In many respects, I think this year's Texas Tech team is living in the shadow of the 2008 team. A lot of expectations, and everyone wants them to get it done in the same way. Call it the sophomore slump, the little brother syndrome, whatever. Until they find their identity and learn to be their own team, they will continue to live in the shadow of 2008.
Sometimes you have to tear things down to build them up again. The last couple of weeks have been about tearing down. Lets take a look at where the Red Raiders need to start to build, and where they just might find their identity.
I think that the root of everyone's frustration this year lies in the performance of the offense. For the past several years, Tech has lit up the scoreboard. This year, the offense has seemed anemic by comparison. The basis of Leach's offense is to take advantage of the space provided by the defense - get the ball in the hands of one of the skill players in space and let him make a play. In a sense, I think we departed from that a little last year because of the talents of a few individuals allowed Tech to be successful in a more traditional football way - by taking advantage of mismatches in talent and over-powering the other team.
The QB sneak is a perfect example of attempting to overpower the opponent. In theory, the offense, with the line in a traditional hand-on-the-ground stance, is able to take advantage of knowing when the ball will be snapped, gain leverage on the defense, and overpower the defense to move the ball. We do not practice overpowering anyone. We practice taking advantage of what is given. Finding the soft spot in the zone, taking advantage of man coverage on the outside, handing the ball off when the defense drops more than 4 men in coverage.
It is time to get back to the fundamentals of the system.
1. Avoid turnovers. They have plagued us so far this year. For the love of God, PLEASE hold onto the ball. We can't continue to beat ourselves. Enough said.
2. Relax and play as a unit. It would be really easy for this group to be distracted and uncomfortable together - new QB, Brandon Carter back in the line-up after a suspension, o-line struggling in general, and receivers struggling in their routes and catching the ball. It's the monkey on their backs, the effect of trying too hard and thinking too much, and one guy trying to do it all. Take some tips from Bull Durham if you have to - wear a garter and breath through your eyelids. Trust yourself and the guy next to you to do his job, and everything will be OK.
my left eyelid is jammed
3. Let Batch and Jeffers lead the charge. As I said in the review of last weeks game, our backfield is where the playmakers are this year. Take advantage of what they give you - check to Baron Batch in the run when the numbers are in our favor. Get the ball to Harrison Jeffers in space and let them make plays. If we rely on these guys to start making some plays, it will help relieve some of the pressure from everyone else and open up other things.
1. 3rd and long. Being a primarily a running team, I expect that we will see K-State in 3rd down situations many times on Saturday. They have one of the highest number of 3rd down conversion attempts in the country. They have converted 37%. Tech should be able to get some stops on 3rd down, especially if we can get to 3rd and 5 or more. A lot of 3rd and 2's, and this will turn into a slug-fest on the line, and our defense will be on the field for a long time. This was Nebraska's game plan last year, and we narrowly escaped.
2. Stop the run. Kansas State runs the ball as many times a game as Tech passes it. If we let them keep to their 4 yrd/carry average, they will do it all day and wear us down. 1st down will be especially key so that we can get to 3rd and long (see above). We have to stop the run and force them to pass the ball more. Our d-line has been pretty good so far against the run, but they haven't been tested like this. This game is one where the depth at DT will pay off.
Colby Whitlock - This is your chance
3. Contain Brandon Banks. K-State does not throw the ball much, by Big XII standards (15 receptions/game). But when they do, Banks is their #1 target. He accounts for 30% of their total receptions, yards, and averages more than 12.5 yds/reception. He is small and quick. Think Dexter McCluster of Ol' Miss from last year's Cotton Bowl and try not to have nightmares. KSU is not entirely one-dimensional in receiving, but we don't need to make it easy on them.
Again, coverage is going to be the key. The KSU offense is not terribly efficient yet, and we have the home field. If we force them to go the distance, our bend but don't break strategy will pay off because the Wildcats will stall. The secret lies in the first part: make them go the distance.