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Five Things // Replacing Michael Crabtree

Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.

Replacing Crabtree

Much has been made about the possibility of Texas Tech struggling to replace one, Mr. Michael Crabtree, but other than throwing out the general idea, most haven't looked at any statistics to back up any opinions about his departure.

1: Where to Begin

There's quite a bit of talk about how Texas Tech is going to be able to replace Michael Crabtree's production. I know, the thought of replacing a two time Biletnikoff Award winner almost seems impossible, but the reality of the situation is that it's not impossible. Quite simply, it's really business as usual for Mike Leach, and despite the thought that there's the expectation that the Air Raid offense will suffer some sort of offensive meltdown, the reality of the situation is quite different.

This isn't to say that Crabtree didn't have any effect on the offense, but rather, I think Crabtree's production was truly once-in-a-generation and to characterize that 2008 or 2007 are the status quo for the lead receiver for Texas Tech is not realistic or accurate.

2: How Will Texas Tech Survive

Once Michael Crabtree arrived on the football field he immediately made an impact, whereas the offense for the previously 3 years before his arrival, the passing offense jumped almost 1,200 yards from 2006 to 2007 and another 5,000 yard season in 2008. It was a shame too, as the Texas Tech offense was languishing with sub-5,000 yard passing seasons prior to his arrival.

But what's the effect of the top receiver in Texas Tech's offense and the percentage of yards and touchdowns in relation to the offense? I'm glad you asked.

Year Receiver Yard% TD%
2008 Michael Crabtree 21.69% 40.42%
2007 Michael Crabtree 32.09% 43.13%
2006 Joel Filani 27.06% 33.33%
2005 Joel Filani 22.46% 23.52%
2004 Jarrett Hicks 25.54% 38.23%
2003 Wes Welker 17.45% 18.36%
2002 Wes Welker 19.36% 12.00%

Seemingly, year after year, the offense was replaced and there was never a true drop-off in production, no matter who was stepping into the role of the lead receiver.

There's no doubt that Michael Crabtree required double-teams and was a distinct advantage that most other incarnations of the Air-Raid offense has never seen, but the key is that Crabtree was/is the exception, not the rule.

It's been written many different places and many different times, the Air-Raid offense is intended to take advantage of less than stellar athletes. The fact that the athletic quotient is better than it was in 2004 or 2005, especially at the receive position, leads me to believe that this is not going to be much of an issue at all.

And to address those ideas that the offense struggled in 2008 starting with the Baylor game, but keep in mind that Crabtree was hurt and Graham Harrell had a seriously broken hand. Yes, everyone wasn't 100%, it's a part of football, but don't blame it solely on one or the other, it was most likely a combination of the both, but the idea that the offense did rely on this dynamic duo is true, but to say that the offense will struggle because they're both not there, just doesn't hold up historically.

3: The Top Four Make It Happen

Last year I took a look at the offensive production, in terms of percentage, of the top four receivers and the running back in the Texas Tech offense. If Crabtree left after his redshirt freshman year, 2007, I think there would be some legitimate concerns about replacing his production, however, in 2008 the offense was much more balanced than in 2007. But in 2008 the receiver yard production was fairly balanced, but obviously, the touchdown production is the big key here.

Below is the breakdown of the top 4 receivers in 2008:

Player Yards% TD%
Michael Crabtree 21.69% 40.42%
Detron Lewis 16.99% 6.38%
Eric Morris 14.35% 19.14%
Edward Britton 10.74% 12.76%
Total 63.77% 78.70%

And the top four from 2007 through 2004:

Year Yards% TD%
2007 75% 81%
2006 62% 77%
2005 68% 74%
2004 71% 59%
69% 72%

I know what you're thinking. Pretty much the same thing as previous years and you're right, the top four receivers are the biggest part of production for the Texas Tech offense.

In fact, you could argue that the 2008 version of the Texas Tech offense was more diverse than in previous years, again, excluding touchdowns of course, although it's not so out of whack. The fact that the top four receivers only accounted for 63% of the passing offense tells me that there were plenty of guys that were producing (Tramain Swindall, Baron Batch, Shannon Woods, Lyle Leong, Adam James, Rashad Hawk, Jacoby Franks, etc.) a good number of yards.

4: Effect of the Quarterback

To ignore the quarterback would be a mis-step in looking at any receiving numbers. There are years where the production does tend to suffer a bit, and I think that this is in large part a result of the physical limitations of the quarterback rather than the talent of the receivers. Much of this may be the maturation process of the quarterback, but to say that any quarterback that Leach plugs into his system won't have success simply isn't accurate.

Year Pass Yds Yds/Att TD/INT Ratio
2008 5,371 8.11 47/10 4.70
2007 6,114 8.01 51/15 3.40
2006 4,803 7.32 39/11 3.54
2005 4,666 7.93 34/12 2.83
2004 4,796 7.36 34/18 1.88
2003 5,682 7.81 49/22 2.22
2002 5,444 7.07 50/15 3.33

There's a definite difference in the quarterback, especially as Graham Harrell became a more mature quarterback, but the key to remember is that from 2008 through 2004 Texas Tech led the Big 12 in offense. So that means with three first-year quarterbacks (Cumbie, Hodges and Harrell) Leach found a way to continue his offensive dominance.  And just to clarify, Texas Tech led the nation in passing in 2008, 2007, 2005 and 2004. Yes, passing offenses have become more prolific as the years have progressed and more teams are catching up with Leach, but I'm pretty comfortable with Leach at the helm.

And I don't think I'm going out on much of a limb here, but something tells me that Taylor Potts will be just fine.

5: Effect of the Running Game

One of the things that I think most people forget is that I think the running game is going to be greatly improved over last year. I know that this type of rhetoric is overplayed a bit (i.e., we think this, but it never materializes), but this year is different.

Baron Batch was Texas Tech's top runner, despite being a bit banged up last year. Yes, Shannon Woods has graduated, but RS freshman Harrison Jeffers and RS sophomore Aaron Crawford are expected to carry the rest of the load. Last year, the Texas Tech offense rushed for 1,532 yards, which was the most rushing yards in the past 5 years.

Year Yd/Att TD Att/Gm Yds/Gm
2008 4.83 28 24.38 117.85
2007 3.13 18 18.92 59.31
2006 4.71 13 16.85 79.31
2005 4.17 25 25.67 107.00
2004 3.77 23 24.42 92.00

What's the trend here? To me it's that Leach realized that he's got a serious weapon in the running game and he completely ignored it for two years, 2006 and 2007. In 2006 Leach had to lean almost completely on Shannon Woods and as good as he can be, I think that Leach has come to the realization that the system works best when he's got two options. In 2007 it was Shannon Woods at the beginning of the season, promptly ran into Leach's doghouse and the Red Raiders were forced to lean on true freshman Aaron Crawford. Again, it was a case of one back trying to carry the load for different parts of the season.

Leach changed his tune last year with two healthy running backs and I think it's the last year that Texas Tech sees below 20 rushing attempts a game. In fact, I'm tempted to say, especially if Leach starts to lean more towards the two-running back offense, which he did last year some, but its conceivable that Leach just might run the ball 30 times a game especially with the weapons he has.  Again, this can only improve the offense from the standpoint that Potts doesn't have to do all of the heavy lifting and the receivers are only asked to do what they've traditionally done over the years.