Texas Tech Season Preview: Defenseless

The saying goes you can't go home again and for Kliff Kingsbury, that's been the case. On the field. Off the field, Kingsbury still has the touch. He's good looking, a heck of a dancer, and a draw on car wash mixers in Bristol. But on the field the results have turned. The Red Raiders have been an offensive juggernaut, scoring on 52% of their possessions in 2016. On the other hand their defense allowed points on 51% of their opponents possessions. 

Kingsbury has tried to do things with a stated, unorthodox approach of basically abandoning the rushing game in part to keep up with the dumpster fire that was his defense: i.e. you have to score and keep scoring because your opponent is going to be unabated. But also because Kingsbury, like his mentor Mike Leach, doesn't feel the need to try to artificially achieve offensive balance. The result is an offense that goes up and down the field but also never gives their defense any respite. Whether Kingsbury will focus on the rushing attack is doubtful. He can't afford to wait on his defense to become serviceable. 

David Gibbs was brought into fix Tech's defense. Three years in and that hasn't happened. Given Gibbs history and success in the game, the problem isn't X's and O's, it seems to fall on the Jimmy's and Joe's. The Red Raiders needed to upgrade personnel.  Tech did so by raiding the JUCO ranks to field a group of mercenary defensive players. It's a gamble, but perhaps the best idea on the board. Tech hasn't recruited enough top defensive talent to raise itself and they haven't developed the lesser known players. The quick fix is the play. Whether a unit with nine transfers on the two-deep can succeed will be answered in a about a month. 

Key Numbers

Scoring Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown Drive % (Big 12 Rank) Scoring Drives % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) Touchdown % Allowed (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down % (Big 12 Rank) 3rd Down Defense (Big 12 Rank) Turnover Margin (Big 12 Rank) Total Adjusted Run Rate (Big 12 Rank)
52% (2) 43% (2) 51% (10) 42% (10) 52% (1) 43% (7) -4 (7) -2.674 (127)
  • Scoring Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in points.
  • Touchdown Drive %: Percentage of offensive drives that end in touchdowns. 
  • Scoring Drives % Allowed: Percentage of drives allowed that ended in points. 
  • Touchdown % Allowed: Percentage of opponent's drives that end in a touchdown. 
  • 3rd Down %: Offensives success on 3rd down. 
  • 3rd Down Defense %: Can a defense get off the field.
  • Turnover Margin: Total number of giveaways minus total number of takeaways. 
  • Total Adjusted Run Rate: Taking the national average of yards per carry and yards allowed per carry and comparing that to the relative team. Teams that end up with a plus Total Adjusted Run Rate average 8.4 wins per year. Teams with a negative Total Adjusted Run Rate average 5.5 wins per season. The top 20 teams in Total Adjusted Run Rate Averaged 9.7 wins per season over a five year period. 

Quarterbacks

Nic Shimonek

Nic Shimonek

Texas Tech's offense has never suffered from inexperience at the quarterback position. If anything the Red Raiders' offense has been plug and play. The best thing you can do to replace a 5,000 yard passer like Patrick Mahomes is go and get yourself another one. Nic Shimonek looks like he can be that guy. 

In a very small sample size Shimonek fit right in. After Mahomes went down with an injury Shimonek guided the Red Raider offense without a hitch against Kansas. He completed 71% of his passes for 271 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. On the season, Shimonek completed 65% of passes with six touchdowns to just one pick, albeit in just 58 attempts. Shimonek isn't going to be wowed by the spotlight, he went from Melissa High School to Iowa and after a year in Iowa City he transferred to Tech. While awaiting his chance to play and a scholarship, he made ends meet by refinishing furniture.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury calls him the hardest working guy on the team. That bodes well for the Red Raiders who have often used lesser talented quarterbacks than Shimonek to put up lots of numbers and lots of wins. 

