The Result :: Just Okay: We've discussed this to a point, but it wasn't the best possible win. Perhaps this is something that should be expected coming off a game like the Oklahoma game, but it was just okay. I was happy as hell to get out of the Cowboys Stadium with a win and I hated that I was nervous about it for such a long period of time.
I was thinking of saving this thought for off-season thoughts, but I'll throw this out there now. Perhaps the thing that interests me the most about this team is the fact that we as a community have become that much more critical, and I mean that in the best possible way. I've always thought that Texas Tech has this stigma that Red Raider fans are apathetic in the sense that we're happy with occasional wins against various opponents, but the expectations of excellence were never really there. The days of going into a game with no expectation of a win and being completely disinterested with a loss are behind Red Raider fans. That's a good thing. I/we/DTN is now firmly behind expectations of excellence and I'm happy about that. That's not to say that the most difficult mornings for me personally are the mornings where I have to think of something worth-while to write after a loss and I think that's an indication that DTN and this program has arrived to an extent. That makes me happy (not the losses).
Storylines and MVP's after the jump.
The Storylines ::
About that Defense: At first blush, I thought the defense had a less than stellar game. For the game, the defense gave up 342 yards, only 176 yards in the 2nd half and of those 176 2nd half yards, 60 came on the last drive. The Bears had 3 plays that accounted for more than 20 yards, the first being the long pass to Gettis for 57 yards. I've only had time to watch the replay once, but on that play, it appeared that CB Jamar Wall was expecting help over the top and I believe that FS Franklin Mitchem just didn't get there. The 2nd big play was to Kendall Wright for 24 yards and I think this was scheme issue as LB Brian Duncan was trying to cover one of the fastest players on Baylor's team. It's hard to fault Duncan on this play as he's just not capable of covering a slot receiver. The 3rd big play was to Terrance Ganway, another situation where LB Marlon Williams was asked to cover him out of the flat and in open space (this is the play I'm not sure about). That first play led to Baylor's only touchdown, the second play was a play that ended in a Baylor field goal and the third play resulted in a punt. The point being here is that although the defense gave up 3 big plays, which accounted for 105 yards were the bulk of the Baylor offense. I've always hated how folks will take certain plays out of context of a game, but I'll do it now because it totally serves my purpose and you've got a defense that gave up 237 yards for the game, good for a 3.33 yards per play average. The big plays hurt the defense, but all 3 of these big plays were, at least in my opinion, were the result of bad match-ups and a bad play by a safety that's had a pretty good season.
Improved Line Play: By my count, this same set of offensive linemen have been together for 4 straight games, starting with the Kansas game. We've all talked about how with a better offensive line, the overall play will get better and other than the Oklahoma St. loss, that's been the case. That's not to say that this group didn't have some kinks to work out, including giving up 5 sacks against Kansas, all at the feet of QB Seth Doege, none with Potts; 1 against Oklahoma St.; 2 against Oklahoma; and 1 against Baylor. For a string of 7 halves, the offensive line only gave up 4 sacks and if there's a reason for the team's better play, that's a good place to start. Another indication that when the team runs the ball, good things happen: 32 carries for 105 yards rushing against KU; 14 carries for 50 against OSU; 35 carries for 161 yards; and 28 carries for 101 yards against Baylor. Run the ball and this team will have success.
Making Plays: I've always sort of thought that the hallmark of a good defense isn't necessarily the yards or the points, but the plays that the individuals make. For the 2nd year in a row, the defense is in the top 4 in the conference in sacks, 34.0 in 2008 and 40.0 in 2009. In 2007, the defense only mustered 26.0 sacks. Same goes for passes defended. Top 4 in the conference in passes defended as 2008 the team had 18 interceptions and 55 passes broken up (5.62 per game), in 2009 it was 8 interceptions and 68 passes broken up (6.33 per game), while in 2007 the defense had 10 interceptions and 55 passes broken up (5.00 per game). It may not seem evident over the course of time, but this defense has become more aggressive, especially in the secondary. The defensive play-makers are trending up, despite losing talent on at defensive end at in the secondary. The same could be said for Saturday's game where the defense broke up 4 passes, including one beautiful interception by Brent Nickerson, forced 3 fumbles and 4 sacks. That's a pretty good day at the office.
The Disappearance and Emergence of Receivers: This is probably going to be an offseason project, but I find it absolutely fascinating how certain roles have been completely reversed in some cases with the offense. In the early part of the year, the team was greatly dependent on guys like Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall, but recently, it's been the emergence of Alexander Torres and Austin Zoualik with a fairly consistent bit of Lyle Leong mixed in for good measure. I can't give you an explanation, other than defenses may be keying on Lewis and Swindall or the thought that Lewis and Swindall may not be giving maximum effort in practice, but it's interesting. Be patient, I promise an much more comprehensive post after the season (this is absolutely a tease and intended to keep you guys around for a while).
The Guy That Matters Wasn't Happy: I didn't catch this until yesterday, but I noted in Chris Level's Twitter that Leach wasn't happy with the 20 points on Saturday as he ran the team through a padded practice on Sunday. Not only that, Leach pitted the first team against the first team and the work was spirited. I get the feeling that this perception that Leach is fairly easy on the team, but much like this community is changing there's this thought that Leach is changing as well. We all like not being satisfied with just being mediocre and the fact that Leach made the team practice on Sunday is certainly a good thing.
The Offensive Co-MVP's :: WR Lyle Leong and IR Austin Zouzalik: Zouzalik made some really nice grabs (7 for 92 yards), most of them over the middle of the field. Leong gets credit for making some really nice touchdown grabs (6 for 58 yards and 2 TD's).
The Defensive MVP :: DE Brandon Sharpe: It's fitting to think that he couldn't even get on the field last year, but finished the year as Texas Tech's single-season record holder for sacks.
The Special Teams MVP :: KR Eric Stephens: Another season long reward for his work on kickoff returns. You always like to see a player make up for a bad play as Stephens' 64 yard return late in the game was a huge game-changer. The rest of the Big 12 gets 3 more years of this guy.