The Result :: Interesting: There were so many stories within the story of the game yesterday. I found myself thinking about what I was going to write this morning a number of times. The quarterback play, the injuries, the crappy announcing team and referees, the lack of defensive effort, etc. Of course you'd prefer to have the word describing the result more something along the lines of "dominating" or "crushing", but that just wasn't the case.
But in a number of ways, you could consider a 49-28 win over New Mexico, after losing 4 players to injuries, not playing with 2 other starters because of injuries, and losing the turnover battle 5-2 is a bit of a surprise.
Texas Tech won, despite the turnovers and despite the injuries.
You take those situations and you've got a recipe for a really, really bad loss, but at the end of the day, Texas Tech was the superior team and although I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack for this, I think the same result would have happened whether it was Sheffield or Potts in at quarterback. New Mexico could only muster spurts of defensive line pressure and Texas Tech had just lost Byrnes, and earlier in the week, I thought I had read something to the effect of almost any player can get injured, but not Byrnes. Keown played better as the game progressed, but that hit on Potts is the reason why the center position is such a big deal.
The Storylines ::
Quarterback Play: As mentioned above, I think that QB Taylor Potts would have rallied. I know, there's a lot of people who think that Potts has been terrible all year. I just don't think that's true and it's an easy statement to make now, after throwing two interceptions, but let's just pull the reins a bit. The first interception, to Zouzalik, was one where either Potts or Zouzalik got the play wrong. You could see Potts looking towards Zouzalik and motioning that he was expecting Zouzalik inside rather than to make the cut outside. Mis-communication happens in football and no one knows, unless they called the play, what happened. The second interception was simply a beautiful play by NM's Nathan Enriquez. Potts had delivered the ball over the top between a cornerback and safety before and tried it again, this time, Enriquez made a great play. That's football.
At the end of the day, Potts still had a 9.34 yards per attempt average, which is just tremendous and he was getting the ball down the field. Of course, Potts' first pass play helps that average, but I thought Potts was making a concerted effort to get the ball down the field in the second quarter, and that's either one of two things happening. That's the coaching staff telling him that there's opportunity down the field or that's Potts taking the initiative. I've got no problem with either one and let's not forget that WR Edward Britton dropped a sure touchdown in the middle of the field. Even the crappy FSN broadcasters noticed that.
And Steven Sheffield was electric. Absolutely electric. There was a certain energy to him and his ability to avoid the rush when the offensive line struggled was nice. Leading his team to 4 straight touchdown drives was spectacular. Sheffield put the game away quickly and was reminiscent of Potts performance in the second half of the Rice game. There's a lot to like about Sheffield and he seems to be a confident and smart quarterback.
But Sheffield also struggled as well. I mentioned a few weeks ago that a quarterback doesn't want to throw an interception inside their own 20 yard line and inside the opponent 20 yard line. Sheffield's only interception of the day was into triple coverage and that ball just shouldn't have been thrown. As well as the offense had been playing, there was no reason to throw that ball and that pass turned into a quick 7 points for New Mexico and pumped life into a team that was getting their head handed to them in the second half. The very next drive, Sheffield is handed the ball at the Texas Tech 48 as the defense turned the ball over on downs and it was a quick 3 and out and then had 3 more drives where he couldn't score including a fumble. Not perfect quarterback play.
Even Sheffield was critical of his play (I love that he's this aware of his deficiencies and Potts acknowledges his deficiencies too):
I think what I did well is I started good. And I brought tempo to the offense. I got everybody excited to play. And, um, as far as my overall performance, I don't know. I'd give it a B, B- or something, because I did a lot of stupid things and I didn't need to do them. And I created my own pressure a few times. That fumble, not having two hands on the ball was just stupid. And, you know, we just stalled three drives in a row when we shouldn't have, you know. And we have more ability than that. And we can play better than that and we should have just scored on the drive like we did on the first three. It's something they am going to need to work on and, you know, it's -- even though, you know, like I said it's a lot like practice, when it comes to game time, I mean, like both my calfs right now have cramped and I don't know why. I mean, maybe I didn't drink enough water. That never happens before. Usually because I stand on the sideline.
But I got to work on little things like that and not try to make too much happen and just make the routine play every time.
The quarterback controversy is something that every team faces.
