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Not So Mid-Week Quarterback with I Am The 12th Man

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Beergut of I Am The 12th Man and I got together to discuss this week's matchup between Texas Tech and Texas A&M. We tried to make it more conversational than a typical Q&A session, so enjoy the rest after the jump.

  DTN: I'm thinking that Sherman has ordered that all of his players watch last week's game against Texas Tech and although I've watched little Aggie football (mainly the Miami game), I'm guessing that offensively, the Aggies would like to accomplish a number of same things that Nebraska did on Sunday. Take what the defense gives you and eat up the clock to keep the Texas Tech offense off of the field.

  IAT12M: Well, as I said in the corn nation article about stopping the spread, I am a firm believer that one of the best ways to slow or stop a spread offense is to make the spread team run the ball. You do this by showing them 5 or fewer defenders in the box, and tempting them to run. This makes them do something they usually aren't as successful at doing, and it also keep the clock running, speeding up the game. Spread offenses lag in time of possession on the game clock, but dominate the real time of possession, b/c incompletions and first downs stop the clock, and require the defense to stay on the field. This makes for more plays, and drags out the real time clock. This is why you can end up with 4 hour games when spread teams play. Well, by running the ball and keeping the clock moving, you shorten the game, and keep your defense fresh. Defenses aren't conditioned to play for 4 hours, a fact spread teams take advantage of.

 

  IAT12M: Two things I notice right away about the Nebraska-Tech game: Both teams ran the ball a combined 58 times, and the total time of the game was 3 hours 7 minutes.

Now, Nebraska was able to complete 37 of 45 passes on y'all, making enough first downs to move the chains and keep the ball. This allowed them to dominate time of possession, which limited the chances your offense had to score, keeping the score of the game below 30 for both teams. This is the type of game you want when playing a spread team.

I think this is what A&M would LIKE to do, but since we do not have an offensive line worth talking about, I don't think we CAN do that. I think our best bet at this time is to try to force Tech to run the ball, any way we can. If it means rushing 3 and dropping 8 to tempt y'all to run, then so be it. There are usually ~140-160 plays in a game. I think if we can make sure 70-80 of those plays are rushes, we'll be in the game.

Our passing game is slowly coming around, and after Tech's performance against Nebraska, chucking it around is tempting, but I don't like getting into shootouts with spread teams. It is how they prefer to play.

I would actually advocate splitting our linemen out wide, and running a 4-5 play Split-T series. Our OL can't do worse than what they've already done, the splits would simplify the scheme, giving them one-on-one matchups and angles, and it would be something Tech hasn't seen before. We have the backs and the QB to execute such a scheme, and I'd like to see if Ruffin McNeill can stop a split-T attack. I'd like to see fi he can scheme to stop the option on the fly. Problem is, you have to install that in the pre-season, and other than possibly Joe Kines, I don't know of a single coach on our staff who has seen a split-T offense. It's one of the drawbacks of hiring a staff from the NFL ranks.

  DTN: That's really a interesting concept, which is to entice the run in order to induce the clock running. I had never thought of the reverse effect before. In fact, I've been praising Leach for taking advantage of a pretty good set of running backs in Batch and Woods but had never considered the opposite consequences. As I think back about the type of defense that you're talking about, I seem to recall that Missouri had a lot of success doing this last year. Again, it's been a while, but Missouri did a good job of roughing up the receivers, knocking them off of their routes and dropping 8 guys. As you'll recall, this worked pretty well for Missouri.

Do the Aggies have the defensive backs to keep pace? I know that the Aggies have a highly ranked pass defense, but that is most certainly a result of teams being able to run on the Aggies with quite a bit of success. Not to mention, Army isn't really a passing squad, which can throw off some stats to make a team's pass defense look better on paper.

I like the idea of running the split-T is an interesting thought and if I had to guess, McNeill plays his base 4-3 defense no matter what, unless you run 4 wide, then he'll play nickel or dime coverage, but that's a last resort. So far, McNeill has shown that he would prefer to play his base 4-3 with a line backer on the slot receiver if a team goes 3-wide, much like K-State did against Texas Tech.

But back to running the split-T, you're advocating it, but you haven't seen TAMU actually run it this year?

Again, I've watched Johnson in the Miami game and was impressed with his athleticism. I tend to think that Sherman should stick with him all year, despite McGee coming back from injury. I had a couple of questions about the offense, in particular the skill positions. Why isn't Goodson getting more looks? Is it the emergence of Gray? Second, as far as the receivers go, what type of receivers are Tannehill and Fuller (i.e. possession, speed, etc.)

  IAT12M: Since you have 5 yds from the LOS, it makes sense to hammer the WRs as much as you can. Since one of the base series of the Air Raid is the Shallow Cross series, hammering th eWRs as they come through the foot steps of the DL forces the QB to look at his #2 option, the opposite receiver running the Hunt/Dig route. Since you as a defense know the QB is going for the #2 option on the play, you can fade off to entice the pass, and the when it comes, jump the route. Play result: Interception.

