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Keys to the Game, Revisited - UNM Edition

Dazed and confused.  I'm pretty sure that's how Taylor Potts is feeling, and I can't help but feel the same way.  The first time I watched that movie, was just after my Junior year in high school, and it was with a group of friends.  We get to the end of the movie, the scene in which they are leaving the stadium and they get into the car to drive off, when one of the girls watching with me says, "When is the plot going to start?"

We all just looked at her as the credits start to roll.  I have this strange feeling that I am the one asking, "When is Tech going to start playing up to their potential," and just as my friend was confused by the scattered nature of the movie, I have been confused/frustrated by the inconsistent  way Tech has played to date.

I hate sounding like a sore winner, and I am really struggling to put together my thoughts on this one.  During the game on Saturday, my wife (who went to North Texas for the music program) walked by and asked why I wasn't happy that they were winning.  Usually a 20 point win would feel pretty good.  But not this one.

I am not a fan of running up the score, but I am a fan of executing well.  The fact that Tech was able to score 48 points, despite turning the ball over 5 times and punting 4 times,  tells you something about the opponent.  It also tells you something about our execution against said opponent.  Just like previous games, we ran hot and cold.

After a couple of days to let the emotions subside, I am ready to take a look at how we did with relation to the Keys to the Game, as well as some other observations regarding Potts vs. Sheffield.  Join me after the jump for more. 

Apparently, I'm not even getting socks for Christmas - maybe dirty socks or a lump of coal.  Or a lump of coal in a dirty sock.  In a lot of ways, I feel like I am watching the football version of A Season on the Brink.  There is a lot of potential on this team, but it is extremely rough right now, and still searching for an identity after last season. If I had to pick one word to describe how we played, it would be sloppy.

Offensive Keys to the Game

1. Sticky fingers. We still struggle hanging on to the ball and catching passes. Almost 1/3 of Tech's possessions ended in a turnover, although 3 of those were INTs.  One dropped pass would have been another  touchdown.  This is a sore subject with me, so lest I start cursing, I'm moving on.

2. Protection from the edge.  This is perhaps the area where we seem to be most hot and cold.  We have downs where we are blowing holes in the defensive front, and providing an eternity for Potts/Sheffield to find the open man.  Then we will take long stretches off.  Certainly we miss Vazquez (who I completely underestimated), Reed, and Hamby.  The left side of the 2008 Tech line was a brick wall.  This year, Carter (who is an exceptional offensive guard, though he apparently needs to work on the offensive part of that) and Winn returned on the right, Byrnes at Center, and it looks like some combination of Edwards/Olson/McDaniel on the left.  All of these guys have the ability to play some ball, yet we seem to be really struggling with sacks and pressure on the QB.  Why?

Part of me thinks that, to a large extent, we are just coming back down to earth with regards to the performance of the O-line.  We were more spoiled than we realized.  Looking back, the number of sacks allowed last year was super human compared to the number of attempts: only 1 in 53 attempts in 2008.

The other part of me says that it takes two to tango.  When the QB is stationary in the pocket, the defense does not have to worry about containment.  They are able to focus on 1 thing: getting to the QB.  Good timing on the snap, and it's off to the races.  Suddenly, some of the advantage of the offense is taken away.  A mobile QB helps to make the DEs contain first, working up the field before coming in, which can buy an extra second or two, not to mention any extra time bought by scrambling.  But even with Sheffield in the game, there was still a lot of penetration.

Looking at their stat lines, I am not convinced that Steven Sheffield is any better or worse than Taylor Potts, though I will admit the game was much more exciting to watch with Sheffield in at QB.  Both had 2 turnovers.  Both threw the same number of passes, though Sheffield did complete a whopping 3 more passes.  Potts was sacked 3 times, Sheffield 2.  Both had stretches of bad play. So was the success that Sheffield started out with a function of his play, or the play calling?  Does his running actually improve the chances of success, or is it just more exciting to watch as a fan?  We'll never know, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. 

I think that Potts's head hasn't been quite right since the Texas game.  In this game he seemed to be keying on a single receiver.  This was something that was a problem in the first game, but during the Rice and Texas games, he was doing a good job of looking the defense off.

3.  Stretch the field. I have a hard time judging this one. Potts's first pass of the game had me licking my shops on this, but once Sheffield took over the helm, the game changed.  He was much more willing to use the screen/shuffle pass.  But I also thought that we changed our play calling a bit to take advantage of New Mexico playing overly aggressive on defense (by using the screen and shuffle pass).  I am sure that Sheffield can make all of the throws, but compare his wide receiver screens to those of Potts:  Potts's ball gets there on a rope, Sheffield throws a lob.  This is significant because when Potts throws that ball, it is there fast enough that the defener has not had time to get there.  For Sheffield, I fear a fast corner will blow it up.  As long as Potts is out, I don't think we'll be throwing a lot of deep passes.

4. Keep the RBs involved.  .The past two seasons, Texas Tech had a playmaker at wide receiver, before that Tech relied on a committee approach to moving the ball.  This year, we have playmakers in the backfield.  Though they didn't run the ball as much as I had hoped (8 rushes a piece), Harrison Jeffers did get 5 receptions and Baron Batch another 3.  Combined 24 touches is not great, especially when this crew is making the most happen.  I imagine we will see more of touches by these guys as we move forward.  Batch was much more effective out of the backfield than Jeffers, who seems to excel in open space.  I could see Jeffers turning into a Wes Welker type player - the kind of guy you want to get the ball to in space and on the move.  That is where he is most dangerous and a big play threat.   I like Batch hammering it between the tackles.  Stephens was noticeably absent from the stat line, except for a return.

Defensive Keys to the game

1.  Create turnovers. Thank you Jamar Wall.  You heard me.  That strip was beautiful.  Now go teach everyone else to do the same.

2.  A variety looks.  The Joker made a lot of appearences in this game, but I there were a lot of situations (3rd and long) that McNeil typically likes to bring this in.  Other than this, we mixed our base 4-3 and our nickel in fairly predictable manner.  I am happy to see the nickel package rather than having our line backers cover receivers.  We'll have to see what we do against a team with a tightend (K-State).

3.  Involve the young guys.  We saw a lot of the 2nd and 3rd string guys in this game, though part of that was from necessity.  I really like Will Ford.  He is going to be a playmaker for us on defense.  It wouldn't surprise me if he doesn't start getting the majority of the snaps by the end of the season.

Special Teams

1. Better Kickoff coverage. UNM started 2 drives following kickoffs from beyond their own 25.  That was my criterion.  This is better than what we have seen, but it will not cut the mustard versus K-State, who has a really dangerous return man.  Unless we figure out how to cover better or Corona starts putting it out the back of the end zone, K state is going to get a short field.  Donnie better work on some tackling drills this week.