If anything happens to Shimonek things could get dicey. McLane Carter transferred into Tech from Tyler Junior College after a very successful high school career at Gilmer. Then there's the very talented Xavier Martin from Cibolo Steele. Martin enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Ideally Martin would be ripe for a position change to receiver and potentially a redshirt. That may depend on the status of Tech's highly regarded quarterback recruit from 2o16, Jett Duffy. Duffy was found responsible for two counts of sexual misconduct by the University and suspended. His suspension is set to lift by late August. Whether he can be counted on to contribute will be determined at that time.

Running Backs

Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive innovator, so much so that he eschews the running game. He doesn't really care whether his team runs the ball particularly well, he just wants his team to move the ball. Well, mission accomplished. Tech didn't run the ball worth a damn in 2016, the aerial circus was uninterrupted, and the Red Raiders didn't go to a bowl game.

Enter the 2017 Red Raiders, will things be different? Does it matter to Kingsbury whether they are? Let's talk about some options, just in case. True freshman De'Leon Ward led the Red Raiders with 428 yards. Total. Ward carried just over a hundred times and showed flashes of the kind of player he can be: explosive and elusive. We'd just like to see more of him. 

Justin Stockton is a senior out of Cibolo Steele coming off his worst season at Tech. Every number was down from attempts to yards to yards per carry. His yards per carry fell off by almost four yards from his 2015 season and six yards from his 2014 pace. Stockton has always been an asset in the passing game, averaging 21 catches his last two seasons. He was the most complete back on Tech's roster heading into 2016, before his production fell off the Kliff. The diminutive DeMarcus Felton made a prime time push in 2016. He finished second on the team with 354 yards rushing.

Tech has needed a bigger option at running back for a few seasons now, with a couple of newcomers, the Red Raiders may have found those bigger models. JC transfer Desmond Nisby at 6-1, 235 pounds gives Tech such a bigger back. So does Iowa grad transfer Derrick Mitchell. Neither are currently listed on the Red Raider roster. They can create their own green grass with a physical, pounding, downhill approach. At least that's the hope. Otherwise, unless Tech's line play improves, the running game will look very much the same. Maybe that's the way Kingsbury wants it. 

Receivers

The Red Raiders never seem to be lacking for receiver talent or depth. Even with offseason defections by Jonathan Giles and Tony Brown, Tech has a lot of options on the edge. 

Keke Coutee

Keke Coutee

Keke Coutee was a revelation last season as a sophomore. With Giles gone, he moves up the food chain. Coutee is a game breaker who plays much bigger than his 5-11 frame. He caught 55 passes last year and seven touchdowns. Cameron Batson leads the returning Red Raider receivers with 61 catches. The senior from Oklahoma City caught 76% of his targets last year. He plays primarily on the inside and is also a dangerous return man. 

Dylan Cantrell is another 50+ reception man. He's a classic Red Raider possession receiver, but with a lankier frame. Tech fans are waiting for the arrival of Derrick Willies. At least the Derrick Willies they were promised last season. The number one JUCO receiver in the country never got off the ground due to injuries and inconsistent play. He's the most physically imposing of the Tech receivers, now he has to produce. Willies came out of the spring as the listed starter at "X" receiver.

Redshirt Sophomore Quan Shorts caught five passes last season in limited duty. Another JUCO mystery man, De’Quan Bowman, should get into the rotation as well. He was recruited by Arizona, Georgia, Arkansas, West Virginia, California and Wisconsin out of Hutchison Community College, however his first season at Tech he was a scout team performer. 

6-6 T.J. Vasher looked to be a contributor last season but was lost for eleven games due to injury. He was redshirted and, given his size, should be a matchup problem. Senior Zach Austin from Lake Travis should get some playing time as well, who knows, he may be another 50 catch player. Tech seems to grow them on trees. 

Offensive Line

Last seasons Tech's pass happy offense allowed 30 sacks, 85th in the FBS. When it came to running ball, the Red Raiders averaged just 3.2 yards a carry, bad enough to rank 123rd in the country. Can Tech's offensive line made significant strides in 2017? There's reason for optimism. 

Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson

Texas Tech may have found something in true freshman Jack Anderson. Anderson, from Frisco, is the highest regarded lineman signed by Tech in some time. The Red Raiders feel so strongly about Anderson's ability that he's set to start at right guard. Pick a big time program, including several SEC schools, and they all recruited Anderson.

Redshirt sophomore Madison Akamnonu started seven games at guard last season. He's in place at the other guard position provided he fully recovers from offseason back surgery. Backs are not to be trifled with. If not Long Beach City transfer Jacob Hines will get first crack.  

At tackle Terence Steele is solid at right tackle. There were talks of moving him to the left side, but for now new line coach Brandon Jones wants to keep him on the right. The left side will be manned by sophomore Travis Bruffy who's added 30 pounds and transitioned from tight end. If his added weight doesn't effect his ability to move, he should be a plus athlete at the position. 

At center the Red Raiders have Paul Stawarz starting after the spring. He's supplanting Tony Morales who's missed four seasons due to injury and will be in his seventh season in Lubbock. Morales can also play guard and he's a steadying force on the line and in the locker room. 

Defensive Line

In the aftermath that was Texas Tech's 2016 season the defense was a smoldering wreck. The offseason didn't help as Tech lost the biggest recruit of the Kingsbury era, Breiden Fehoko, to transfer. While Fehoko's hype never translated, he started every game in his Tech career. Ondre Pipkins graduated, leaving Tech with a void in the center of its defense. The Red Raider coaching staff has cycled through four defensive line coaches in Kingsbury's tenure with Terrance Jamison taking over this season for Kevin Patrick. 

The Red Raider will look to improve on last years results with Broderick Washington at defensive tackle. The Longview native transitioned from offensive to defensive line his first two years in Lubbock and now he's counted on to hold down the middle of the defense.  He'll get help at the other tackle slot from senior Mychealon Thomas. Thomas is a load at 326 pounds and is a classic gap occupier. 

Zach Barnes and Joe Wallace will provide depth inside. Barnes is undersized at 250, but he can get upfield. Wallace, out of Skyline, played a lot as a true freshman. 

At end Kolin Hill returns after eleven starts in 2016. The Notre Dame transfer is the leading returning tackler among defensive linemen with fifteen. He also added three tackles for loss. North Texas transfer Eli Howard exits the spring as the starter at the other end. He sat out last year after transferring. The versatile Taylor Nunez will see time at defensive end as well. He's been primarily a special teams contributor until this season. Kolin's brother Kaleb Hill a Boise transfer is listed as a backup at defensive end as well. He sat out last season due to the NCAA's transfer rules. 

Tech signed one defensive lineman in the 2017 class, Nelson Mbanasor. With Tech's numbers and experience issues, he will get a shot to contribute. 

Linebackers

Dakota Allen was kicked off Tech's squad in May of 2016, spent last season at Last Chance U, aka East Mississippi Community College, and re-signed with the Red Raiders in February. All that and he's the starting Will linebacker heading into fall camp. Allen was the second leading tackler on the team in 2015.

As a true freshman Jordyn Brooks led the Red Raiders in tackles and was named to the All-Big 12 Freshman team as well as Honorable Mention All-Big 12. Brooks, out of Houston Stratford, returns to the middle having gotten his weight up to 24o pounds. 

Fellow true freshman Brayden Stringer backs up Allen. Stringer had a lot of reps as a special teamer in 2016. At 5-9, Devonte Hinton is under tall but girthy at 230 pounds. The junior from Texas City is a thumper and plays well in traffic. Butler CC transfer Tony Jones will get a chance to contribute early. He was sought after by Louisville and Baylor among others. 

Tech's linebackers will be under stress as the front four is undergoing a massive restructuring. 

Secondary

Texas Tech is really counting on an influx of JC transfers to fix its ills in the secondary. That's a dangerous proposition. Though it's probably a better plan than relying on the guys on campus. 

