LUBBOCK TX - SEPTEMBER 18: Raider Red the mascot of the Texas Tech Red Raiders poses for a photo before a game against the Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium on September 18 2010 in Lubbock Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Staring down the barrel.
This game is pretty close to a must win for Texas Tech. We need 3 more wins just to secure a bowl game. Looking down our schedule, we have 4 tough road games ahead with only 2 more at home after Saturday (@OU, ISU, @UT, OSU, @MU, @BU). Given what we've seen to date, only the most delusional among us would predict more than 4 wins in that stretch, with 2-3 being realistic. We need to turn a corner this week to expect more.
The good news is Tech is scoring plenty of points (though not as many as our fans would like). The bad news is Kansas State likes to run the ball and control the clock. This will limit number of possessions, which means Texas Tech will need to be uber efficient in converting points on offense. In the first 4 games, Tech benefited from turnovers. Against A&M, there were not any breaks. I do not expect any against KSU, either, as they are on the right side of turnover margin and on par with Tech in straight numbers. We are going to have to come by points honestly.
The corner that has to be turned is on defense. The Texas Tech run defense is currently ranked 116th in the nation in total yards (1121), and 99th in ypc (4.87). At that rate, teams don't need to throw the ball, and KSU certainly won't unless forced. The other bad news is that the Tech pass defense isn't much better (68th in rating, 105th in YPA). Blame it on what you will, but I believe that it starts with stopping the run. If a team can run and pick up a 1st down almost at will, there are no "passing downs," which means the defense has to defend both all the time. The Red Raiders have to turn a corner in stopping the run so that they can begin to dictate (or at least anticipate) what the other guy is going to do.
Key # 1: Contain, contain, contain.
The Red Raiders have certainly taken their lumps via runs up the gut, but where we have really suffered is in letting things get outside. A team that likes to run the ball + running QB.is a tough combination for this squad, and they will have to be extra vigilant in containment to keep Collin Klein from breaking loose. Watch for the pitch option. It's the 3rd play you learn in football, but we don't see it very often. Don't forget to stretch it out. Like you said Scott Smith, just let it come to you. It will. K-state does not know how to play any other way.
Key #2: Over the middle
I hold my breath every time Seth Doege tries to throw to the sideline. The ball stays in the air forever. Throwing the ball 20+ yards to pick up 3 (remember trig?) cannot be our bread and butter. Inside receivers, crossing routes, anything to make more throws across the middle. Darren Moore, Eric Ward and Alex Torres need to be on the field a the same time. A lot. Challenge K-State to cover all three, and see what it opens up.
Key #3: Replacing Stephens
Eric Stephens has been a work horse through the first 5 games, fighting for yards, protecting the ball, and blocking. I image Aaron Crawford will see the most snaps now; though, expect a bit of running back by committee. Crawford has been here for us before, and I expect him to step up again. Though not as explosive as Stephens, Crawford will do fine. We may see less of the Wildcat, though, without Stephens to take the direct snap.
Bill Snyder coached teams are generally solid in fundamentals, and this group is no exceptions. I think this is a winable game for Tech, in Lubbock, though it will be a challenge. We need to keep focused and break serve just 3 times, and Tech gets a homecoming win.