The Result :: Not What I Expected: I'll be honest, I thought that the Nebraska offense would show up just a bit and that never happened. You can certainly credit the Texas Tech defense, as this group made plays all day long, but the Nebraska offense needs some help. In terms of the offense, I never expected Nebraska to out-gain the Red Raiders (259 to 285), again, credit needs to go to that Nebraska defensive line that was simply unbelievable. The offensive line continues to be decimated by injury and will need to improve moving forward, but they held it together, especially when I thought that the Red Raiders needed a touchdown to secure the win. Taking 5:00 minutes off the clock.
Let's get to the storylines and the MVP's after the jump.
The Storylines ::
Making Big Plays: The very first drive was a microcosm of the entire game. QB Steven Sheffield completed 18 yards worth of passes to WR Alexander Torres and then bad things started to happen. A false start and Sheffield taking a sack led Texas Tech to have to make a play on 3rd and 13. Sheffield completes one of the highlight catches of my life to WR Lyle Leong for 34 yards. The Red Raiders now have a first down and Sheffield promptly gets sacked for 10 yards and Texas Tech then faces a 3rd and 17 only to have WR Detron Lewis catch a pass for 22 yards. What looked to be a simple screen pass to RB Baron Batch sealed the drive (his skip into the endzone reminded me a bit of Eric Morris - shoutout) as the Nebraska defenders just could get around to catching Batch get to the pylon.
This team faced adversity almost the entire game, or at least it looked that way from where I was watching the game, but responded at just about each and every call. It may have been the offense at times, it may have been the defense at times, and it may have been the special teams at times.
At the end of the day, this team is a team of hard-working individuals and they are a team . . . collectively, they work together.
This was probably expressed better than I've ever seen this before in LAJ's Don Williams post-game discussion with defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill:
"One night during fall camp,’’ defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said, "(running back) Baron Batch got up and he says, ‘We had some great players last year — Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Louis Vasquez, Brandon Williams. This year, it’s more about the Double-T — what’s on our chest and not necessarily the names on our back. Nothing against those guys. We love those guys. But this team is more worried about not letting the other guy down.’’
The Raiders are working all the angles.
The last couple of weeks, they’ve voted on captains based on what have you done for me lately?
This week, you watch, they’re going to elect a sideline captain.
"If you participated in sports, having your teammates cheer for you is a big, big deal, and we make a big deal out of it,’’ McNeill said. "Our kids take pride in it. We travel some guys right now who, they know they’re not going to play one second. They know their job is to come, go through pre-game and cheer the team on.’’
So McNeill’s eyes lit up when I asked if that means he’s going to arrange a vote for a sideline captain.
"That’s a good idea,’’ he said. "I’m going to take it to the boss.’’
I've noticed Karam and Barbee being involved on the sidelines, which is a surprise since Barbee has seen little to no time this year and Karam can be expected not to see a snap all year. But I have no doubt that these guys love their school, and despite not participating, they may be this team's biggest cheerleaders and there's something about that sort of attitude that makes me love this team even more.
Dominating Defense: As mentioned above, Nebraska had their own problems on offense, but to simply point to that would not be fair to the Texas Tech defensive unit. Ruffin McNeill and his unit kept Nebraska to 70 yards rushing and 215 yards passing. When the game was still relatively close the Red Raider defense allowed only 37 yards in their first 4 possessions (one of those being the fumble return for a touchdown). The next possession was Nebraska's best possession as they drove 11 plays and 74 yards, only to be limited to a field goal. With first and goal from the Texas Tech 10 yard line, Nebraska could only manage 3 plays to get to the Texas Tech 4 yard line. Perhaps this was a situation where the defense was a bit tired, but truthfully, limiting Nebraska to a field goal on their first 5 possessions is success.
This is a successful day: 5 tackles for a loss (all being sacks), 1 fumble return for a touchdown, 1 interception, and 7 pass break-ups. That's making plays all over the field. From the defensive line that was able to pressure QB Zac Lee to the defensive backs that were able to cause 7 Nebraska incompletions to a return for the touchdown.
DE's Brandon Sharpe and Rajon Henley (we'll get to D. Howard below) were huge yesterday and I still go back to the ideal that Sharpe, Henley and Howard may not be the most talented bunch, but they'll sure as hell out-work you. And for those of you who complain about McNeill not blitzing and being creative enough, I'd suggest that you watch Howard for the game as he was all over the place prior to the snap in the Joker position and the defensive line as a whole did a tremendous job of creating a pocket and containing Lee. Howard was instrumental in ensuring that there were few gaps for Lee to run after the ball was snapped. McNeill deserves a ton of credit for turning around a defense in such a short period of time after Setencich was let go. That's not to say that this Texas Tech defense has arrived, but I do think it's appropriate to say that this defense is leaps and bounds better than where it was in 2007.
Captain Mike Leach acknowledged the defense in his post-game thoughts:
On if the defensive performance on the day ranks high in his career coaching at Texas Tech: "I think so. I think it does for a couple reasons, and I think one reason it does is because, like I said, when things weren't really going our way, we were losing yards on offense as quick as we were gaining them for a period of time out there, and our defense just stepped up over and over. We tested them in about every way we could. Bad field position, good return on the punt or the kickoff, offense gets a three and out, then another three and out, when you think of this defense when you've got to make it happen, they just kept stepping up. I thought it was a real credit to our D-line, which is a real quick unit. Really I thought both D-lines had a pretty big day."