As for enticing the run, this is how A&M beat Tech in 2004 at Kyle Field. Torbush tempted Leach to run the ball, so much so that it kep the clock running and shortened the game. The '04 Tech game is the only time I ever saw Torbush outcoach an opposing OC, and I was disappointed Leach didn't give him any credit following the game. Instead of saying A&M did a good job, Leach complained about what Tech didn't do and failed to do. This is really my only problem with Leach, his inability to credit others when he is beaten. Or maybe he just didn't want to give credit to someone from A&M, I don't know. He has seemed to complain about the officials an awful lot after losing to texas, but that's another topic for a different time.

As for our passing defense, two things contribute to our stats:

  • We played Army, who completed 1 pass for 4 yds while rushing for 280 against us.
  • Our last two games, we've actually been moving the ball a little on offense, keeping the opposing defense on the field. This means fewer chances for the opposition to pass, and since they can run so easily on us, why pass the ball? Also, if we're keeping the ball, you want to run when you get the chance to give your defense a rest.
  • As for our players, from what I've seen, we can be passed on. We're not as bad as we've been recently in pass defense, but we're not good, either. I think we're mediocre. We play a lot of zone and try to keep the play in front of us. Our tackling is shoddy, something I hope we can get fixed at some point this season.

    Against a split-T, I think McNeill would probably put more two more LBs into the game, trading out two CBs, and put them on the LOS as DEs. Or, he could put two more DEs into the game. If he put two more DEs in, you don't put two true TEs on the field, you just put Tannehill and Fuller split out at End, and burn whoever is covering them deep. The same option is there if they are covered by LBs.

    No, I haven't seen anyone run the split-T except on youtube. The last time I even saw a fullhouse T series at the D-IA level was in 2006, when UAB played Oklahoma. Watson Brown broke it out in the season opener and actually hammered the Sooners with it for a while (OU won 24-17).

    As far as Goodson goes, I thin the coaches are trying to get a true RB rotation going, and want to get carries for Gray and RSF Bradley Stephens, too. I think Goodson needs to get his hands on the ball at least 25 times a game, both running and receiving, but his rushing stats are down this season b/c our OL is so poor. Quite frankly, I'm still waiting for Gray to emerge. I like the package we run with him at QB (a simple Dart series, we run zone read, inside zone, and read-read option from it), but I'm still waiting to see that burst from him that makes him look special. I've heard one person compare Gray to Goodson as a freshman, and I don't see it. Goodson made runs in the non-conference schedule that made you see how special he was. I have yet to see such a run from Gray. Of course, this goes back to our terrible OL.

    Jeff Fuller is our deep threat, but he can do it all. Ryan Tannehill is a very steady possession receiver with some very sticky hands. He doesn't have impressive speed, but he gets open and catches the ball when it comes to him. He is slowly becoming a very nice receiver for us. He set a school record for receiving yards in a conference game last Saturday against Kansas State (12 receptions for 210 yds).

      DTN: I've always really, really like Goodson. I thought he was underused with Fran and he's just not getting the quantity of carries, IMO, to be truly effective. I too am surprised that he hasn't received a steady diet of touches, it would seem like this would make it easier on Johnson if he didn't have to carry such a heavy load so early.

    The defensive line has been an issue for the Aggies, is this again a sign of youth, inexperience, a poor recruiting job by Fran, or some other reason. I swear it seemed like you guys had stellar defensive tackles and defensive ends recruits. In any event, the Aggies only have 1 returning starter along the defensive line, while I seem to recall that Michael Bennett was suspended last week, but he'll supposed to be back this week, right? How much of a factor do you think having Bennett back will have for TAMU?

    So, what do you think happens on Saturday? Personally, I see this being closer than I'd like, certainly under the spread. I see Texas Tech getting out of College Station with a 15 point win simply because I think Johnson is that good running with the ball, I think that's going to cause some problems with the Texas Tech defense. I'm not sold that TAMU will be able to consistently put drives together like Nebraska did, but the Aggies will be better than most Texas Tech fans are expecting. Offensively, I think you're right, Texas Tech will continue to run the ball and Batch will have another big game (150 yards rushing and receiving), which may in turn lead to a closer game, but Leach seems to like this path of least resistance for the offense and I don't see any reason to see him stop.

      IAT12M: Regarding Goodson, I think his usage under Fran was somewhat by design. You know how Leach always compares the Air Raid to an option offense, because the load is shared, and everyone gets a chance to carry the ball? Well, if you look at our rushing stats from last season, they were fairly close: McGee had 181 carries, Lane had 169 carries, and Goodson had 153 carries. If you add in receptions, Goodson had 36 and Lane had 12. That computes to 189 touches for Goodson and 181 touches for Lane, so you're getting a fairly good balance for an offense.

    I wasn't in favor of completely building the offense around Goodson, because I felt that making him the focus would make it too easy for teams to stop us, and because I felt (and still feel) that we had too many weapons to just put all of the load on him. Slowly but surely, I think we're using our weapons more.

