The Result :: Stunning: There were only a few of us who predicted this outcome and to be quite frank, I never expected this and as a result, the outcome is simply stunning. In a game where there's a route, it's hard to be critical and hard to see where the team may need to work on some things before an incredibly tough opponent in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I'd still contend that last night's K-State team isn't as bad as the final score indicated, but they are a team that can't score in bunches and by not keeping the contest within 2 touchdowns the Wildcats just couldn't keep pace.
But I'd be lying if I didn't say that this type of performance, where the team clicked on all 3 sides of the ball, is what the fanbase has been craving and I think that helps going into next week, on the road, against an incredibly tough and resilient Nebraska team.
The Storylines ::
Best Possible Scenario: To have QB Steven Sheffield play as well as he did was the absolute best possible scenario. There's never been a quarterback controversy at Texas Tech under Coach Leach and I wouldn't expect that to start now. I don't mean to say that Sheffield isn't pushing QB Taylor Potts right now, and he is, and I think that's absolutely wonderful, but if Potts hasn't so much as practiced all of last week, then the expectation that Potts could return this week doesn't seem conceivable. For the next week, the job seems to be Sheffield's, and with good reason.
Maybe the best course of action is to take this fluid situation week-by-week. I keep thinking that Leach named Potts the starter for a reason or two and he's not going to dismiss those reasons after a game and a half. That's not to discredit Sheffield, but Leach thought that Potts was the best player to lead his team from the spring game forward. Things change and I'm as excited as the next guy, but don't be surprised if Leach eventually goes back to Potts in the near future.
Sheffield was incredibly efficient, averaging 11.95 yards per attempt (excellent is 9 YPA), and finding 10 different receivers for 2 or more catches. That's really unbelievable in terms of what Sheffield did on the field. Let's not forget the 80% completion rate and the 7 touchdowns to 1 interception.
This week, Sheffield thought he played better:
Probably an A-minus, yeah. I mean, I made some stupid decisions, and I didn't need to. It was like I threw one that they took to the house that was me not making a good decision and not making a routine play. That's what I need to let go. At the same time I'm not going to beat myself up about it. You know, Coach Leach always preaches on play the next play, and that's what you've got to do. Forget about that one and go on to the next one.
There's really not much else you can say about Sheffield's performance other than it was simply superb. I'm sure there are other performances in the Leach era that equal Sheffield's of last night, but it's right up there in terms of efficiency.
Stifling Defense: Perhaps this was the story of the game for me, i.e., the fact that the defense was so dominant. Through the first half, the Kansas St. offense managed 77 yards on 6 possessions, 39 of those yards came in the first drive and of those 39 yards, 24 came on 1 play, a RB Daniel Thomas rush up the middle. To say that the defensive effort was a collective effort may be the understatement of the year. No player had mre than 5 tackles for the game, SS Franklin Mitchem, K Donnie Carona and CB D.J. Johnson. That's right, Corona had 5 tackles on kickoffs alone, which tied for the team lead. There were 4 players that had 3 tackles and the rest of the team had no more than 1 or 2 tackles.
Even Leach paid attention:
Thought it was really good. Wish we would have gotten out of the blocks the first drive a little bit better. But after that I thought they played really tough. We came close to getting even more turnovers. Would like to have seen him get those, but got some and I thought that was good. I thought where we kept them out in four downs down there. I thought that was really impressive. That was something else.
In fact, as I'm sitting here typing this, I'm not sure who deserves the defensive MVP. The team allowed K-State 116 yards on the ground and 168 through the air. That's a dominant performance all the way around.
Freshman Focus: Perhaps the best part about the rash of injuries and players having to step up their game is that these freshmen, both redshirt and true freshmen, are learning how to play quickly and significantly. We've already mentioned that CB/S D.J. Johnson is seeing significant time in the secondary and because CB LaRon Moore went out early with an injury, Johnson was superb. Johnson is a versatile player who might be the best overall defensive back (I think he's playing both cornerback and safety in different packages) this program has had in quite some time. And he's only a freshman.
Fellow S Will Ford had a relatively quiet game and I think the reason may be is that the Big 12 is already figuring out very quickly that he can play and there may be other players that opposing offenses can pick on.
