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The Huddle: Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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The Texas Tech Red Raiders take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys and we have the most extensive preview on the internets.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A Change In Philosophy. Oh, no. Not that change. No. We're talking about something that's I think is going to happen, you know, with the defensive coordinator resigning and all, which is the idea that it appears that Kliff Kingsbury is making a fairly substantial change in how he might operate his offense moving forward.

Game Information
Texas Tech
vs.
Oklahoma State

When: September 25, 2014 at 6:30 pm
Where: Boone Pickens Stadium | Stillwater, Oklahoma
Watch: ESPN
Key Injuries: Tony Morales

Dylan Cantrell to the X-receiver spot is a pretty significant move. Of course, it's not official, but last week, before the Wallerstedt news, Chris Level was pretty sure that you should buy plenty of stock in Cantrell and that he would be starting at the X-receiver position moving forward. Gone is the speed that we were promised in the offseason, and back on the outside is at least one, for now, larger target in Cantrell, who has hands made of honey and will quite literally catch anything. The speed factor is one thing that he lacks. It's not that he's slow, but he's not as fast as Devin Lauderdale, and D.J. Polite Bray and Reginald Davis.

Why the change and why now? That's a really good question and it's one that I hope we get an answer in next week's press conference (since nothing is official this week, we're sorta just speculating). Still, it should mark a fairly significant change for the offense, one that has sputtered to create much of anything significant and sustained for the first three games of the season. I think we could guess that the change is directly related to production of both the quarterback and the outside receivers. Lauderdale has only caught 5 passes for 59 yards. Polite-Bray has only caught 6 for 42, meanwhile, Davis has been okay, catching 12 passes for 152 yards, but I expected more. No matter how you cut it, those guys have to be better.

And this isn't to dismiss Webb's responsibility in the matter, because he hasn't put the ball out there either. It seems like the plays where Bradley Marquez is streaking from the outside receiver spot down the sideline have been few and far between. In fact, there was one terrible interception where Davis was streaking down the sideline and Webb didn’t throw the ball between the receiver and the sideline. It really wasn’t anywhere where Davis could go get it. Webb hasn't looked for that option and I can't believe that this option isn't there. Maybe Webb is too afraid of making mistakes, so he doesn't make that throw.

One last thought is that a huge part of the offensive success of Johnny Manziel was the fact that Mike Evans was an absolute beast.  I'm not about to write that Evans = Cantrell, that's not accurate, but I do think there is something to both players being bigger receivers that could catch everything and make their quarterbacks look good. Cantrell has some impressive leaping ability and this just might be the thought process behind the move for Cantrell to be starting. Just something to chew on.

I Believe in the Process. I’ve never not believed that Kingsbury was the right guy for this job, but the recent Sports Illustrated article about Kingsbury pretty much erased any doubt that I may have ever had regarding how he is a driven human being to be the best at everything. Just for the personal things in that article you should read it. You get to know Kingsbury as a human being a bit more. More than the personal stories that helped shape who Kingsbury is a person, you should know that he will stumble and he won't be perfect:

Last season Tech shot out to a 7-0 start before stumbling into a five-game losing streak. The Red Raiders regrouped to earn a berth in the Holiday Bowl, but, before the game, Kingsbury was confronted by his staff, who told him they couldn’t help but think he didn’t want to be there. Even worse, the players could sense it, too.

In the past Kingsbury might have harbored a grudge. Instead, "I told them, ‘You know, there’s probably some truth to that,’" he says. He straightened up and Tech handled Arizona State 37-23 despite being a 22-point underdog. It was a reminder to bring consistency to the office.

"I don’t know if I know myself completely, but I know that I’m always being myself," Kingsbury said. "Great coaches, they don’t put on any sort of façade. I should probably handle losing better sometimes, but at the same time, that’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s not like I’m excited to wake up at 4 a.m. -- but then I think of something that makes me angry, something I want to fix, and I’m up."

