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The Huddle: Central Arkansas Bears vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders Preview

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Texas Tech is set to open their 2014 season against the Central Arkansas Bears. Viva The Matadors previews the game in just a shade over 3,000 words.

This isn't Texas Tech, just a really terrific old photograph.
This isn't Texas Tech, just a really terrific old photograph.

Campbell Starts at Central Arkansas. After a very successful tenure at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, head coach Steve Campbell will make every attempt to turn around Central Arkansas and create the same type of success that he created at the JUCO level. As you may remember, Texas Tech has a handful of players that played for Campbell while at MGCCC. In late July, Campbell talked about his coaching philosophy:

Game Information
Central Arkansas Bears
vs.
Texas Tech Red Raiders

When: August 30, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
Watch: Texas Tech TV and Fox Sports
Key Injuries: OT Josh Outlaw

"The foundation of my coaching is on three core principles," he said. "First, I want an unselfish football team and everybody associated with it. Selfish teams usually underachieve. Second, we want to get better every day and we’ll gonna work to do that. Third, we want to do the little things as close as we can to perfection every game."

He noted there might be a "million stats" in football. He pays most attention to two — turnovers and explosive plays.

"Turnovers on offense come about by not doing the little things," he said. "Explosive plays on defense come about by doing the little things."

It's interesting to see Campbell talk about two things that it appears that Texas Tech is going to focus on this year as well, explosive plays and turnovers. Of course, I think Kingsbury's focus is having explosive plays on offense while Matt Wallerstedt is focusing on those explosive plays on defense.

Campbell is in the same position that Kingsbury was in a year ago. Implementing a scheme and a new attitude at a new place and making a fairly significant jump, from a very successful JUCO head coach, to the head coach at Central Arkansas. In fact, Campbell was incredibly successful at MS Gulf Coast as he was 87-22 overall and he is a football lifer who has played at SE Louisiana and Troy State and has coached all over the Southeast and won a JUCO National Championship in 2007.

Texas Tech Should Flex. Texas Tech looks to take advantage of an inferior opponent and it wouldn't surprise me to see a lot of players see a lot of time this week. With a team like Central Arkansas we're not real sure what to expect to from the Bears.

It seems that this is a game where Texas Tech and its fans will concern itself with internal things, seeing how players play and react to the big stage. Texas Tech has their own questions. How is that second cornerback going to work out? Will the JUCO guys make an impact early and often? How much will the defense be improved? Will the outside receivers be able to make plays and stretch the field? Will the offensive line shuffle mean a mis-step in the offense? You get the idea.

These aren't questions that will be answered today necessarily, but they will need to be answered at some point this year.

Still, Texas Tech should flex their muscles, and maybe more than anything else, we're ready to see the new and improved and more efficient Davis Webb. The expectations are growing each and every day, and perhaps deservedly so. Webb offers a big strong quarterback that has the opportunity to lead this team for the next two years at the very least. Gone are Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but replacing each of them are stalwarts in Bradley Marquez and Jakeem Grant. Grant is prone to make explosive plays and this offense needs more of than, and with Marquez's move inside, the hope is that he will be able to take advantage of those running back roots where he can run in traffic and make plays. The receivers on the outside should be household names by the end of the year, even though they are generally brand new. Reginald Davis, Devin Lauderdale, Dylan Cantrell and D.J. Polite Bray all have an opportunity to become what Eric Ward was for the past three years.

Defensively, it is time for Branden Jackson and Pete Robertson to make a significant mark. They must be exceptional for this team to be improved on the defensive side of the ball. It is no mistake that they are both the guys that are supposed to rush the passer and create pressure points. This has to happen this year, without that presence, it could be a long year, especially with two freshman defensive backs as the top two cornerbacks at the field cornerback spot, in Tevin Madison and Jah'Shawn Johnson. Defense is about those explosive plays as much as they are for the offense, and this teams needs to create turnovers, big hits, interceptions, and force opposing players to put the ball on the turf.

Quotes

Speaking of those young quarterbacks, head coach Kliff Kingsbury spoke on Monday and talked about those young cornerbacks and I'm guessing that Kingsbury and Wallerstedt get that putting two freshman on the corner is going to be problematic, but let's see what they can do against this particular opponent.

Yeah, I've been proud of the way the young corners have competed. That's a tough deal at that age to come in and be thrown into the fire, especially going against the guys we have, and the way we practice and the way we play and as much as we throw it, but they've stepped up and competed well. So I'm anxious to watch them play, but I would say that's a group that's been a pleasant surprise.