Jah'Shawn Johnson

Jah'Shawn Johnson

Jah'Shawn Johnson is back at safety after finishing second on the team in tackles as a sophomore and starting all twelve games. That's a good foundation. D.J. Polite-Bray is another piece of the puzzle at corner he made nine starts last season as a redshirt junior.

At the other corner Octavious Morgan comes to Lubbock via Butler JC. He had a number of Power 5 offers. Backing him up is the rangy Jaylon Lane from Independence JC. At the safety opposite Johnson is another JC newcomer Vaughnte Dorsey. Dorsey was ranked the eight best JUCO safety in America last year. He and junior Kisean Allen will battle for the starting nod. 

It's not that these JC players aren't talented or highly regarded, but when they're making up half your secondary it could be a huge problem. JC ball, while a better barometer than high school football, is not a one to one evaluative process. Tech will either be improved or continue to plunge down the statistical standings. Well, technically they don't have far to go. 

Specialists

Clayton Hatfield took fourteen attempts last season and missed just one, a forty yarder against Kansas State. Hatfield tied for fourth in the FBS is field goal percentage at 92%. He connected on a long of 51 yards as a freshman in 2015.

At punter Tech is hoping to get a better season out of junior punter Michael Barden. Barden averaged 38 yards a punt last season in 43 attempts. Barden located eleven punts inside the 20 and six inside the ten. 

Cameron Batson and Keke Coutee are capable return men. Coutee will be the featured receiver this year, so he may not get as many touches on special teams but if he does, he's dangerous. 

2017 Schedule

Best Case

The Red Raider offense does what it typically does and puts up video game numbers. David Gibbs and all the JUCO's form some semblance of a defense. The explosiveness of the Tech attack overwhelms the bottom half of the Big 12 and shocks one or two at the top. Seven wins. 

Worst Case

Circle Eastern Washington. Underline it. That's a dangerous team to open with. Then comes ASU who can still put up points. If the defense is typical of the Red Raider standard then four wins is the number and Kingsbury is gone. 

Eastern Washington Win

FCS opponent EWU is no push over. They can score on just about anybody. 

Don't be surprised if this turns out to be a shootout. 

Arizona State Win

The Sun Devils are a mess. Todd Graham, like Kingsbury is coaching for his job.

Last year's game was full of fireworks. Expect more of the same. 

@ Houston Loss

The Red Raiders first roadie is a good one. 

The Cougars will be ready and rowdy. 

Oklahoma State Loss

Big 12 play starts with a visit from top 5 ranked Okie State. 

This would be the time for David Gibbs to demonstrate some sort of defensive improvement. 

@ Kansas Win

As the Jayhawks have shown, trips to Lawrence can be tricky. 

Tech needs this one badly because conference wins are hard to find. 

@ West Virginia Loss

Morgantown isn't hospitable. 

The Mountaineers are on a three game winning streak vs. the Red Raiders. 

Iowa State Win

Tech gets a home W vs. the Cyclones. 

Last year Iowa State put an improbable 66 on the Red Raiders. 

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@ Oklahoma Loss

A brutal four game stretch starts in Norman. 

Baker Mayfield gets his last dose of revenge at the expense of his former team.

Kansas State Loss

Wizard Bill Snyder brings his Wildcats to Lubbock, one of the few places his teams have struggled. 

Key game for any shot at a bowl bid and to save Kingsbury's job. 

vs. Baylor (AT&T) Pick'em

The Bears are the biggest unknown in the league. 

This one turns into another classic Bear/Red Raider track meet. 

TCU Loss

Last year's stunner in Fort Worth notwithstanding, TCU should roll here. 

@ Texas Loss

The Red Raiders could be unwilling participants in the crowning of Tom Herman's first season in Austin. 

This could be Kliff Kingsbury's last game on the Red Raider sideline. 

Projection 4-8

The Roundup...

Posted on August 11, 2017 and filed under Texas Tech, Southwest Round-Up.