THE RESULT | A WIN IS A WIN | I had so low expectations for this game, essentially hinging a win or a loss on whether or not QB Steven Sheffield would play a significant amount of time. I'll get into this a little bit below, but Missouri essentially implemented a similar defense that former Red Raider Graham Harrell struggled against and it stumped Sheffield as well. Potts playing well was a surprise and I was also somewhat surprised by head coach Tommy Tuberville and OC Neal Brown having a relatively short hook with Sheffield, but I thought it was warranted. And honestly, I wouldn't mind Potts having a similar sized leash in that if it's not working out for a quarter and a half, then give the other an opportunity.
There were a lot of good things to talk about with this game and I honestly didn't think that Missouri played even close to their potential. But I'm not taking this one for granted. I thought that Texas Tech was essentially doomed to, at best, a 6-6 record. This is still a real possibility and I there's still a strong chance that if this team doesn't play up to their potential, they could lose their final two games. I think it's going to be tough to get a win next week in Norman, but I can stress about that for the next 6 days. Today, we get a win and I'm happy about that.
Storylines and MVP's after the jump.
WE'VE SEEN THIS BEFORE | I was almost shocked to see Missouri try the same thing again, the same thing that forced Harrell to throw 4 interceptions in 2007. Missouri had 4 down linemen and had every other defender within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. When Sheffield took off to run, the reason he did so was because there was nothing open in the mid-range of the field. I listened to Friday's episode of Tech Talk and Tuberville talked on Thursday night that they script only about 10 plays, but that they're open to changing those plays depending on the down and distance. A lot of great coordinators, namely Bill Walsh, did this and I see the benefit of knowing that a team has 10 or so plays that they need to run to perfection. I think this is where Sheffield's impatience caused problems in that he didn't take the time to look down the field.
But once Potts got in the game, he was more patient and he give the offense more time to settle down and there were things that were available past those 10 yards. And once Potts found those seams, the running game opened up and there were times yesterday that I thought that if this is the type of offense that we can eventually see then I can live with that. It can potentially beat a team a couple of different ways and has the potential to take advantage of a defense that previously gave this offense fits.
And your weekly quarterback numbers show a more efficient offense with Potts under center. Sheffield had a 4.95 YPA average while Potts was is usual steady self, averaging 6.71 YPA. And I want to make this clear, I'm not giving up on either Potts or Sheffield, or declaring one the winner over the other. I still say that Potts is what he is, and there are times when he may not be the right option, but if the offense isn't giving you anything, then I hope the staff realizes that perhaps both can give this team an opportunity to win.
THAT'S YOUR DEFENSIVE LINE | I didn't have the opportunity to keep track of each play that this was true, but your defensive line for a good part of the game, especially on passing downs, was Colby Whitlock, Brian Duncan and Sam Fehoko. That's it. And they probably played at least 50% of all Missouri snaps with those three along the line, and most often in 2nd and 3rd down plays. Don't get me wrong, both Pearlie Graves and Donald Langley saw plenty of time, but it was really nice to see DC James Willis figure this out during the week, which was that getting pressure on Gabbert may not have been the most important thing, but filling the gaps and floating with Gabbert, with ILB Bront Bird, was the most important thing.
There was nothing special about what Missouri did on their two long touchdown runs except that they blocked those plays exceptionally well and Texas Tech took some awfully poor angles to get those tackles. After that, the Missouri offense struggled.
There's no doubt that Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert struggled to hit much of anything, but this week I thought that the defensive backs did a much better job in coverage. Much better. And so you ask yourself why Gabbert struggled and you could probably say that it's a little bit of Gabbert being off and a little bit of the defense plays good coverage in the middle of the field. It's not fair to give some credit to the Texas Tech defense after playing awful for a good part of the season. This group deserved some credit yesterday. What Texas Tech did on defense is the same thing that the Missouri defense tried to do to Texas Tech offense, which is flood the middle of the field and force everything outside. With Gabbert having trouble hitting the sidelines, it worked to near perfection.
THIS IS WHY ZONE BLOCKING WORKS | I made notes this morning and the one thing that I tried to note was all of the times that the offensive line was zone blocking vs. man blocking. I'll have to check the numbers later, but it was probably 2 zone blocking plays to every 1 man blocking play. And the same reason why Texas Tech does this is the same reason why Missouri could have used this. I thought that the Missouri defensive line wasn't sure what to expect during the game. All of those plays where RB Baron Batch was able to cut back on the offensive line were essentially zone blocking plays and all of those short yardage plays that Aaron Crawford ran were mainly man blocking plays. Being able to do both adds quite a bit of versatility to this team and I firmly believe that had Missouri been able to take advantage of a really small defensive line in Texas Tech, then we might see a different score.
