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Tech must abandon its Air Raid identity to return to Big 12 relevance

To win in 2019 and beyond, Tech must do the opposite of what made it successful in the past.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

I detest this quote for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s consistently attributed to Albert Einstein, who absolutely never said it—it actually comes from a 1983 fiction book titled “Sudden Death.” The quote is also annoying because there are people in this world today who think it’s the literal definition of the word.

It is not.

Third, doing something repeatedly and expecting a different result is hardly a proper example of insanity. If I’m hacking at the base of a tree with an axe over and over, I expect one of those swings will produce a different result than the first few hundred I take.

But, for all my revulsion of this quote, it unfortunately applies directly to Texas Tech football.

The Red Raiders have been running the same offense since Mike Leach took over in 2000. It worked out great for the first 11 years—Tech didn’t record a single losing season during that stretch. They had even won seven bowl games, landing in the AP Top 25 five separate years.

Oklahoma v Texas Tech
Michael Crabtree would excel in any offense, but he was made especially dangerous through the Air Raid, which hadn’t quite been figured out yet.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At around the same time Tommy Tuberville took over in 2010, the Big 12 started to slowly figure out how to defend the Air Raid offense. You can blame Tuberville’s poor record on Tommy himself, but when Tech went back to its Air Raid roots by hiring Kliff Kingsbury, the success didn’t return with him.

Hawai’i went through an almost identical phase. June Jones, author of the “run and shoot” offense—which is virtually indistinguishable from the Air Raid offense, took over for UH in 1999. The Rainbow Warriors posted winning seasons seven out of Jones’ nine years in Honolulu, including an unprecedented 12-1 record in 2007.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Hawaii v Georgia
Colt Brennan almost won a Heisman with Hawai’i.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Greg McMackin replaced Jones in 2008 and had decent success running the same offense, even winning 10 games in 2010. But, just as it happened in Lubbock, teams started to finally figure out that high-volume passing attack around 2011 and Hawai’i posted losing records five out of the next seven seasons.

Texas Tech and Hawai’i were never supposed to win at a high level. The disadvantages both these programs face, particularly in recruiting, are abundant. But the beautiful thing about coaching is that it can win you games with mediocre talent.

Here’s the problem. Texas Tech has been clinging to its Air Raid identity like Uncle Rico clings to his past. There’s no joke here. You wouldn’t believe how many fans would admit to preferring to keep the Air Raid offense and win six games per year vs. running a balanced offense and winning nine games per year. Nothing punctures brilliance like the inability to evolve.

The truth is that times are changing. Pass-heavy offenses dominated the college football landscape for a decade, and now it’s been solved. Coaches are recruiting faster players on defense over bigger and stronger players. Defenses now have the stamina and quickness to deal with a hurry-up offense.

Alabama v Auburn
C.J. Mosley was one of the first “modern” linebackers Nick Saban recruited to Alabama.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

And since everyone is running high-powered offenses these days, your team’s three-and-out that kills just eleven seconds off the clock simply gives the ball back to your opponent and you find yourself down 28-0 in the first quarter. Oddly, it doesn’t put you out of the game, but it sure as hell makes your comeback attempt a little bit harder.

Coaches are adjusting for that, or at least considering it now. They’re realizing the key to beating these offense-focused teams is keeping their offense off the field, grinding down the clock through a strong, physical running game. It wears out the opposing defense, leaving them susceptible to big plays in the second half, and keeps their offense off the field and out of rhythm.

I did a little bit of research and have some data to share with you, for those unconvinced by my arguments. Before you read the charts, note that my argument is not a fixed “ALL TEAMS THAT RUN THE BALL AND CHEW CLOCK ARE BETTER THAN THOSE THAT DON’T.” It’s that the trend indicates those who do these two things are generally slightly more successful than those who don’t.

The first chart looks at the top-10 teams according to the most recent AP poll and reveals the potency of their running game.

AP Top-10 Teams & Rushing Yards

RK Team Rushing yards
RK Team Rushing yards
1 Clemson 248.2
2 Alabama 198.4
3 Ohio State 171.3
4 Oklahoma 247.4
5 Notre Dame 182.6
6 LSU 173.6
7 Florida 213.2
8 Georgia 238.8
9 Texas 153.1
10 Washington State 77.7
NR Texas Tech 132.6
Chart by @ZachMasonSports

So, AP-Top 10 teams run the ball for an average of 190.43 yards per game. Tech falls about 60 yards short, which is certainly no small figure.

