About last night... The phrase often used to begin apologies after a night where you did something out of character and swear it won't happen again. Watching Tech play for any considerable amount of time, you believe that the defense played last night was not out of character, but the norm.
I'm here to tell you to take a step back Red Raiders. Last night was only one game in a 12 game regular season. Sometimes weird out of character things happen. Weird things happen most often when Pac-12 after dark is involved. All hope is not lost. Life will be OK. Now let's retrace our steps from last night and see what exactly went down.
1. Patrick Mahomes is one of the best college football players in the country.
Now I know y'all all know this, but for whatever reason there are some people in the country who don't know yet. So we're all going to have to keep saying it until the entire nation knows. It's impossible to get used to seeing Mahomes scrambling around to his left, finding an open receiver 30 yards down field, and chucking it across his body and against his momentum perfectly into the hands of his target.
That isn't a thing that quarterbacks or normal humans should be able to do. Mahomes is first in the nation in passing yards (1023), tied for first in passing touchdowns with Davis Webb (9), and has completed 70.8% of his passes good for top 20 in the nation.
When your QB completes 38/53 passes for 540 yards and 5 touchdowns coupled with 44 rushing yards and a touchdown, he is not the reason you lost. And if any of you disagree I swear I will send you a strongly worded email demonstrating how wrong you are.
2. The defense didn't actually look horrible all night.
Let me take you back to the first quarter of last night's game. You can follow along with your box score at home kids. Notice that the Texas Tech defense only gave up one score. The defense did not allow the safety. I will never forgive the officials for missing that insanely clear offisdes penalty which forced the center to snap the ball and cause the safety, that was inexcusable. And if I see that ref in person I will tell him how disappointed I am in him.
On three of ASU's first four drives the Red Raider defense actually forced them to punt the ball away. Then the floodgates opened. The Sun Devils would score on all eight of their remaining drives that didn't end a half. Only one of those scores was a field goal.
It has been said many times because it bears repeating: building a defense from nothing takes a lot of time. There were sparks of hope in this game. You know you saw them. If you think firing David Gibbs is what we need to do know that is a silly thought, and you should feel silly for thinking it.
Firing David Gibbs will only make this defense fall back worse than they were before. Continuity breeds success. Having the same defensive coordinator for more than one season in a row is exactly what this defense needs.
Tech's defense looked better early and worse late because of the lack of depth of talent, which takes the longest time to acquire. One downfall of Tech's near-perfect offense is that it scores so fast it doesn't give their own defense enough time to recuperate before the next drive. It takes time to have a stable of talent to plug in studs off the bench when your starters get tired, it doesn't happen overnight.
3. Kalen Ballage is good at football.
Major tip of the cap to Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage who tied the FBS record for most rushing touchdowns in a single game with 7. His stat line: 13 carries, 137 yards, 7 touchdowns. The man was unstoppable, as was QB Manny WiIlkins who literally hurdled a defender that was standing mostly upright.
Though ASU struggled against a good Northern Arizona squad, this team right now looks like the best in their division. And in a nebulous Pac-12 they look like one of the top teams in the whole conference. This loss could end up looking significantly better as the season progresses.
4. Negative turnover margins mean only bad things.
Texas Tech's defense under David Gibbs is predicated on aggressiveness and forcing turnovers. Forcing fumbles is much more difficult than intercepting passes. While it might have felt like ASU did nothing but run the ball, their offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey kept the run/pass fairly even (53 rushes, 37 passes).
The defensive line was unable to consistently pressure Wilkins into making bad reads or forcing quick throws. He completed 75% of his passes on the night and the defense did not force a single turnover*. When Patrick Mahomes made two poor reads and threw those interceptions they ultimately ended up sinking Tech's chances to win.
*DJ Polite-Bray forced and recovered a fumble from an ASU receiver then returned it 43 yards on the first play of the second quarter. The play was called back on a roughing the passer penalty by Breiden Fehoko where the flag was not thrown until the fumble was recovered. I'm not bitter at all.
With the talent level what it is right now, this defense needs to force turnovers in order to win games. I'm not saying the defense is untalented, far from that. It's that you can't play all your starters 100 snaps a game without any drop off in results.
5. This offense is football poetry.
While the haters may hate, and they naysayers may say nay, they may never doubt the potency and brilliance of Kliff Kingsbury's offense. There are a million variations of what started as the Air Raid offense, but Kingsbury's current version with Pat Mahomes manning the helm is my favorite to watch.
Losing two excellent players in DeAndre Washington and Jakeem Grant to the NFL should theoretically have forced this offense to take a step back. It did not. The offense is functioning at a higher level due to Mahomes' off season improvements after he focused solely on football rather than splitting his time between that and baseball.
Without a traditional thoroughbred running back like Washington, this year Kingsbury made short passes to the running backs more of a priority over a traditional run game. The results so far are phenomenal thanks in no small part to the excellence of Justin Stockton.
This season Mahomes leads the team in carries (21), yards (101), and touchdowns (3). Stockton ranks second in all of those categories. On rushing attempts Stockton averages 3.5 yards per touch. Through the air Justin has 7 catches for 161 yards for an average of 23 yards per catch. When Stockton gets the ball in space he is electric and reminds me quite a bit of Jakeem Grant because he does things like this.
You're not catching Justin Stockton. pic.twitter.com/geoputf8lf— Patrick Conn (@DraftCowboys) September 11, 2016
What we saw from the receiving corps last night impressed me quite a bit. Derrick Willies stood out to me in a big way last night when he caught his first touchdown as a Red Raider. On the year Willies only has three catches, but he is still building trust with Mahomes. The wideout transfer has big potential and I foresee him being a more consistently utilized weapon in the future.
This game didn't feel great, but that's alright because there's another one coming next week. Though many things went wrong last night if you look carefully, you will see that more went right. Step down off the ledge Tech fans, you were just subjugated to the cruel whims of Pac-12 after dark. It happens to the best of us.