Offensive Line Woes: When LT Terry McDaniel went down with an apparent knee injury I became incredibly nervous. McDaniel has been a steadying influence along the offensive lines and you guys talked about it in the game-day and post-game threads. Perhaps all of the injuries and suspension along the offensive lines create a situation where this unit will be much better off in 2010 as guys have to pick each other up, but as woeful as Nebraska was on offense in the 1st half, the Texas Tech offense wasn't good in the 2nd half, sans 1 drive. Other than the touchdown drive, Texas Tech managed only 46 yards on 5 drives and time of possession of only 4:22 in the 3rd quarter. Credit the Nebraska pressure defense that rattled Sheffield early and often in the second half. For the day, Nebraska had 8 quarterback hurries and 5 sacks for the day, in addition to 13 tackles for a loss. Whether or not the offensive line wasn't 100% or not, this must change and I'm sure that OL coach Moore will address this issue during the week.
The Nebraska defense looked a lot like the Texas Tech defense in that they rushed their front 4 almost all day. The biggest difference between what I saw against Nebraska and what Oklahoma did against Texas, was that the Sooners were stunting and blitzing all over the place. I don't know that this line will see another line as talented and strong as Nebraksa, but OU is going to be incredibly tough.
Leach Thoughts: I'm guessing that Leach was in a good mood after yesterday's win and it showed in some of his comments after the game. There's really no point to any of this other than to highlight some of the more quotable portions.
When Leach was asked about how whether there was any doubt the team would respond in the second half, he had this to say about his defense:
"We have blackshirts there at Texas Tech too. Every one of our guys is wearing a black shirt underneath their pads. I'm proud to say the blackshirts won this one."
I'm not sure if Leach knew before the game that Pelini gave out the blackshirts to 13 of his defensive players yesterday, but if he did, then this was both smart and thoughtful way to convey to his team that they play pretty damned good defense too.
When asked about Sheffield's performance and some of the pressure he faced on Saturday:
"He got a lot of pressure,’’ Leach said. "He generated some for himself, too. There were a couple of them where he’d go back there and run in a circle, run in a circle and look up and then there’s two guys there. I wasn’t real cranked about that. I wanted him to throw the ball and hit some fat guy in the stands. That didn’t consistently happen. We had a conversation on that.’’
What percentage of college coaches use the word "cranked"?
When asked about whether or not it was important to score on Texas Tech's first possession, Leach launches into a bit about Sheffield and the money quote is at the end:
"I think it's really important, and I think (Sheffield) was really instrumental in that. I think he does a great job just with the whole team. He is one of our captains this week. He was really instrumental in having all of our guys excited to play. Then he went over there and kind of put his money where his mouth is or whatever. That's basically one of the worst cliches I've used in a long time, I'm usually better at making them up."
Kickoff Woes: No one takes more special teams grief than K Donnie Carona, and I'd be more than happy to learn that the short kickoffs were part of the game play, but for the game, Carona only averaged 54 yards a kickoff. That's about kicking it off to the 15 to 20 yard line. I'm surprised that Special Teams coach Russell has been so forgiving of Carona and it took one punt for Carona to get the boot as the punter, but field position is a big part of the game and I'd really just like to see Carona be more consistent.
Contrarian MVP's :: Due to the strange nature of this game, I thought that this week's MVP's should be a little different too.
The Offensive MVP :: DE Daniel Howard: The conventional offensive MVP would have been WR Detron Lewis, who had 5 catches for 100 yards or Steven Sheffield for leading the Red Raiders to a win on the road against a ranked opponent. But these are contrarian MVP's. Howard had the longest play of the game, 82 yards, returning a fumble and putting Texas Tech ahead for the game. Who would have thought that Howard's play would have been the one to put Nebraska away for he game, but it was.
The Defensive Co-MVP's :: FS Franklin Mitchem and SS Cody Davis: The convention defensive MVP would have to be DE Brandon Sharpe, who had 7 tackles, 4 sacks and broke up 1 pass. Incredible game, just absolutely incredible. But the contrarian MVP goes to the two safety-mates in Davis and Mitchem. I thought Mitchem's support in and around the line of scrimmage was absolutely tremendous, and then to top it off, he snagged an interception. Davis' hit on that 3rd down that caused the Nebraska player to drop a sure catch was tremendous. That kid can play. One last thing about Mitchem and Davis, and someone please tell me if I'm wrong, but has Texas Tech been burned deep thus far this year? It's a testament to DB coach Mainord, but it's also a testament to the guys in the program.
The Special Teams MVP :: SS Brett Dewhurst: In addition to getting a ton of playing time as the nickel and dime defensive back, he also had 4 special teams tackles for the day. A convention MVP would have been K Matthew Williams, who hit a field goal for 32 yards and all of his extra points, or P Ryan Erxleben, who has no idea he's a freshman, punting in a hostile environment.