I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested.
Id like to think that if I was, I would pass.
--The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Reflecting on the Kansas State game, I keep wondering how much skepticism Tech dispelled, despite winning by 30 points on the road. I expected a much closer game, and so I find myself asking is Texas Tech really that good, or was KSU really that bad?
Going into the game, I honestly thought that KSU, based on prior seasons, would be a fairly good team. However, leading into this weekend, they posted a fairly modest victory over U-La-La, lost to what looks to be a mediocre Louisville team, and beat up on North Texas and Montana State – both of which are only marginally better than most high school programs. Last week the Bring on the Cats contributors were brutally honest about the state of the Wildcat program this year. Though Tech dominated the scoreboard and showed some flashes on defense, I am not sure that this game was the litmus test that it was supposed to be (I would like to see K-State play Nevada).
My impression of the Offense:
In general, the Tech offense seemed to click better this game; however, I think that was party due to the Kansas State defense operating more out of fear of the Tech offense than having any real game plan. At the start of the game, Kansas Sate was playing a 4-3 in a very soft cover 2, which Tech exploited for 3 straight running plays for 35 yards. I think the last time Tech opened with 3 running plays, Rob Peters was the starting QB and Ricky Williams was in the backfield. If they went for 35 yards, it was probably against North Texas. According to BOTC, this is not the defense that KSU had run in their previous games, and it showed.
On the next two offensive drives, KSU gave the same look, but then brought the strong safety up when Tech set their formation. The run didn’t work quite as well after that, but Harrell recognized what they were doing pretty quickly and went to the pass. KSU changed defensive strategies again and began blitzing on every play for a stretch, leaving the Tech receivers 1-1 for plenty of YAC.
Positives: 5 sustained drives used up almost 28 minutes of clock, 0 sacks, the offensive line was able to recognize the blitz, good recognition by Harrell of what the defense was doing, Harrell moved around just enough to avoid the worst of the pass rush, still over 100 yards on the ground, ore receivers involved than I could count, and we actually ran a successful hand-off with Harrell under center.
Negatives: Though Harrell was never sacked and the offensive line did at least acknowledge the blitz and make contact with the defenders, I noticed that Harrell was doing a lot of back-peddling in the pocket. Texas or OU would have dropped him for at least three 10 yard losses and probably a fumble for a touchdown. Even when K-State abandoned the blitz, there was a lot more push from the K-State defensive line than I would like to see. Perhaps Vazquez and Reed are not fully recovered yet, but let’s hope they get there soon.
It may have been a function of the back-peddling, but Harrell did not do a good job of planting his feet and stepping into his throws all day. Harrell was lucky not to have thrown any picks on Saturday, but then again he never needed to throw the ball more than about 12 yards. If he ever needs to beat any other DBs downfield, he’s going to have to step up and deliver the ball, even if it means taking a hit. If he keeps trying to throw with just his arm, every defense in the conference is going to have a field day for INTs. He also made me nervous when he threw the ball while rolling out with a defender hanging on his jersey. The completion was lucky. It was a dumb throw, though. He should have thrown it away. That would have been fumble #2 against Texas or OU.
I also recall 3-4 drops that I’m sure Leach is talking to his receivers about today.
My impression of the Defense:
I have been skeptical of the Tech defense because of the (lack of) pass coverage. After seeing this game, I think it has to do with the scheme being called from the sideline more than the players not making the plays. Since K-State had already resigned themselves on defense, their only hope on offense was to try and make the game a shoot out. I know K-state put up a lot of points against North Texas, but come on – did they really think that was how they wanted to play Tech? Apparently so. So while overall the defensive effort looked good, I’m not sure that pass-pass-pass is what KSU is best at. They have a pro-style QB that is best at running a pro-style offense, not running a west coast offense. There’s an old saying about not changing horses mid-stream. I think this also shows a lack of a solid game plan by KSU, and it did not play to their strengths.
The Tech defense started out the game playing the run with the corners 10 yards off the line, and K-State came out passing. Fortunately on their 2nd drive, K-state dropped the ball on 3rd and 8, forcing a punt. The Tech defense gets some credit there for forcing Freeman out of the pocket, but I thought the pass should have been caught. On their 3rd drive, K-State received a gift after Tech failed to convert on 4th and inches from its own 29. I won’t discuss the decision to go for it here. KSU comes out passing again and Tech is still playing the run. 4 plays later they score.
After 3 series in which 60% of the plays run by KSU were passes, Tech finally adjusts and starts playing the pass. The corners started playing tighter, and the d-line was unleashed to try and pressure the QB instead of plug holes. The result was 3 straight punts by K-State (would have been 3 straight 3-and-outs were it not for a sideline infraction).
In the second half, up by 24 points, Tech reverted to playing the same coverage as at the start of the game, but continued to allow the defensive line to pressure the QB. Other than 1 off-sides by Whitlock, the defense also did a great job of not beating themselves. They only gave up 1 TD in the second half (though I am not sure how impressive that is, given the quality of the K-State play) and seemed to be content to let K-State beat themselves by burning the clock.
Positives: DBs showed the ability to play tighter coverage, pressuring the pass with only the front 4, no stupid penalties, held a good QB to under 50% completion and 21 points (7 of those were practically a gift from the offense), d-line was able to get off their blocks and make plays.
Negatives: it took 3 series for Tech to adjust their coverage, Wall continues to get picked on, failed to stop the long drive after halftime, overplay by the front 4 - in a different situation this might invite the screen. I also think that Colt McCoy will exploit this if he comes out of the Texas-OU game in one piece.
It is hard to say how Tech might have faired had K-state mixed in the run on their 3rd and 4th series in first half as they did in the second half, chewing up clock and keeping the Tech offense off the field. Other teams have used this technique effectively against Tech in the past. While I know that the defense had shifted mostly to prevent at this point and they were rotating in a lot of newbies, I don’t understand not employing the pass coverage that was successful in putting the game away in the first half. Seriously. KSU was down by 24 points. It is obvious that the only hope K-State has is to pass their way back into the game. While things worked out OK in the end, it is better for your offense to be running out the clock when you are ahead, not the opposing team. There were 30 minutes left in the game, not 30 seconds when they reverted to prevent coverage. Continue to do what worked and get them off the field. The coverage scheme has to do with what is being called in from the sideline and not with the players on the field failing to execute. So I guess I will quit being so hard on the players and direct my ire towards McNeil when I am yelling at the TV in the future (come on you do it, too).
My Impression of Special teams.
Positives: Corona made a FG.
Negatives: In general, they were HORRIBLE. It is obvious that Leach has ZERO confidence in the special teams. People have suggested that it is the kicker/punter. I think it is coverage. They were terrible. I’m not sure what the average starting point was for K-state, but it had to be close to the 40 on kickoff, and there was the blocked punt for a TD. If punt coverage is as bad as kickoff coverage, kicking into a 30+ mph wind with 4th and inches to go and the propensity to give up the block, I might go for it as well. This will cause us to loose a game if something dramatic doesn’t happen to turn it around.
A pretty clean game by Tech standards, penalty wise. No turnovers. The players seem to be executing well, which is what you want in this type of game. My impression of KSU is that they are well short of their prime. BOTC was right – they are realistically looking at a 5-7 year. With this in mind, I don’t think I know any more about where Tech should really fit into the rankings than I did last week. KSU is only marginally better than Iowa State and Baylor, and probably on par with A&M this year. Nebraska seems to be in about the same place, so I think Tech’s first real test will be Kansas.