    As weird as it sounds, I think some of our problems on DL are due to issues at LB. We have a converted WR (Garrick Williams) and a converted DE (Von Miller) playing at LB for us right now, and I think they're still learning to play the position. Because we run a 33 Stack as our base defense, the LB play is crucial to remaining gap sound, b/c in your base alignment, you have 3 guys facing 5 blockers. The alignment gives the OL ready-made double-teams on your DL, which should make it easier for the LBs to stem and fill gaps, but they aren't getting there quick enough. This is allowing OL to zone off our DL and get to the next level, which leaves the RBs with a lot of room to roam, hence our problems stopping opposing running games.

    At the DT position, we've been rotating Lucas Patterson, Kellen Heard, and Cody Williams. When we go to a 4-3 look (something I don't think Tech will see, but you never know), Tony Jerod-Eddie will start at DT, too. Patterson has been starting for us, and while I think he is solid, he isn't anything spectacular. Heard was very highly recruited, and he has flashes of brilliance, but it seems the only team he plays consistently against is texas. Our starting DEs are Cyril Obiozor and Michael Bennett, both of whom are good. Bennett was have an all-conference type season before he decided to skip a practice last week, earning him a suspension from the K-State game. Having Bennett back for the Tech game is huge, because he is a good player for us. Hopefully, he'll be able to get some pressure on Harrell and make him force some throws.

    I think Tech wins by between 17-21 points. I'm hoping our offense can score enough and keep it interesting enough to make it a game, but our defense is a sieve right now. If our offense continues to show improvement and puts up some big numbers, I'll be happy with their progress. My goal for this game for the offense is to break 30 points, which is our season high so far. If we score over 30, I think it'll have the making of a good game.

    I think the reason you are nervous and think it will be a close game is simply because it is at Kyle Field. I do think Sherman will have them ready to play and they'll play the whole game, but I just am not sure that our defense can stop anyone. I think Sherman will sell the "we're playing a top 10 team and have a chance to upset them at home" card, and it may make us play hard for a quarter, but if we get down by 2-3 scores early, it'll be a real long day for us.

    All preseason long, Ruffin McNeill and the defense were hyped as being the final piece of the puzzle for Mike Leach and Tech to finally win that elusive division and (possibly) conference championship. After the performance against Nebraska, are you worried about your defense?

    A&M's obvious weakness on defense is stopping the run. Do you think Mike Leach will be willing to go against his instincts, and stick to the run while playing A&M? Or do you think we'll see a typical Tech outting, with Harrell passing the ball 40+ times?

    With Chase Daniel and Missouri losing on Saturday, his Heisman hopes took a hit. What will it take for Harrell and Crabtree to receive some serious Heisman consideration? Or does the fact that Tech is pushing two players for the award pretty much ensure that neither will be taken seriously as a candidate?

    Why are Michael Crabtree's numbers down from last season? Is the offense not depending on him as much, or is he not playing as well?

      DTN: In short, yes, I'm worried. It seems that for the first time in a long time there are athletes on the defensive side of the ball, but the problem is creativity. McNeill has been so bland defensively that you have to wonder what's going on. I have a theory, completely unsubstantiated, which is that at the beginning of the week, the staff determines how risky Texas Tech may need their defense to be, and if Leach & Co. feels like they can outscore the opponent, then there's no need to be aggressive. Leach believes in his offense and although it seems strange that Leach would be so conservative defensively that he would handcuff them by playing it safe.

    As far as physical talent, I'm convinced that there's plenty of good pieces to the puzzle that McNeill could do a few more interesting things, but since we're halfway into the season, I'm not sure how complicated or aggressive McNeill will get.

    I get the feeling that Leach may have turned the corner in regards to the run, but it's because of the playmakers he has running the ball that have forced his hand, especially Baron Batch. Just from looking at the number of runs in comparison to last year, Leach has run the ball 35% of the time, while last year it was only 24%. Granted, it's not conference play so things may change, but a 11% increase is still encouraging. Leach gets some of the credit here, but Harrell should also get some credit as he's calling plays at the line of scrimmage, it's nice to see him also defer to the running game. Bottom line is that Leach and Harrell will try and take advantage of what ever the opponent is giving you, but he'll still emphasize the run more than in past years.

    The Heisman is a great reward for a player who has had a great season on a good team. I like the idea of promoting two players in a unique way, I thought it was an out-of-the-box way to market Harrell and Crabtree, but the reality is that if either one wins, it will be a direct result of wins or losses, coupled with good numbers. You can't have one without the other.

    I'm afraid Crabtree suffers from the former, right now, there are more tall, athletic, and fast receivers at Texas Tech than I can recall. There's just a bunch of options at receiver. There are already 11 receivers who have caught 5 or more passes. And it's not just guys, these are mostly redshirt freshmen and sophomores who are making contributions. Texas Tech has also utilized the two tight end set more than in years past, and Adam James, despite having a very quiet game last week, has been an integral part of the offense.