The grass is always greener on the other side.
I have no idea what Leach & Co. are going to do, but what we do know about Leach is that he's not afraid to tell you like it is about the play of his team, especially quarterback play. Traditionally, Leach has stuck with the starter, even if it's Graham Harrell getting benched for a series or two in 2006. I think Leach prides himself on picking the best quarterback for his team and he saw something in Potts to believe that he's the guy from the start of the season. Thus far this season, Leach has been entirely supportive of Potts in just about every manner, even going so far as to praise Potts after the two losses the last 2 weeks.
I trust Leach's evaluation more than mine and I don't think that you can yo-yo quarterbacks. Once you find a guy, you've got to stick with him and I've never asked Leach that, but I think Leach feels the same way, although he's prone to talk about benching, he knows that the quarterback position is a maturation process.
I'll support any player that the staff believes can lead this team. Whether it be Potts or Sheffield, and as great as Sheffield was on Saturday afternoon, I don't think you're going to see a systematic dissection of a defense like Graham Harrell did in 2008 against teams like Kansas and Kansas St. This team is going to have to work for it, no matter who is at quarterback.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries: Just a start: QB Taylor Potts, C Shawn Byrnes, FS Cody Davis, DE Daniel Howard and DB Nathan Stone. LAJ's Don Williams reported that Potts and Stone were admitted to the hospital last night. I'm throwing some good mojo the entire group's way and hope they all recover quickly. We're really not going to know the status of the injuries for the rest of the week and the worst part about all of this is that these injuries are at the worst positions. Losing Byrnes on an offensive line that's starting a two redshirt freshmen in LT Terry McDaniel and RG Mickey Okafor was really tough. Losing Davis at free safety when the starting strong safety was also already out with an injury. I though FS Brent Nickerson played much better in the second half, but I thought his first half was pretty bad and allowed way too many easy and open completions over the middle of the field. He did improve as the game continued. Losing Howard at defensive end, a position previously depleted with injuries. Howard has been the most consistent defensive end of the group, although I thought Brandon Sharpe eventually wore down the New Mexico defense and you like to see that. I think I'd still prefer to have Howard starting and his injury leaves this team awfully thin at this position. We've already talked about the loss of Potts. CB Nathan Stone is a special teams ace and I think the special teams needs all the help they can get right now.
Stopping Third and Fourth Downs: New Mexico was 6-20 on third downs and 3-6 on fourth downs. I found myself quite frustrated at the play of the defense on those critical downs. You can somewhat accept the 6-20 on third downs, but I thought early in the game, New Mexico was getting too many third down conversions, completing 5 of 11 in the first half and only 1 of 9 in the second. That seemed to keep the Lobos in the game, along with the turnovers. I've said this before and I'll say it again, I'm not entirely convinced that the lack of defensive pressure is all Ruffin McNeill. I think he and Leach work on a collective game-plan for the week, and if they both feel that the team can be conservative, then that's how they roll. It seems that the 61 yard touchdown pass late in the game (with only 0:46 left int he game) was the first time all year that the Texas Tech defense has been burned deep. That's by design, I'm almost certain of that. We'll talk about the defensive pressure, or lack thereof, in the next section, but this is a concern moving forward, especially if the two starters are out with injury.
Defensive Pressure: We've talked about the third down conversions, but the most glaring part about the defensive play was the fact that New Mexico, a team that was averaging 262 of total offense prior to yesterday, amassed 431 yards of total offense. I thought the defense was uninspired in the first half and it showed from the beginning. New Mexico's first drive was 10 plays for 47 yards and I think this set the tone. New Mexico missed a field goal on that drive, but there were wide gaps in the defensive line and there seemed to be little to no containment of the quarterback. I was fully expecting Colby Whitlock to dominate the middle, or at least draw a significant number of defenders to make it easier on the other defensive linemen and that just didn't happen.
New Mexico had 91 plays. That's right, 91 plays.
I understand the give, but don't break methodology of defense, but yesterday's performance was tough to watch.
But there were glimpses of good things on defense. S Will Ford is still a work in progress on pass coverage, but I thought that the 2 times that McNeill sent Ford on a safety blitz, they were successful. I'd like to see this a few more times and from some other positions.
There were a ton of reserves that got into the game, which I thought was good from a standpoint that this team is going to have to be deep, especially with all of the injuries.