The freshmen running backs are simply dynamic. RB Harrison Jeffers doesn't look like a running back that Texas Tech usually gets, he looks like a running back that the Sooners usually get or the Longhorns. I think Jeffers has elite talent. I'd also add that true freshman Eric Stephens didn't get a ton of playing time last week, but this week, he closed out the game with some late game carries.
And last, but certainly not least, QB Seth Doege, led this team almost the entire 4th quarter, and you're always happy for a guy to get his first completion of his career and his first touchdown reception. After the Texas Tech spring game, a lot of people wrote off Doege and were automatically passing QB Jacob Karam or high school QB Scotty Young over Doege as the heir apparent to the Texas Tech quarterback position. I'm all about letting competition work itself out and proclaiming anyone an heir apparent at any position is premature.
Perhaps this is a testament to Leach and the entire program in general, but there's talent at just about every position, and not the kind of wishful thinking sort of talent that you hope and pray develops, but the sort of talent that makes you wonder who should be the starter.
Doege, the forgotten one, finished the game 6 of 8 for 64 yards and a touchdown. Congrats to Doege on a job well done.
Credit Up Front: I thought the defensive line, despite not having much show up in terms of statistics, played about as well as a team could play. The Red Raiders were without DE Daniel Howard, who's been the most consistent pass-rusher all year and DE Brandon Sharpe, despite not worrying about containment at all in the 24 yard Thomas run mentioned above, had an excellent game. Sharpe finished with 2 sacks, while DE Rajon Henley, who's been too quiet, had 1 sack and 2 TFL. I thought from a philosophical standpoint, the front guys did exactly what they were supposed to do, and certainly credit goes to the linebackers as well, which is stop the run at all costs and make Kansas St. beat you through the air. The pressure that the Texas Tech offense put on K-State had something to do with it, but make no mistake, stopping the run was a priority and I think it was good for this unit with the Cornhuskers looming.
Resurgent Running Backs: For the past 2 weeks, excluding the quarterbacks, the running game has certainly made a big appearance. The collective efforts of Baron Batch, Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens on the ground against K-State yeilded 182 yards on a mere 21 carries. And despite Jeffers getting most of the touchdowns last week, it was Batch who led the way with 87 yards, a 9.6 YPC average, and a touchdown. Add another 77 receiving yards to the total and you've got 259 yards of production, on 33 just touches, from the running back position. Last week, it was 200 yards of production from the running backs on 24 touches.
Notebook: I think that LAJ's Don Williams football notebook has some things that need to be mentioned, which included the fact that neither DE Daniel Howard or C Shawn Byrnes played at all last night. I think the staff was gambling that they weren't going to be needed this week, and I would expect that they would be ready to play next week. I was surprised to see LG Lonnie Edwards get the start against Kansas St. (despite what the graphic at the beginning of the game said). I thought Olson has played well all season and Edwards has struggled. That's not what I was expecting, but I didn't notice too much of a drop-off. I think I still prefer Olson over Edwards right now, but Edwards didn't have a bad game. With CB LaRon Moore going down at cornerback last night (which we saw the return of SS Franklin Mitchem, which was good considering FS Cody Davis was out), you had the aforementioned D.J. Johnson and CB Taylor Charbonnet stepping up their games last night.
The Offensive MVP :: QB Steven Sheffield: Not bad for a guy getting his first start of his career. I still think it's good to temper the excitement a bit, but the fact that the backup quarterback has a full game of experience and is pushing the starting quarterback is good for the program.
The Defensive Co-MVP's :: SS Franklin Mitchem and CB/S D.J. Johnson: Saturday night was a collective effort and I don't think you can spin this any other way than to have a few players receive this honor. You could credit the whole defensive line or the linebackers or the defensive backs, but the fact that Mitchem, coming off an injury that had him out 2 weeks, and Johnson, a freshman defensive back from a small Episcopal school in Austin who wasn't expected to even sniff the field and forced his way into the lineup, leads this team in tackles speaks about the strength of this team.
The Special Teams MVP :: K Donnie Carona: The guy had 5 tackles on special teams and kicked off 11 times. Corona's biggest issue is consistency and that was evident on Saturday night (kickoffs ranging from 45 to 70), but let's him credit for getting his nose in on some tackles, but let's hope he gets things on track with his kickoffs.