To be realistic, I have my doubts that the defense is going to be markedly better right now. I’m hopeful and I hope that they can be marginally better, force some turnovers and eventually we hope that the offense gets back on track. But I’m probably always going to be comfortable with what athletic director Kirby Hocutt and anyone else involved in the decision to hire Kingsbury because it’s exactly what I would have done. There is no hindsight for me on this deal. Those words will never be typed on my keyboard.

Let’s Talk Defense. Mike Smith enters the picture and this is going to be the toughest job that he’s ever had. Not only that, but Kingsbury affirmed that Smith was the interim defensive coordinator. This is something that we really haven’t talked about that much, but this was a surprise to me and I think it was a surprise to a lot of you too. On Monday, when Kingsbury affirmed that Smith’s defensive coordinator I think we had a lot of eyebrows be raised, but this is something that should actually be applauded in terms of how Kingsbury is handling Smith.

First things first, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least for Kingsbury to name Smith as the permanent defensive coordinator after the season . . . but . . . Kingsbury also leaves the door open to make a move if necessary. This is a significant decision moving forward and right now is not the time for Kingsbury to turn over every rock and make sure that he has the right guy for the job. We all hope that Smith is that guy, but Kingsbury had that tough conversation with Smith. He had to sit down and tell Smith, that despite the fact that they played on that field wearing the same colors, Kingsbury couldn’t commit to Smith on a permanent basis. Head coaches usually don’t get a lot of free passes when it comes to hiring and firing coordinators and when the offseason arrives, we hope that Kingsbury is dedicated to finding the best defensive coordinator that he can hire. That may be Smith and it may be someone else, but Kingsbury will have that opportunity at the end of the year.

I’m sure that conversation with Smith wasn’t easy. Folks as if Kingsbury is making strides in being a head coach and I think this is a prime example of making a tough but correct choice.

Uniform Tracker. Because at the heart of it all, VTM is a fashion blog.

Uniform Tracker
Opponent Helmet Jersey Pants Result Photo Photo Credit
Central Arkansas W, 42-35 Michael C. Johnson -
USA Today Sports
UTEP W, 42-35 John Weast
Arkansas L, 49-28 John Weast

Click photos to embiggen.

Quotes

Up first, we'll get to head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who talks about his new interim defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, who we all know won't be changing a lot this late in the game:

Q. What have you seen from Mike taking over an expanded role in the defense so far?
COACH KINGSBURY:
Relative to that, I'd say he's still himself, hasn't changed. Brings a lot of energy. Very positive. Good with the players. Things won't change a lot schematically, or personnel. But every guy is going to have their different way of doing things. I think he's handled himself well. They've had good energy over there, had some good practices.

We all know that turnovers have plagued this team for the better part of the year and it is something that has to be better to turn L's into W's:

Q. Can you talk offensively what you worked on the most this past week to get ready for Oklahoma State?
COACH KINGSBURY:
The biggest deal is protecting the football. If we won't turn it over. Last game, gave them the ball two times on the 10 yard line. We know they didn't need any help scoring points. Can't do that. Got to continue to protect the football, continue to take advantage of opportunities, not squander drives like we have been doing.

Kingsbury is also asked about Oklahoma State and the challenges they present:

Q. What are the biggest issues that this team presents for you?
COACH KINGSBURY:
They're really good. I think people thought they would drop off. They lost a bunch of good players last year. But these young players have stepped up, they haven't skipped a beat. Watching them the first couple games, they all fly around. You saw that against Florida State. It will be a big challenge. Up front, those guys gave us trouble last year. That whole group is back. We'll have to find a way to protect well and find a way to run the football.

I still don't think that Kingsbury is really even close to replacing Webb.  Ultimately, I think Kingsbury knows that for a lot of quarterbacks the switch doesn't flip immediately and the quarterback and the coach has to work through it.  Remember, Kingsbury worked at Houston with a freshman quarterback and it was a struggle.  I still think that Kingsbury will be very slow to make a change.  Very slow.

Q. Is there sort of wisdom or advice you give Davis? You being a quarterback, being in those shoes, to help things slow down for him?
COACH KINGSBURY:
Yeah, it's all part of the process. I remember being a sophomore, getting booed off the field here. I remember Graham getting booed off the field here. It takes time to grow up. You got a lot on your shoulders. You just have to keep plugging away. We'll get it.

