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Keys to the Game, Revisited - Nebraska Edition

I don't need to say it, but this was a good win for Texas Tech, though it came differently than I would have thought.  The defense carried the day for the Red Raiders, who were actually out gained offensively by Nebraska, though about half of NU's yardage came late in the 4th quarter.  In my opinion, the way this game played out hinged on 3 plays in the first quarter: 1) Lyle Leong's acrobatic catch on 3rd and 13 followed by 2) A long completion to Detron Lewis on 3rd and 17 in the first series.  3) is obvious: the loose ball recovered for a Touchdown by Daniel Howard.  These 3 plays allowed Tech to jump to an early 14 point lead, put Tech in control of the game, and once the momentum swung in Tech's favor, the Cornhuskers were not able to get it back.

It is interesting to me how many teams seem to get nervous when Tech scores on the first series of the game.  Similar to KSU last week, Nebraska, a running team, tried to beat Tech through the air, and actually threw more passes than did the Red Raiders.  Similar to last week, this was a function of Nebraska getting behind early and either the NU coaching staff or QB Lee feeling that they needed to push things to get back into the game.  This played into Tech's hands defensively, set the tone for the rest of the game, and set the stage for Tech's success.  Let's take a closer look.

Rewatching the game, it seemed to me that coaching - on both sides of the ball for Tech, and offensively for Nebraska had - had a larger bearing on the outcome of the game than did the performance of any individual or unit.  The game play was far from perfect.  The Tech offense clicked when Steven Sheffield was not forced to progress beyond his pre-snap read and the play call did not require the receivers to get deep. 

On the designed plays to the flat, and throws to the sideline, Sheffield excelled.  This is a function of the play call.  Sheffield sees 1 on 1 coverage on the outside, knows his receiver is running an out route, it is a no-brainer spot throw.  On the first TD throw to Baron Batch, the receivers on the left side drew the DBs across the field, leaving te LB 1 on 1 with Batch.  Get the ball to him in stride and it's a race to the corner, which Batch won.  In these plays, Sheffield is able to get the ball out and does not have to progress through his receivers.

Plays in which Sheffield held the ball longer than 3 seconds resulted in sacks (5 of them for 42 yards...almost 6 with the reversed intentional grounding call) and an apparent broken bone is his foot.  Running backwards seems to be a skill taught in Pirate QB school.  Leach himself commented that Sheffield should have gotten rid of the ball on several occasions.  Much of the 3rd quarter was dominated by offensive ineptness (when is ineptness not offensive?) as the Cornhuskers made adjustments at halftime and switched to a nickle/dime defense and allowed their front 4 to control the line of scrimmage and get pressure.  The bright side is that, despite pressure, there were no interceptions or fumbles, and Sheffield was able to extend a couple of plays by rolling out of the pocket, and even scrambled for 7 yards on one play.

Offensive Keys

1. Protect the rock. Pretty good job here.  As I mentioned above, Sheffield did a good job of pulling the ball down when being sacked and not throwing picks under pressure.  The tipped ball to himself by Leong (# 1 key play above) had me really nervous as there was a CB and a Safety on top of him, but he made a great play.  +2 in turnovers this game brings us almost back to even for the year,

2.  Make sure life ain't easy for a boy named Suh.  Suh moved around a lot more in this game than I expected, and the NU front really abused the left side of our o-line.  We did just enough on the quick plays to keep Suh and co. occupied for 3 seconds, but on any play that took longer to develop, he was in the backfield.  Our running game was pretty much held in check.

3. Work the clock. I think this is one of the best games Tech has played with regards to clock management.  In the first half, we ran the hurry up offense and kept Nebraska on their heels.  We were content in the second half to use the entire play clock, use more slow developing plays, and not force things on 3rd down.  I think this has much to do with trusting the punt.  Baron Batch and Harrison Jeffers combined for 24 touches in limited ground action.


On defense, Tech was able to focus on pass rush once they realized that Nebraska was going to try and put the game on Lee's arm.  Most of the Husker pass plays were deep routes, which allowed Brandon Sharpe to use his speed to get around the tackle and have a field day.  When they were allowed to line up and drive block, the Nebraska offensive line pushed around the Tech front 4 like they were 90 lb weaklings.  Fortunately, they can't pass block and the pass heavy game plan exposed them.  I felt that if NU ever committed to the run during this game, they would have worn down the Tech defense and kept the game within reach.  I also don't understand changing QB back and forth mid game.  It just exudes lack of confidence and the players feed off of that.  The combination of poor coaching by Nebraska (pass dominant game plan, switching QBs) and solid play calling by Tech defensively made Nebraska look a lot worse than they really are on offense.

Defensive Keys

1. Contain.  Howard did an excellent job of containment and made several plays, including the TD, as a result.  Sharpe was obviously not concerned about containment.  I think this was the play call from Ruff, and it seemed to work out well.  Though on runs to his side and on QB reads, Sharpe was burned several times for big gains.  Why NU didn't take advantage of this more, I don't know.

2.  Cover the tight ends.  McNeill only had 2 catches on the day.  The underneath routes seemed open to me for NU, but that was not the play Lee was looking for, so McNeill didn't get many opportunities.

3.  Win first down. Another area where I felt Tech did a great job.  I wonder if Ruffin either spent a lot of extra time in the film room or stole a copy of the Nebrasla playbook, because we seemed to know exactly what was coming and played it accordingly. 

Special Teams

The punt team got a lot of work this week.  There were a couple of uncharacteristic short punts by Ryan Erxleben.  Carona put one out of the endzone, and pooched a couple.  I guess the inconsistency keeps the other guys guessing, but I don't think that was the plan.