The Sam Houston State Bearkats had a little bit of a strange 2014. They struggled a little in non-conference play, then tore up the Southland Conference with a 7-1 record, eventually making it all the way to the semifinals of the playoffs before running into the buzzsaw that is North Dakota State. They're a little bit of a tougher test than some lower division opponents, but ultimately I think we have the firepower, and more importantly, the speed, to get a solid win in Week 1.
OFFENSE: Air Raid With A Little Twist
QB Jared Johnson is the guy that sticks out here. He'll be even more of a threat if his receivers have improved at getting open. SHSU likes to run the ball out of their shotgun, no tight ends sets. I think that if we can make this guy one-dimensional, the foundation of the Bearkat offense will be shook. This hinges on our all-senior Defensive Line, they have to step up big in this one. I'm classifying them as an Air Raid by virtue of their linemen's splits, but they function more as an Oregon-style spread option than a Texas Tech slant-based team.
DEFENSE: 4-3 Over
DE PJ Hall is the real deal. He wears #92, and I'd expect to see at least a little bit of his name and number called on Saturday. Fortunately the rest of the defense seems to be... less than sound. I think this is a game where we can really ring up the touchdowns. They aren't awful fundamentally, but with the burners we have in the backfield, we should be able to outrun them. With the caliber of Offensive Line we have, we should be able to outblock them.
OH YEAH BUTTSTRIPES YEAH
WHY I'M WORRIED
SHSU is a very, very resilient team. You can punch them in the mouth and they bounce right back up. It's gonna take a couple of solid shots in succession to put them away. If we're not careful, this could turn into a repeat of Central Arkansas last year.
WHY I'M NOT WORRIED
We're simply faster and better in the open field. Not much else to it.
HOW WE MATCH UP
I think we actually match up very well with these guys. Our offense has a lot of experience with 4-3 defenses, as they see one in practice every day. Our defense has a lot of experience with the Air Raid, as they've seen one in practice for the past decade at least.
Offensively, the Bearkats really like their read-option plays. In the modern world of football, they're typically run out of the shotgun, but they're almost identical to the old-school "midline" plays that were run out of the wishbone. The only difference is that the Fullbacks and Tight Ends have been traded out for Wide Receivers. Essentially, they're going to try to spread us all over the field, then isolate the defensive end, force him to choose between the RB and the QB, and hope that a little daylight opens up somewhere in the 5 OL who will be taking on the 3 remaining DL and LBs. I'm a little worried about this play and how we defend it, because our defense has a bad habit of thinking too much and not reacting to the play. Part of that comes from a complex system, and we'll find out real quick about how much more simplified the David Gibbs system is. If we react, not think, this play is dead in the water. If we think and don't react, that split second of doubt could potentially hurt us really badly.
They also have a really solid "trap" play they like to run. The OG is going to take a step back as the C attempts to wall off the NG in whatever shade he happens to be in, then the OG loops around the wall, and goes up to the next level of the defense, the LB level. The pulling side tackle kicks back into pass protection to attempt to fool the linebacking crew/defensive end. Basically they're going to try and sucker our defense up the field so that they can get earholed in the gap, like what happened to the MLB on the right (facing the offense) of Jacksonville State's defense on this play. If the LB attacks this play correctly, i.e. stays very close to the center, doesn't get earholed, and forces the running back to take a little stutter step to find another hole, our run support from Keenon Ward & the rest of the linebacking crew should be good enough to stop this in it's tracks. I think we can adequately defend this play.
When they pass, they typically run deeper, "comeback" routes. They use this when they run the ball too, to disguise when they're passing/running and to take the corners and safeties out of run support. For the corners and safeties, most plays are going to look exactly the same. If they can tell the difference and get to the ball, I think we should be good. We mainly have a problem getting beat deep, and SHSU doesn't particularly care for the deep ball. Yeah, they'll throw it if it's there, but they'd prefer to grind out the defense and the clock.
Ultimately, this is defendable for us. I think we should get the best of them here.
This play illustrates what i'm talking about when I say they have PJ Hall and not much else. Hall gets a great rush on the passer, draws the holding, but the pass still gets completed because they're not that great everywhere else. The receiver who caught the ball came off of a "stop" route, and was essentially standing still until about 5 seconds in, shakes off a PI attempt by the SHSU defender, and gets the first down (minus the hold).
SHSU just isn't the most solid outside of PJ Hall. When he doesn't pressure the QB, it seems like no one can pressure the QB. Even when their DBs have outstanding coverage, they just can't seem to make plays. During this game, it seemed more like Jacksonville State shot themselves in the foot more than SHSU played good defense. Penalties kill teams. If we can stay away from penalties, we should be able to score almost at will on this team. I really like our chances against this style and caliber of defense.
Sam Houston does like to blitz though. They really like to blitz. On this play, they bring everyone in their front 7 and end up overwhelming the OL of Jacksonville State. However, this helps us if anything. Both Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes are great against the blitz. The vast majority of Webb's poor play last year came against teams that were dropping everyone in their base coverage. I think that Sam Houston is going to end up having to blitz against our superior OL, and that's gonna open up some major passing lanes in the seams and over the middle.
I see no reason why we don't win this game by 3-4 scores. Just about everything SHSU does plays into our strengths. When we get to the meat grinder of Arkansas - TCU - Baylor, the whole speed thing is going to be evened out, but in this game it's going to be a factor.
Texas Tech 42, Sam Houston State 20