We are now one game into the 2020 football season, and unfortunately there was not a lot to be pleased with in Raiderland. The Red Raiders survived a close game against a mediocre FCS team in Houston Baptist, and played arguably the worst game defensively that I have ever seen against such a poor opponent. The defense surrendered over 600 yards, and allowed HBU quarterback Bailey Zappe to throw for 567 yards, which was the most passing yards that Tech has given up to a single player since the turn of the century. The run defense was better, although Houston Baptist is not exactly a run-heavy team. As such, the only thing we can truly conclude from the run defense is that it was not completely atrocious, but we will have to wait until the Texas game to get a true read on that.
Anyways, here are the week one grades for the defensive side of the ball:
Defensive Line: C
This was honestly not as bad of a showing from the defensive line as people are making it out to be. They held Ean Beek to only 34 yards on 16 carries, and got some solid pressure on Zappe despite only rushing three on most downs. The problem? Those pressures did not convert into sacks or even missed throws. Zappe was often able to easily evade hits, and often made his best throws after scrambling away from pressure. Eli Howard is the perfect summary of the line’s performance in this game, as he had nine pressures, but only half a sack. That is not ideal for an edge rusher, especially considering how poor the interior lineman for HBU were.
The worst part is that the star of the line, Jaylon Hutchings, got injured in the third quarter. He had racked up 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss, and had generally been effective stopping the run. Let’s hope he is back for the Texas game, because we will need him against a Texas team that racked up 689 yards of offense in their first game against UTEP.
The linebackers were easily the best part of the defense against HBU, and were maybe the most disciplined group on the entire team. They had a solid game of football, making tackles in space and generally not making the large mistakes seen in the back end of the defense. Krishon Merriweather was the star of the show, racking up 12 tackles in his first start as a Red Raider The performance earned him Defensive Player of the Week in the Big 12, which seems kind of bizarre given the lackluster team performance, but was nevertheless warranted given his output. As a whole, the team did not create many havoc plays, but they got the job done. The lack of blitzing was noticeable, as the unit only registered two tackles for a loss, but ultimately that seemed more of a schematic decision than a lack of performance by any of the guys.
Colin Schooler and Damarcus Fields (I honestly have no idea whether or not to classify him as a LB or a Safety at this point) should be back for the Texas game, which should be good given their status as two of the three most experienced players on the defensive side of the football. Riko Jeffers and Brandon Bouyer-Randle also had solid games to start the season, the latter of the two having an impressive three deflections in his first game for Tech.
I have no idea where to even start.
Texas Tech allowed 567 yards to an FCS quarterback. It was not even like he threw the ball an egregious amount of times. He averaged 11.6 yards per attempt. 11.6! I do not want to hear about the great system, or how he is such a great quarterback, or anything that alludes to that sort of discussion, because even though both of those points are accurate, it does not make this performance acceptable at all. Patrick Mahomes, the greatest quarterback to ever run the air raid offense, only had a grand total of two games with more than 11.6 yards per attempt, and both of those were in his senior year with probably the most loaded group of wide receivers in school history. Tons of great quarterbacks have walked into Jones AT&T stadium since 2000, but Bailey Zappe of all people is now the guy who put up the most yards of any opposing quarterback in our house this century? I am at a loss for words regarding that, but we need to at least discuss why he was so successful.
For one- the starting corners did not play well at any point. Zech McPherson committed no less than three penalties in coverage, and the one pick was on a deflected pass from a receiver. On the other side, Alex Hogan was not any better. I really do believe in Alex being a future star at corner, but this game showed that he has a long way to go. He got caught tracking the quarterback a number of times, and beyond that kept getting beat on vertical assignments. Dadrion Taylor also got beat once on a deep ball, and from an amateur perspective it seemed like he was slow to react on a number of occasions. Thomas Leggett was getting picked on in coverage, and while he was not as bad at tackling, the lack of covering that we saw at times from him last year showed up again.
Beyond those guys- I hardly noticed Eric Monroe at all, which was probably a good thing. Adrian Frye did not play much, but he made a couple decent plays in run support which was more than the rest of the group could really say.
I want these guys to succeed so much, especially both Alex and Zech. They clearly have a level of talent, or else they would not be where they are now, but whatever happened on Saturday was not something you ever want to see again. At this rate the trio of Tevin Madison, Nigel Bethel, and Paul Banks would have been more effective in at least slowing the passing attack down. Damarcus Fields and Adrian Frye legitimately played a number of decent games as starting corners, so I believe they would have been more effective as well, which brings me to my next point of frustration:
Why did we ever try to move those guys around? Fields and Frye were the two best corners on the roster in 2018. Frye had five interceptions and Fields graded as one of the better outside corners in the Big 12 both last year and in the aforementioned 2018 season, yet in both cases Keith Patterson and his coaching staff tried to move guys around, which left voids at the outside corner position that could’ve been avoided. The jury is still out on how Fields does when he returns, but as of now I cannot help but wonder if there was a way to keep those guys on the outside while transitioning other guys, such as Des Smith or McPherson out to the hybrid position.
Whatever the case may be, the defense has a lot to improve on before next weekend’s showdown with Texas. The Red Raiders will likely be double digit underdogs at home, and unless something drastic changes it is hard not to envision Sam Ehlinger and company destroying this defense.