The seat under coach Kliff is getting a warm out in Lubbock. After four seasons he's 24-26, coming off a 5-7 season. Is this a make or break year for Kingsbury? Can Tech get back to winning football? Can things get worse? Let's discuss.
Texas Tech will be better...
Believe in David Gibbs. Texas Tech's defense has been the punching bag of the Big 12 for three seasons now. Tech hans't ranked better than 125th in the FBS in total defense in three years. In Kingsbury's first season Tech was 85th in total defense - not great, but not wet paper bag bad like we've seen since 2014. Enter David Gibbs. These last two seasons have been by far his worst in his coaching career. At Houston in 2014 Gibbs' unit was 20th in the FBS in total defense. A 60 spot improvement over 2013. Gibbs is a veteran hand, having coached at every level, including the NFL with the Chiefs and Texans. The situation he inherited at Texas Tech was rough, he's spent two years trying to dig the Red Raiders out, this season there should be some light at the end of the tunnel.
Nik Shimonek won't miss a beat. Kingsbury will be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time in three seasons. Tech quarterbacks have a birthright that includes being at or near the top of the FBS in passing yardage and touchdowns. It's death and taxes stuff. How do you replace a 5,000 yard passer? With another one. Nik Shimonek has looked the part when he's spelled Patrick Mahomes and dare we say he may do some things better that Mahomes. While he lacks Mahomes extraterrestrial arm skill, Shimonek has better mechanics and perhaps because of his non-alien arm, he's not as cavalier with the football. Shimonek should carry on as most other Tech quarterbacks and light up the scoreboard.
Tech's Receivers are Stacked. The Red Raiders return their usual assortment of receiving options including game breaker Keke Coutee. The sophomore from Lufkin finished second in receiving yards behind OU's Dede Westbrook. The rangier Dylan Cantrell returns as well at 6-3. He caught eight touchdowns in 2016. Cameron Batson also returns after finishing second on the team with 60 catches and making strides this offseason. Derrick Willies is back as well, the Red Raiders expected more out of Willies due to his physical gifts, but he's underperformed. Maybe 2017 is the year he shows out.
Texas Tech will be worse...
Something doesn't feel right. Call it intuition or perhaps some gastrointestinal issue but something feels wrong with Tech program. The spring defections, which aren't isolated to Tech certainly, seem to have bigger implications. Last season Texas Tech's loss to Iowa State seems important as well. There's no way that a team with a first round quarterback and the rest of the talent on the Red Raider roster should go to Ames and let the Cyclones drop 66 nor allow just ten. Texas Tech quit. While the Red Raiders rebounded with a win over Baylor, the 2016 team seemed to rot from the inside. This off-season, arguably their best defensive lineman and receiver both left for new starts. Not grad transfer starts, but sit out a year to start over starts. Kingsbury's staff decisions, firing line coach Lee Hays in January after early enrollees arrived telling Co-defensive Coordinator Mike Smith and cornerbacks coach Kevin Curtis at the beginning of the 2014 that they were going to be relieved of their duties at the end of the season, are odd ways to handle business. Something just doesn't feel right about Tech's program.
Tech's defensive front will struggle. Texas Tech's defensive front is a weakness. In the Big 12, for all its offensive goodness, if you can't stop the run you're sunk. Notre Dame transfer Kolin Hill returns as the most productive defensive line contributor from 2016. Broderick Washington, and Joe Wallace look to step up on the inside of the defensive front, neither had any real impact on the 2016 season. The transfer of Breiden Fehoko doesn't factor as strongly as some might think. In our opinion, Fehoko did squash many grapes, certainly never living up to his recruiting billing. That's the story of Tech's defensive line, there's talent, but individually or as a collective they've never produced. That won't change in 2017.
Tech can't or won't run. We are firm believers that if you want to win in this day and age of spread concepts and Air Raids, you still need to run the football. Kliff Kingsbury may not subscribe to this belief. He was on record last season saying that if Tech couldn't run the ball, they'd just throw it all the time. Whether Tech makes a choice not to run the ball or whether Tech just isn't built to run the football is up for debate. When Kingsbury has been intentional about running the football, the results haven't been bad. Against TCU this season, on the road, Tech rushed a season best 49 times and won 27-24. Six times the Red Raiders attempted less than 30 rushes. They averaged less than four yards a carry on the year. In 2015, when Tech rushed for 200 plus yards, they went 6-1. We'd like to apply that same analysis to the 2016 season but Tech didn't rush for 200 yards in any game in 2016. They got close once, with 196 yards against Louisiana Tech. Once.
They may not have much more production in 2017. Their best offensive lineman from 2016, Baylen Baker is gone to graduation. Arguably their second best lineman Tony Morales may not start in 2017, at least initially. Their best lineman may actually be a true freshman Jack Anderson who is slated to start at right tackle. Their isn't a wealth of talent returning, nor is their an influx of new talent or perhaps more importantly a change in philosophy. Whether Tech isn't able to run the ball or doesn't emphasize it, that's a problem.