And the freshmen cornerbacks should have some help in veteran J.J. Gaines, who has come back from injury and reclaimed his boundary safety position.  Gaines seems to be a bit overlooked, but had it not been for his injury last year, I think he would have been one of the best players on the defense:

I know he's excited to be back after that injury. He's come a long way. That rehab was an extensive process, so you can tell he's appreciating the game more. He's working harder than he ever has. He's studying harder than he ever has. Sometimes injuries are the best things that can happen to a player, and he's a guy that's taken a second chance and has run with it.

Kingsbury goes on to discuss Jah'Shawn Johnson, the safety prospect that has impressed as much as he has, a guy that is the son of an NFL player, I'm sure the pressure is daunting to be as good as his father, Keith Davis.  Johnson has succeeded thus far:

It was close. We feel comfortable with both those guys. And Jah’Shawn was most impressive. He was a safety most of his high school career and that is probably his best position, but with some incidents we had, felt like we needed to move him over there and he's done a great job.

A lot of those young guys that we think we'll see will be on special teams and special teams coach Darrin Chiaverini will hopefully add a watchful eye and a real ability to coach and lead this unit to bigger and better results:

It was huge just to have a face on that phase of the ball where those guys looked at and he brings a different level of passion, different level of energy to that phase. The kids bought in and they've been playing hard and flying around and taking pride. Instead of trying to skip reps on special teams, they're trying to get in and get extra reps. That's much different than it was last year.

Texas Tech may be pinning it's hopes on the arm and brain of quarterback Davis Webb on being more comfortable with the offense and this should have a significant impact on the overall performance of the offense.  Webb talks about his summer and the work he has put in to be a better quarterback:

Yeah, just being more comfortable in the system in year two, watching a lot more film, and understanding checks, getting with Coach Kingsbury and George Whitfield, and Dana Bible who was a long time offensive coordinator for N.C. State, Boston College, coached Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Mike Glennon, stuff like that. Just getting with those guys and understanding coverages, base fronts, just saying what is the weakest point of this coverage, and just understanding that kind of stuff so I can check it better because I have full reign of this offense. If Coach Kingsbury gets us in a play, and maybe another play will work better, I have the freedom to do that as long as it works out. So we'll see if it works out this year.

Of course, to rest everything on Webb isn't fair or accurate and the rushing offense will need to be improved.  Webb is confident that the DeAndre Washington, Quinton White, Justin Stockton and Rodney will will all help:

You know, I think DeAndre Washington had the best off-season of anybody in this program. He worked out harder than anybody in this off-season. I think he took online classes for that reason so he could have longer days to work out. As soon as he worked out at 5:45, he'd be up here until 12:00 doing extra stuff. Foot work, conditioning, working on ball-catching skills, understanding fronts, blitz pick-up, stuff like that. So having a leader like Dre' to replace Q has been huge for us. I didn't know how Dre' would respond to that because Kenny was a huge leader for us last year being a captain as a junior. But DeAndre has stepped it up and I'm really proud of him. But Quinton White, Justin Stockton, and Rodney Hall, all those guys have been great this fall camp.

On the defense, I mention above that Robertson and Branden Jackson will need to be explosive (Wallerstedt has said as much as well) and that the defense is working the defense being loose, having fun and bringing a "party to the ball":

Party at the ball means to just celebrate. At the end of the day a lot of people put pressure on themselves, and football is just a game, a game we love and we hope that it will bring many gifts to us. But we have to enjoy the game and it has to be fun. So every time someone makes a big tackle or every time is not gets a fourth down stop or touchdown, things like that, we want to party at the ball and celebrate with your teammates and enjoy the environment. You only get to be a college football player once, so I'm just trying to enjoy that.

One other interesting note from Jackson was on his back-up at defensive end and we've wondered if the coaching staff should have Gary Moore on defense and what type of player he is.  More than anything, I always hate robbing the defense to help an offense that is already at a really high level and maybe with Moore's attitude, he was always meant to play defense:

Gary is freakishly athletic. He came in as a receiver, but he's always been an angry player. He's so violent. We always felt he would come to defense and now he's come to it. He's hit it full speed. He's fast, athletic, and aggressive. He reminds me of me when I started to first play defense. I know me and him will room together this year and I'll take him under my wing. I know he can be a great player as long as he buys into the program. He flashes every day. There is not a day goes by without a sack. I'm really excited to see what Gary Moore will produce this year, and I think it will shock a lot of people.

