a terrific transition for him. Honestly, I think this group of linebackers are a pretty solid/great set of linebackers to inherit and am thinking particularly about Brooks and Jeffers. Brooks and Jeffers will make a ton of plays this year, I’m about as confident of that as I am that Bowman is going to be terrific at quarterback. The key? Linebackers must play terrifically for the Patterson defense to really excel.
  • Not a key to the game, but after the game, you won’t have your typical post-game thread. You’ll have community position grades, which is an idea that I gleamed from futbol or soccer and their post-matches. They’d do community player ratings and that would be too difficult with so many players, but positionally, we’ll go through each position, separating out wide receivers and inside receivers to go with tight ends and in the secondary, I separated out the cornerbacks and safety spots. I did not separate out the defensive ends and defensive tackles or offensive guards and tackles, that seemed too tedious. In any event, it is a Google form that you’ll complete, rating the players 1-10 with 1 best the worst grade and 10 being the best. The grades will continue from Saturday through Sunday and I’ll get the results from the player ratings and post it on Monday.
  • The uniform part that I normally do in the 7 Points Preview will be just a tweet that I’ll post during the week.

Game Prediction

* First Look . . . Montana State Bobcats vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
* Texas Tech Football Scratch Pad | Depth Chart Released
* What Does Success Look Like for Matt Wells in Year One?
* Montana State Preview – Week 1 | 23 Personnel Podcast – 105
* Using Analytics to Inform Gambling Picks – Week 1
* Staff & Community Predictions 2019: Montana State
* What’s new in Lubbock? | An Interview with Lubbock in the Loop

I have a ton of questions about the Montana State offense, so it’s really difficult to give a big opinion there. With that being said, traditionally, Texas Tech has done quite well against FCS opponents: a 77-0 win over Lamar last year; a 56-10 win over Eastern Washington in 2017; a 69-17 win over SFA in 2016; and the one recent stinker was a 59-45 win over Sam Houston St. in 2015. Sam Houston St. ended up being the #3 team in all of FCS in 2015 so they were very good. Montana State is the preseason #14 team in FCS, so they’ll be quite good as well. I still think that Texas Tech’s offense will out-pace MSU by a decent margin. The line is Texas Tech -25 and I’ll take Texas Tech to win by 25.


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