Head Coach Mike Gundy, talks a bit about Texas Tech and where is team is:

Opening statement:
"We had a good game last week, but now we're looking forward to the Tech game. We'll work out today, tomorrow and Sunday, but we'll let them off on Saturday. We've obviously finished up the last game, and we're into game prep for Tech. It'll be a different experience for a number of different plays, especially with it being a conference game. The defense will see a wide-open attack that's much faster than what we've seen in the last few games. Offensively, we're about the same as we have been for a while. As I mentioned, practices are going very well at this time. We've got a long ways to go, but the attitude is good, and we're certainly getting a little bit better each day."

Gundy also talks about the weaknesses of his team and they have to overcome those weaknesses:

On the game plan against Texas Tech:
"Our game plan is complete, but we don't really have the luxury of opening up the playbook. Our quarterback has only played two games in his career, and we have three young offensive linemen. The teams that we compete against know that. They watch tape, and they see the inability and deficiencies we have in certain positions. There's not really any reason to hide that, and we're going to try and accomplish a few new things each week."

Hill is a unique player and he's a player that you'd love to watch just about any week other than this week because he's truly electric when he gets the ball in his hands:

On Tyreek Hill becoming a bigger factor in the kick return game:
"Well, the UTSA kicker kicked the ball out of the end zone almost every time, and the punter hung the ball up so high that we couldn't get a return. The one time we did get a return, it hit 20 yards in front of him, so he never really got the ball. He got the ball the first game five or six times in the return game, but in the last game, their specialists were really good. There was a chance for him to touch the ball some from an offensive standpoint, and those are the areas where we need to make sure he's getting his touches. When you're relying on special teams, you can't always say that he's going to touch the ball. We need him to touch the ball. He'll touch the ball more in some games than others, but we'd like for him to be getting it at least 20 times a game."

Roland doesn't get enough press because Oklahoma State is pretty balanced and Gundy talks about what he does as a running back:

On Desmond Roland playing a leadership role with J.W. Walsh out:
"We need Desmond in there for two reasons. One, he's experienced, and two, he pushes the pile and moves downhill, which he did some for us last year, as well. We just aren't able to get him in space like we did last year because we don't block well enough right now. Hopefully we'll be able to block for him and get in front of some guys by mid-season. If we can do that, he'll be able to find more space and make some cuts."

Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer talks about the offense and I do find it interesting to hear other defensive coordinators talk about what they see with Kingsbury's offense:

On Texas Tech's offense:
"They've got probably the best vertical passing threat that we've seen all year, so anytime that's out there, there's a possibility of getting a big play. It only takes one. They could throw it out there five times, and if the sixth time's a big play then it's well worth it. We've got to defend the vertical game. They've always been a great screen team. And then once they get you spread out, they go run the ball. Every week, for us, it's a different attack. It's not like we just have a base amount of plays like an offense does. We've got to defend what we're seeing, so it's a different velocity coming in this week."

And Spencer talks about what they cleaned up on their off-week:

On if he's seeing more consistency out of his players:
"It's a week-by-week deal. It's still very much a growth process with this bunch. The last game, which is what I go on, cleared up quite a few mental errors, which I think resulted in some consistent play for that night. That's gone, that's put to rest. The challenge is now a new screen, new attack and how we're going to react to what we're going to see next Saturday. Every week is going to be that kind of process for these guys, and you've just got to hope that improvement shows a little bit more every week. If that happens then we'll be pleased."