Stats

Stat
Total Offense 452.9 (16) 511.0 (8)
Rushing Offense 121.3 (101) 118.2 (111)
Passing Offense 331.6 (5) 392.8 (2)
Scoring Offense 33.2 (29) 35.8 (23)
Total Defense 401.3 (74) 418.5 (84)
Rushing Defense 150.4 (48) 201.5 (98)
Passing Defense 250.9 (102) 217.1 (39)
Scoring Defense 27.2 (61) 30.5 (87)
Turnover Margin 0.30 (33) -1.08 (121)
3rd Down % 38.3% (52) 34.3% (32)

A quick aside, these are numbers from last year and once the 2013 season is officially kicked off, we'll go to the 2014 statistics. Also of note, these are FCS numbers for CAU, whereas Texas Tech is using FBS numbers.

As mentioned above, Central Arkansas has a new coach, so they may not be as offensively minded as they were last year, but Central Arkansas seems to be a FCS clone of Texas Tech. An offensively minded team that does terrifically well, but struggles on defense.

At times when I look at the numbers, I am somewhat surprised that the former coach lost his job as the defensive numbers aren't great, but the rushing defense was pretty good last year, or it would seem good enough to be okay. I suppose that's what we talk about when we discuss not settling and thinking that a team or a program can improve.

In fact, Central Arkansas won the Southland Championship in 2008 and 2012, and made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012. This really wasn't a program that was doing poorly and I suppose that the reason I'm driving this point home is that this is Campbell's first year at Central Arkansas, but things weren't broken.

For Texas Tech, there's no reason to drive the point home even more. The offense was spectacular, but the running game needs to improve. The defense was abysmal and really must improve in all aspects. If the turnovers are be better Texas Tech should be better and that goes for the offense and the defense. They both have to pull their own weight.

Tweets

Welp.

You all that are going to the game, make sure and check out the band before the game.

Terrific artwork from Baron Batch.

Five Things

1. Caruthers is All-American and CAU is #33. Offensive lineman Cole Caruthers was named to the first team All-American team for FCS schools and Central Arkansas was named the 33rd best team in the nation. Having not had an opportunity to delve that much into Central Arkansas, it doesn't appear that Campbell arrived with zero toys in the sandbox.

2. We're About to Go Fast. Campbell apparently a proponent of playing fast, which means that Saturday night should be a pretty entertaining game. Campbell doesn't appear to be a pass-only sort of coach, but a coach that will spread it around as much as possible:

The Bears are working on striking from a lot of dimensions. Bear in mind, as committed as they are in establishing the run, the Bears are a multiple, up-tempo team that will spread an opponent out and attack on both sides of the ball.

"People talk about balance a lot," Campbell said. "But balance is not 50-50. Balance is being equally effective in what you do."

And in a recent scrimmage, Campbell asserted that when the team plays fast and plays well on first down, they feel like the Bears will have a chance:

"I was pleased with the tempo. When we play fast, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good," said Campbell. "It’s important that we play well on first down because it gives us a chance to play fast When you get behind the chains with second and nine or second and 12 or 16, there’s a tendency to slow down. That’s our whole deal — to keep the tempo going."

3. Let's Talk Offense. Central Arkansas will be led at quarterback by senior Ryan Howard, who only stands at 5'11", but he can sling the ball. Howard completed 62% of his passes and had 18 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in limited action last year. So yes, he can play and the other interesting point is that he averaged about 7.8 yards an attempt. That's not bad. Willie Matthews returns to run the ball, but Central Arkansas' rushing game was about as anemic as Texas Tech's. It will be interesting to see if that changes for the Bears. Central Arkansas returns a few guys that can catch the ball, Dezmin Lewis caught 50 passes and 721 yards, Courtney Whitehead caught 39 passes for 536 yards and Desmond Smith caught 43 passes for 502 yards. There's other players that caught some passes last year, but this is a pretty deep group of players. I'm guessing that they really didn't have a starting four, but rotated receivers as quickly as possible and they were pretty good at what they did. Central Arkansas had 11 players catch at least 11 passes last year and only one of them was a senior.

4. On the Defensive Side. Some young guys played a pretty big role last year as Dillion Winfrey is the top returning tackler, and I think plays cornerback. Jonathan Woodward is going to be an interesting player to watch, 6-6/271, defensive end, who had 50 tackles and 8 sacks as just a sophomore last year. That's some pretty decent size at linebacker. Ricky Wyatt is the best returning linebacker and only had 41 tackles last year. Marvin Mitchell as a sophomore grabbed 3 interceptions and Bobby Watkins and Darius Reed each nabbed 2 picks as well. It would seem that Texas Tech should be able to take advantage of Central Arkansas' defensive side of the ball. There just aren't a ton of standouts that seem like they have made a ton of plays.

5. The Outcome. Texas Tech should roll. I do expect for Central Arkansas to put up some yards, but this should be a good warm-up leading up to UTEP next Saturday night. The things that I'm watching is the run defense, the defensive line and the offensive line running game. Let's do this.