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Demarcus Felton: The key to the rest of Texas Tech’s season

Demarcus Felton showed flashes of DeAndre Washington in breakout performance against Louisiana Tech…

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A team’s bye week is an opportunity for the coaching staff to assess where the team is at relative to its preseason goals and expectations, especially this early in the season. Some questions I imagine Kingsbury and Gibbs are pondering: How can we force more takeaways on defense? How will we cope with recent injuries? And what is our strategy for the run game?

In 2014 and 2015, the Red Raiders were blessed with DeAndre Washington, the first Texas Tech running back to rush for back to back 1,000 yard seasons in 15 years. Red Raider fans were excited for Justin Stockton as the heir to the throne in the backfield, as he is incredibly speedy and can score any time he touches the ball. But concerns loomed that he wasn’t the best fit to be an every down back and run in between the tackles.

Demarcus Felton may just be the answer. He had a breakout game against Louisiana Tech last week, rushing for 123 yards on just 16 carries (7.7 average) and 2 TD’s. Most of that seemed to come between the tackles of Texas Tech’s zone run blocking scheme. That’s a good enough stat line by itself. But even more, Louisiana Tech surrendered just 96 yards on the ground against Arkansas earlier this year, and the Razorbacks make their living running the football.

The performance reminded me a lot of DeAndre Washington. It wasn’t flashy, but it was efficient. Felton made the right cuts, got north and south, broke tackles, and added an element to the offense that was lacking in the first two games of the season. This is important for two major reasons.

First, the up tempo offensive style of Texas Tech has drawn criticism for not eating up enough game clock for the defense to rest. The defense has struggles totally independent of their stamina, but being well-rested certainly can’t hurt. So when Texas Tech throws the ball every down, they eat up even less clock when a pass falls incomplete or they go three and out after missing on downfield passes.

Running the ball helps to sustain drives. Texas Tech can strike quickly when needed. But having a 12 play drive that eats up six or seven minutes of clock can help halt the other team’s offensive momentum by keeping them on the sideline and allowing the Red Raider defense to rest.

Second, it obviously benefits the offense, which already has a tiny margin of error. While Pat Mahomes and the passing attack are nothing short of prolific, opposing defenses can stop the bleeding when they know what’s coming. But if the threat on the ground warrants equal consideration to the air attack, it really puts defenses in a bind.

Justin Stockton and Demarcus Felton are both talented running backs. But they have contrasting skill sets. If the coaching staff can find a way to maximize each running back’s capabilities, it will make the offense even scarier and give the defense a fighting chance on the other side of the ball. It’s an adjustment that could potentially be looked back on at the end of the season as making the difference in at least one or two ball games.