Stats

Stat
Total Offense 440.3 (31) 497.7 (11)
Rushing Offense 176.3 (11) 170.3 (50)
Passing Offense 264.0 (101) 327.3 (9)
Scoring Offense 38.0 (14) 33.3 (48)
Total Defense 352.0 (89) 429.7 (78)
Rushing Defense 111.3 (87) 294.7 (107)
Passing Defense 240.7 (89) 135.0 (32)
Scoring Defense 24.3 (72) 36.7 (94)
Turnover Margin 0.33 (55) -1.33 (104)
3rd Down % Off. 42.9% (48) 50.0% (53)
3rd Down % Def. 24.4% (75) 40.4% (40)
Yds/Play Def. 5.28 (99) 5.13 (41)

Oklahoma State isn’t as dominant as they’ve been in prior years. Well, everything, except for that rushing defense, which is totally awesome. But let’s go in order. Oklahoma St has played one much tougher opponent in Florida State so just take this into account when looking at the stats overall, both from a good and bad perspective.

Oklahoma St. has always been pretty good from a running game perspective and I suppose that this is pretty much on average for what they do. Still nice to see Texas Tech to be in the conversation with Oklahoma St. from a running perspective. That’s pretty nice. We’ll discuss to Garman later, but I don’t think that Oklahoma St. has really had the passer that they had Weeden or Chelf.

The defense is significantly better for Oklahoma State, although that’s why the defensive coordinator for Texas Tech resigned. There’s really no way to get out of any of those numbers and that third down percentage is just incredible for Oklahoma State. I am surprised that Texas Tech has a better third down offense, stiff hovering around 50%, which I find surprising.

And since adding the yards per play for the defense, I’m pretty unsure what to make of them, but when you take them in conjunction with the third downs allowed, then you can see why Texas Tech is having a rough go at the defensive side of the field as Texas Tech is, quite literally, giving up 5 yards a play AND not forcing the opposing offense to really ever give up the ball.

Tweets

Who out there can help?

Mike Smith:

That’s a lot of students:

Five Things

1. Three Players to Watch on Offense for Oklahoma State.

1) ATH Tyreek Hill (5-10/185): You wanna know fast. Watch Hill. Maybe the fastest player in the Big 12. There may not be a lot of "maybe" to that statement. Hill is a threat pretty much anywhere on the field, getting the ball out of the backfield and receiving too. He’s a slightly bigger version of Jakeem Grant, but with more speed.

2) QB Daxx Garman (6-2/205): Before playing against Missouri State, Garman had not played in five years. A bit of a wonderer, Garman had qualifying issues coming out of high school, namely because he transferred to Southlake Carroll and then he was ineligible (I think) and then he signed with Arizona, but then ended up transferring to Oklahoma State. Garman finished 16 of 26 for around 240 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Then Garman got a full game against UTSA where he really poured it on and completed about half of his passes for over 300 yards and in both games, he was over 9 yards per attempt in both games. So yes, he likes to go deep and he has receivers that can help him go deep.

3) RBs Rennie Childs (5-10/205) & Desmond Roland (6-2/210): Oh hey, don’t worry about these guys. Childs only averages about 11 yards a carry Roland averages about 16 yards on each carry. So yeah, none of these guys have any big play potential. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve only got about 30 carries each thus far, but there is a lot of big play potential.

2. Three Players to Watch on Defense for Oklahoma State.

1) DE Jimmy Bean (6-5/250): I really wanted to talk about James Castleman and think about what could have been, and I think going back to the idea that really good teams recruit high school defensive linemen consistently. Texas Tech has to find that groove. In any event, Bean is very disruptive from his defensive end spot, but the honest to goodness truth is that Oklahoma State is near the top of the nation in tackles for loss and it isn’t based off of just one player, but a collection of players making an impact. In fact, the Cowboys have 26 tackles for loss for the year. Texas Tech has 9. Yeah, 9. I’m not sure that OSU has a "star" per se, but they do have a ton of worker bees all pulling their weight. Bean is one part, but Josh Furman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Ryan Simmons, Sam Wren, etc.

2) LB Ryan Simmons (6-0/235): Simmons leads the team in tackles, although it’s not by much. Simmons is a highly active linebacker, notching 21 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack and 1 quarterback hurry. Again, Simmons is maybe the leader of the linebacker corps, but Seth Jacobs and Furman are just as talented as Simmons or they at the very least make as many plays.

