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Keys to the Game, Revisited - KSU Edition

When you win a game by 52 points, it is hard to be critical of anything.  Which is why I like to wait a couple of days before positing this article.  It gives me time to digest the good and bad and make a more objective assessment of how Texas Tech performed. 

In general, I think this was one of the better games that Tech has played.  This is the first game this season in which we put together a complete 4 quarters of football.  Not everything was perfect, but the guys seemed to be playing together as a team and to start to trust their abilities.

Before we all get ahead of ourselves, let's remember that this was K-State, not Alabama.  We are starting to dial things in on offense, and this should serve as a big confidence booster going into the rest of conference play.

After watching the Texas game, I thought that this team had it in them, and they seemed to find it this week, what ever it is.  Perhaps Steven Sheffield is the catalyst that this group needed.  Though I think it is worth while to point out that the O-line did an excellent job of keeping his jersey clean.  There were a number of plays where Sheffield had at least 8 seconds to find a receiver.  Again part of this is due to the opponent, but it is also something that they should have been able to do against UNM and didn't.  I think Matt Moore may have found his 5 guys that work together well and provide the best protection.  If you are winning the battle in the trenches, you are probably going to win the game.

I have to admit that I started getting really nervous when, on the first drive we stalled on 2nd and short and decided to go for it on 4th and 1 from our own 38.  But we did it right, bringing Jeffers in motion as we had done against U of H, theatening the end around, and forcing the KSU linebackers to not crowd the line.  This allowed Sheffield to follow Brandon Carter and pick up the first down (Don't expect this to work this week against Suh and the Nebraska DL.  If it's 4th and 1, we better punt or throw the quick slant to James.).  After this near-miss, the offense quit sputtering and never looked back.

Defensively, we seemed to start a little slow as well.  Luckily, though KSU was moving the ball well on their first drive, the Wildcats shot themselves in the foot with a hold and a false start that pushed them to 3rd and 16 and moved them out of field goal range.  KSU's second drive didn't start out badly either, but a questionable play call, going deep on 3rd and 3 from your own 16 forced another punt.  By the time they got the ball again, KSU was already down by 3 scores and had to shift their game to a more passing attack that did not fit their strengths.  Read this carefully.  The Tech defense got a lot of help, especially in the first series.  Had KSU put even a field goal on the board, such that it was within 2 possessions, I think they would have stuck with grind it out tactics in hopes of wearing our defense down and coming back late.  Bo Pelini knows this.

Offensive Keys

1. Avoid turnovers. Not bad.  I can live with 1 INT a game, though it came on what Sheffield himself called a dumb decision.  This will happen in your first game as the starting QB.  Everyone else held on to the ball pretty well.  I recall one drop by Leong on a deep pass that was just abouth perfectly placed, but other than that, pretty sure hands on the night.

2. Relax and play as a unit.  As I alluded to above, the offense line finally seemed to get it together.  I actually noticed them pointing to and calling out blocks on the line.  Usually the center does this, but I noticed Brandon Carter taking the lead here.  Maybe the suspension did him some good.  Doing a little more to lead and playing with this kind of maturity rather than emotion and face paint is what will earn him a paycheck in the future.

3. Let Batch and Jeffers lead the charge. The first play of the game was a Baron Batch carry for 8 yards.  This set the tone, and Batch managed to eek out a meager 86 yards on 9.6 yds/carry over the night, including a TD run.  Even taking out his long run (33 yards) he still averaged over 6.5 yds/carry.  What would normally be a good showing pales in comparison, as Harrison Jeffers only manged 7.9 yds/carry.  Including receptions (our screen game looked good, too), these two combined for 200 yards on 25 touches.  Yep.  Your math is right.  That's 8 yds/touch and was exactly what we needed from these two.

Defensive Keys

1. 3rd and long.  After the first series, we were successful in this, in part because we knew they were passing and we were able to pin our ears back and bring pressure.  Brandon Sharpe was playing like an MVP.

2. Stop the run. KSU actually had quite a bit of success on the ground, if you take out the sack yardage.  Their running backs averaged 7.6 yds/carry, picked up 145 yards, and broke several long runs.  Again, Tech dodged a bullet here in that KSU was forced to abandon their run game.  I think the biggest issue here was losing containment.  We did a decent job of stopping anything up the middle for short gains, save the first big run by Thomas.  Our guys weren't used to anything that big running the football. Once they realized they couldn't arm tackle him, he was contained.

3. Contain Brandon Banks. 1 catch for 5 yards.  I don't have anything else to say.  I continue to be impressed by our young DB talent.

Special Teams

We kicked off 11 times, so obviously Kansas State got some return yards.  The fact that Donnie Corona had 5 tackles should be concerning.  I am certainly glad to have a physical kicker in the game who can make tackles, but the kicker is not the first guy down the field.  We showed improvement, which is all I can really ask for, but we are not exactly pinning them deep following kick offs.

The story from this game is the offense.  KSU is not stellar defensively, but we weren't making mistakes that killed drives, and when we did (offensive pass interference, illegal blocks) we came right back and made the next play.  Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense...Is that kind of like sometimes a pirate can beat a soldier?  Anyway, we were able to get KSU out of their game plan (or what I assume was their game plan) and control the game.  Our defense isn't the best in the conference, but it is good enough to get at least one extra stop and break serve.  It's who we are this year.