Next, I wanted to see if there was a correlation between the country’s leaders in time of possession and their record.

Top teams in country by time of possession

TOP RK Team Time of Possession (minutes) Record
TOP RK Team Time of Possession (minutes) Record
1 Army 38 11-2
2 Charlotte 35 5-7
3 Texas A&M 34 9-4
4 Air Force 34 5-7
5 Michigan 34 10-3
6 Georgia Tech 33 7-6
7 Western Michigan 33 7-6
8 Ohio 33 9-4
9 Boise State 33 10-3
10 Cincinnati 33 11-2
- Averages 34 8.4 – 4.4
Chart by @ZachMasonSports

This is where things get really interesting. Eight out of the top-10 teams in time of possession had winning records this year, including FOUR 10-win teams. Remember, there are 60 minutes in a game, so these teams are controlling the ball for well over half the game. Let’s continue.

Controlling the clock is clearly a good thing, but does having the ball for small portion of the games actually hurt?

Teams with lowest time of possession

TOP RK Team Time of Possession (minutes) Record
TOP RK Team Time of Possession (minutes) Record
129 South Carolina 25 7-6
128 Houston 25 8-5
127 New Mexico State 25 3-9
126 UCF 25 12-1
125 San Jose State 26 1-11
124 Utah State 26 11-2
123 Central Michigan 26 1-11
122 Nebraska 27 4-8
121 UCLA 27 3-9
120 New Mexico 27 3-9
- Averages 25.9 5.3 – 7.1
Chart by @ZachMasonSports

This is interesting, because you see both ends of the spectrum here. Not having the ball a lot doesn’t mean your team is bad, it can actually mean your team is so good it’s hardly taking them any time to score, so they’re on defense a lot. Still, it’s worth noting the average record here is a losing one. For what it’s worth, Texas Tech is on offense for the same amount of time it’s on defense–30 minutes.

Lastly, I wanted to look at the records of teams who abandon the run game, or just don’t run the ball very effectively.

Teams with least amount of rushing yards

RK Team Rushing Yards Record
RK Team Rushing Yards Record
129 San Jose State 61.5 1-11
128 Washington State 77.7 11-2
127 UTSA 87.3 3-9
126 Florida State 91.1 5-7
125 Akron 95.3 4-8
124 New Mexico State 105.3 3-9
123 Colorado State 105.6 3-9
122 Stanford 107.9 9-4
121 Hawaii 109.6 8-6
120 Southern Miss 112.6 6-5
- Averages 95.39 5.3 – 7.0
Chart by @ZachMasonSports

Once again, while you certainly can win games without running the football, it’s more likely than not you’re going to struggle to have success. I think the success Leach has experienced at Washington State can partially be attributed to the terribleness of the Pac-12 in recent years. They don’t know how to defend the Air Raid, or any other offense it seems.

Few have given the “run the ball, chew the clock” movement any credibility until Army took Oklahoma into overtime this year in Norman. The Black Knights had the ball for 44 minutes compared to Oklahoma’s 15. With Kyler Murray at the helm and an offense loaded with NFL talent, that game should’ve been 70-6 by halftime. But it was a wake-up call to the rest of the country—amazing offenses can be made inconsequential with the right running-focused offense and clock control mentality.

Army v Oklahoma
Army didn’t belong on the same field as Oklahoma, but their playing style brought them within inches of beating the Sooners.
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The problem with Tech is, as stated before, the fans would lose their minds if Tech emphasized the running game over the air attack. It’d also be a long process because you’d have to start recruiting different kinds of players, and not many high schools in Texas produce road graders on the o-line or tight ends and receivers who love to block.

With ties to Mike Leach, new Tech offensive coordinator David Yost will certainly try to duplicate the Pirate’s patented Air Raid offense in Lubbock once again.

It didn’t work out for Kingsbury.

I’m not calling Kirby Hocutt crazy for hiring a coach who’s going to run an identical offense as the one we’ve seen fail over the last decade. But the definition of insanity...