3) S Jordan Sterns (6-1/205): Another one that got away as Sterns was a Cibolo guy that played some as a true freshman and now he is starring for the Cowboys at the safety spot. Second on the team in tackles, plus two tackles for a loss, an interception, a pass break-up a forced fumble and a blocked kick is on his resume. So yeah, he’s productive.

3. Three Keys to the Game.

1) Webb Has to Find a Groove. I think that Kingsbury very much tried to create a situation for Webb last week against Arkansas with those slant routes from the inside receivers, but goodness Arkansas was all over those routes and they looked downright forced. It did seem that Kingsbury was legitimately trying to get Webb some easy completions, but maybe he learned that either Webb took the initial play call to heart and didn’t waiver, but maybe Kingsbury didn’t give Webb any options, which would seem like a bad idea. In any event, there are other ways to make this work and if opposing defenses are going to drop into a zone, then there are areas where the players are going to have to find the spot where there are soft spots in that zone. That's the thing about the spread. You can't cover everybody. Let's hope that Webb can figure it out.

2) Keep It Simple. Earlier this week, Kingsbury and some of the players mentioned that interim defensive coordinator Mike Smith (for the record, I'm not going to refer to him as interim the entire year because that's asking way too much of me) has emphasized tackling in the few days that he's been in charge. That's been the one thing that have aggravated fans the most about the defense was that there appeared to just be a lack of understanding of how to bring down opposing players. That's the embarrassing thing as we sit and watch, the idea that simplistic things that players should be able to do weren't being done. Whatever Smith is going to do, I hope he keeps it simple and straightforward. Let's just work on getting that left foot down. Then the right. Then the left. And then we get to see some positive movement.

3) Let's Move the Line. The best part of the offense is one that we don't focus on as much as we maybe should, the running game. DeAndre Washington, Quinton White and Justin Stockton have all been nothing short of spectacular and lots of credit should go to Lee Hays and Mike Jinks, for getting these guys ready to play and actually start moving some piles. The best recipe for success could very well be a heavy dose of Washington, White and Stockton. Sounds like a fantastic idea to be dominant here. Of course, this means that you need to be dominant against one of Oklahoma State's best position groups, but it would be real nice to be highly effective here. One thing to consider with that rushing defense is that Florida State is only 111th in rushing offense, which is a bit surprising and UTSA is 109th in nation. Not exactly big-time rushing teams. Or course, Texas Tech hasn't been a big-time rushing team a in while, so this will be a decent test.

4. Two Reasons Why Texas Tech Will Win.

1) Something Has to Give. Well, actually, this isn't true at all. Something could not give at all and Texas Tech could be in a worse position than they were before this game, but I do think that there is much better game in Kingsbury and Webb and the defense and the receivers and Mike Smith. I think we've really seen the lowest of low and we saw a team like Arkansas just road-grate Texas Tech. There's a better team somewhere and there's talent. It just doesn't feel like it right now.

2) Smith Will Have Some Magic. Don't underestimate the impact that something like this can have, replacing a defensive coordinator and having to rally around the new guy. The odds are that this will not be an effective means and, heck, even Vegas is favoring Oklahoma State by 14, but there is something to guys realizing that they're playing for each other and the jobs of people who are trying to help lead the way. I hope that we see some real improvement and maybe Smith will have some of the magic he brought as a player. And when I write magic, I really mean some of that toughness and relentless attitude that helped drive him to an NFL career.

5. Two Reasons Why Texas Tech Will Lose.

1) History. Texas Tech hasn't won in Stillwater since 2001 and Texas Tech hasn't played a close and competitive game against the Cowboys in what seems like ages. Of course, we know that past performance isn't a predictor of future success and anything can happen, but right now, Texas Tech doesn't have history on their side.

2) Just Better. I'm admittedly really dismissive of Oklahoma State and what Gundy has done to the program since 2008. That year was a bit of a stumble for Gundy, but since then, Oklahoma State has been anything but a team that I or really anyone else should be dismissive of. They've been good and consistently good and they do a lot of things that I want Texas Tech to do, namely recruit those high school defensive linemen with tenacity. OSU has been really good because they've been able to hang with folks and be better than a lot of folks on those front lines.