DT Myles Wade might need to see more time with the regular unit. He may not be completely ready, but when he was in the game I tried to key on his play and he's disruptive. He is a wrecking ball of a player and there was one play where Wade drew a double-team and still helped make the tackle. Of course the announcing crew attributed the tackle to Adell Duckett (sarcasm). Not only that, you can see Wade's strength as he gets a good push against the offensive line.
Perhaps this is just me increasing expectations, but I'm expecting more out of the linebackers. I want and need to see those guys make more plays at or near the line of scrimmage, rather than down the field 5 or 6 yards.
Jeffers Has Attitude: Seemed like every time RB Harrison Jeffers touched the ball, he was looking for the endzone. Not only that, it seems as if he runs with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. Almost angry that he's not getting the ball. There's good and bad to that, but there's no denying that he's got talent. For the day, Jeffers finished with 8 rushes for 31 yards and 3 touchdowns, but also had 5 catches for 90 yards and another touchdown.
Receiving Concern: Already mentioned the Britton drop, and otherwise, he was quiet. That's the problem. Britton is supposed to be this team's deep threat and despite the fact that Britton has tremendous potential, he hasn't been able to put it all together. I also have this prevailing thought that as solid as Alexander Torres is, what he is not is a threat to get the ball down the field. I'm sure that the coaching staff doesn't need my help, but there's been something not right about the offense, but I haven't quite been able to put my finger on it.
It's a little bit the offensive line, it's a little bit the running backs, it's a little bit the quarterback and it's a little bit the receivers.
And it's not so much that the receivers are bad, but perhaps they're misplaced. As much complaining as fans do about the quarterback situation, I think there's some deserved criticism to the receivers as well. Britton hasn't played up to his potential, Torres cannot get the ball deep as the other outside receiving threat. Perhaps this team needs to make Tramain Swindall the primary option as he has the most big-play potential.
Locksley is Confused: So New Mexico wants to kick on-sides kick after on-sides kick, in the hopes of getting the score respectable, but then after the game he says this:
The smile was because they scored a touchdown with two seconds left. That means they’ve got a lot of respect for us, in my opinion. They had a chance to take a kneel and Mike’s (Leach) got to coach his team the way he coaches his team and I’ve got to coach mine but for them to score a touchdown there at the end, in my mind, it looks like he had a lot of respect for the Lobos and the fight we have.
Ummmm, no. Sorry Mike, that's just not the case. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Locksley wanted to score, despite Texas Tech was running out third-team reserves and then he wants to say that the reason Texas Tech scored is because Texas Tech has respect for New Mexico? I don't think so. Locksley is trying to put a good spin on things here and that's understandable, but if he really believes this and it's not just coach-speak, then he's going to have a very short tenure at New Mexico. Locksley attempted 3 on-sides kicks in the 4th quarter alone and then he wants Texas Tech to take a knee. I don't think so. I'll say this a few different ways.
If you play with fire, you're going to get burned.
If you play with the bull, you're going to get the horns.
Awful Announcing and Awful Officiating: Would it be too big of a deal for the announcing crew to pick up a roster a day or two before the game and get familiar with the players? I could count on two hands where they both were clueless as to certain players making plays and mis-identified players. I shudder to think how many New Mexico players were mis-identified.
The officiating was awful as well and I typically don't comment on officiating. Just awful on so many levels.
The Offensive Co-MVP's :: RB Harrison Jeffers, WR Tramain Swindall and QB Steven Sheffield: The outcome of the game was truly dependent on Jeffers turning the corner and getting outside, Swindall making huge plays after the catch and Sheffield turning it on in the second half.
The Defensive Co-MVP's :: CB LaRon Moore and CB Jamar Wall: I really wanted to just give this to Wall, who forced a fumble, recovered it, broke up 2 passes and had 6 tackles, one of those going for a loss. Moore deserves credit too as he also had 6 tackles, 1 fumble recover and broke up 1 pass. I didn't think anyone along the line deserved this honor and I thought the cornerbacks had pretty good days.
The Special Teams MVP :: Ryan Erxleben: I think there's problems when for two games straight, the MVP is the punter. Erxleben had 4 punts total, and of those 4, 3 were inside the 20 yard line.