And with Batch, I'm not sure how he was able to rush 28 times for 134 yards for a 4.8 YPC average as he was most likely distracted with all of his off-the-field ventures. After RB Eric Stephens fumbled the ball, again, I think I saw on the film where Tuberville was talking with RB coach Chad Scott and essentially told Scott that Stephens didn't need to be in the game until he could figure out how not to turn the ball over. We saw Stephens take one more carry in the 2nd half, and that was his 2 carries.
And kudos to Aaron Crawford for sticking with it. He was great as a short-yardage back and he also had an 18 yard pickup in the 2nd half that was huge.
RECEIVING TOUCHDOWNS LOOK EASY | On the Lyle Leong's first touchdown, it was something that we've seen so many times this year. A fade to the back of the endzone to finally put some points on the board. We've seen it 1,000 times it seems like and it was beautiful. But that fade, and the fade that Leong constantly runs, set up his second touchdown. On the 10th drive of the game, Leong gave a fake that he was going to run outside, the Missouri defensive back had to bite and did, and Leong stepped into a Potts' pass for an easy 6 points. It was really a thing of beauty, but it was predicated on Leong being so successful at going up and getting a pass that he's done so often. Leong finished the game with 9 catches for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. This team is going to miss Leong next year.
And Detron Lewis' lone touchdown was more about the play call than what Lewis did. With 0:20 left in the first half, Texas Tech had gone down the field relatively quickly, Texas Tech was at the Missouri 8 yard line and was facing 3rd and 4 yards to go. Lewis was on the outside of this formation and goes in motion towards the offensive line and it's painfully obvious that Lewis has man coverage and there's no one going to help with the Missouri defender covering Lewis. The pass was nothing more than a quick out-route and it was an easy touchdown. With Lewis going in motion, Potts knew (I think) that Lewis was going to be all by himself and it was really pretty to watch.
TRICKERY | We saw three trick plays yesterday and really only 1 worked, but it was a big one. The first one was in the 3rd drive, IR Cornelius Douglas goes into motion towards the backfield, receives the hand-off. The entire left side of the offensive line essentially go to the ground on the play, let their defenders get past them, and then get back up to block for what was supposed to be a pass back to Sheffield. Douglas was just short of hitting Sheffield and with three offensive linemen essentially setting up a wall, it looked as if Sheffield would have scored easily.
The second trick play was in the 8th drive, which was Potts first drive and Texas Tech had done a pretty good job of moving the ball down the field. In fact, also in this drive, Detron Lewis had made one of his appearances in the quarterback slot, the line man blocked, Chris Olson was at tight end and a pulling Lonnie Edwards did a good job of creating some space on the left side of the field. Anyway, Texas Tech faced a 4th and 2 at the Missouri 23, and the play that Texas Tech faked was one that they seemingly had run all year, which was hand the ball off and watch the running back run into the right side of the line for no gain. But what happened was that RB Ben McRoy was in the slot on the right side, Potts faked to Stephens and Potts hands off to McRoy to run to the left side of the line. A really beautiful bit of mis-direction where McRoy was able to out-run anyone for the Missouri defense to the sideline for a 9 yard pickup.
Last, but not least was a double-pass as Potts threw the ball to IR Austin Zouzalik and in the middle of the field, without a defender really around him, was Detron Lewis just waiting on the pass. The pass hit Lewis' hands (again, he had to wait on the ball), but it would have been a pretty nice pickup.
Both Douglas and Zouzalik are former quarterbacks and I think it's interesting how OC Brown is trying to utilize some of these talents on his team.
TWO BIG-TIME PASS BREAK-UPS | The game was never really out of Missouri's reach and the last handful of drives had me obsessing over when Missouri would tie the game. Of course, that never happened, but there were two huge pass break-ups in Missouri's final drive. Missouri was at the Texas Tech 33 and was facing 3rd and 7. Gabbert threw into the endzone on 3rd and 4th down and both times you had a Texas Tech defensive back make a play on a pass, a pass that would have been a completion the past few weeks. LaRon Moore broke up a pass intended for Wes Kemp on the 3rd and 7 play, while little Eugene Neboh broke up a hugely important 4th and 7 play. Neboh jumped at just the right time and knocked the ball out of Jerrell Jackson's hands. It was a huge play and if you had to pick one play that was the play of the game, it may be this 4th down play.
OFFENSIVE MVP | RB Baron Batch and QB Taylor Potts | With Batch running and Potts finding holes, I didn't feel like I could leave one or the other off as MVP. Also considered was Leong.
DEFENSIVE MVP | DT Colby Whitlock and ILB Bront Bird | Whitlock was on the field a ton during this game, as was Bird. There may not be a more important player on this team, more so than Whitlock. Bird hasn't had the best year, but he did exactly what he was asked to do yesterday, which was shadow Gabbert and the running back and he did it incredibly well (sans the two long running plays).
SPECIAL TEAMS MVP | RB Gerardo Acevedo | When watching the game I had no idea who Acevedo was, but I kept seeing his number down there for kick and punt coverage, either making a tackle or around the scrum. He was excited to play and he was getting down the field.