KEY 1: NEAL BROWN'S IDENTITY
This is perhaps the most exciting aspect of Saturday's game, which is we're going to find out very quickly what Neal Brown thinks of this offense and and some insight as to what his identity might be. This isn't to say that Neal Brown hasn't coached against some talented teams. This isn't to say that N. Brown hasn't ever seen a talented defense, but I doubt that N. Brown has had the athletes and skill positions that he currently has at Texas Tech available to him at Troy. N. Brown has a lot of options and I think we're going to see whether or not N. Brown is going to try to dictate the offense to Texas DC Will Muschamp, or whether or not Muschamp is going to force N. Brown into some bad offensive play calling. If I'm N. Brown, I do what this offense does best, which is keeping opposing defenses off balance. I'd love to say that I'm 100% confident that N. Brown is going to out-smart Muschamp, but this has to be a huge opportunity for Brown. I'm just hoping that he doesn't over-think how it's all going to work.
And one more thought on the offense, which is that I hope that the offensive line's film session opened up with the Sergio Kindle hit on Taylor Potts. Not a hand was laid on Kindle and that's unacceptable. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the game is going to be how the offensive line plays. Not only will they need to keep the quarterback clean, but they need to be pile-drives and space-movers when the opportunity arises.
More after the jump.
KEY 2: SHORING UP THE RUN DEFENSE
If you watch closely on either the SMU game or the New Mexico game, it's clear that when the defense gets to their assignments and plays their gap, this defense really works. What didn't work against SMU was ILB Bront Bird missing assignments and SMU gaining 109 yards in the game (this includes sacks). Against New Mexico, the rush defense was much better as the inside linebackers are starting to figure out where they need to be and how to fill gaps along the line. New Mexico rushed for 97 yards, 45 of which was the fumble recovery for a touchdown (not a true rushing play). I think the line is still trying to find a balance between just rushing up the field and run containment, but I think they're getting it. Of course against SMU and New Mexico the quarterback was in the shotgun for almost every snap. That will be different with Texas as QB Garrett Gilbert will line up under center and the defensive line will need to be wary of draws, play-action, etc. DT Colby Whitlock mentioned something today, which was that he was asked why he like DC Willis' blitz-happy defense and here was Whitlock's response:
"He broke down charts of when he likes to blitz. And he pretty much likes to blitz on downs one through four," Whitlock said. "I like it because...sometimes, that gives me a chance to be one-on-one with the center. I feel like that's a battle I can win every time."
This is what we're talking about, which is winning one-on-one battles each and every play. Texas Tech obviously isn't going to win every one of those battles, but this is what each of the defenders hope they can do on each and every play.
KEY 3: ATTACKING VS. BEND-BUT-DON'T-BREAK
There's been quite a bit of consternation about the number of yards given up against both SMU and New Mexico. I'd just like for everyone to keep in mind the alternative, the dreaded bend-but-don't-break defense that we loathed last year. The best defenses in the country can play any scheme because the defenders can beat those individual matchups referenced by Whitlock. It doesn't really matter if it's a soft 4-3 defense or an attacking 3-4 defense. There are pros and cons to each, notably that if in an attacking 3-4 defense where an extra defender is blitzing on almost every play, it literally leaves your cornerbacks and safeties on an island. That means that if the opposing quarterback and receivers can connect, there are going to be big plays. Of course the defense combats this by having lock-down cornerbacks, which aren't exactly growing on trees. Texas Tech's cornerbacks are young and thus far they have been prone to long pass plays. But they've also made plays. All of last year, the team had ten interceptions for the year. After two games, this defense has five.
Last year was an incredibly successful year in terms of getting to the quarterback, where the team averaged 3.08 per game for a total of 40.0 sacks for the year. This year, and this is against non-conference opponents, so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt considering the sample size, the defense is averaging 4.5 sacks per game and projects to have over 50 sacks by the end of the year. Despite the thoughts that the defense isn't getting to the quarterback and isn't making plays, well, thus far, that's just not true. The defense has given up quite a few yards, but you just can't have it both ways (playmaking defense AND gives up zero yards) immediately. If I'm DC Willis then I think I try to bring as much heat as humanly possible and see how Gilbert and the Texas offense reacts. Willis can always back off a bit and the Texas Tech defense knows how to play it safe, but there's nothing wrong with giving something up early to the Texas offense with the prospect of putting some serious pressure on Gilbert.