Texas Tech contained Sam Ehlinger for 57 minutes on Saturday. It might not have been pretty, and it certainly was not an elite performance by any means, but it was much better than what some folks in Lubbock anticipated. The defense had only allowed 3 offensive points in the second half prior to the final two drives. They had forced two straight punts, and were finally getting pressure on the senior quarterback.
Then the last three minutes happened.
We really do not need to go into detail on what happened. If you really want to relive that stretch, you can read my recap that details the meltdown in chronological order. Having such a drastic swing in performance makes grades a little more difficult this week, but here is what I came up with:
Defensive Line: C+
Some pretty solid play in the second half from the three man front really helped the defense frustrate Ehlinger. The trio of Eli Howard, Jaylon Hutchings, and Tyree Wilson all had pressures in the second half, and beyond that the run defense from Hutchings and Nick McCann was impressive for the most part. Unfortunately, the rush was very subdued in the first half, and by the end of the game it was clear that the group was gassed. Some of the lack of pressure can be explained by Keith Patterson’s play-calling (which I’ll explain later), but ultimately the inopportune lack of pressure was a key factor in letting Texas come back from down 15.
Also, Tyree Wilson is an absolute monster and I cannot wait to see how he impacts this defense throughout the season.
Another solid game from the best unit on this defense. Riko Jeffers had a Riko Jeffers level performance, Krishon Merriweather had yet another great game, Colin Schooler made a decent impact in his first game as a Red Raider, and Jacob Morgenstern had a surprisingly great game, playing 84 snaps and racking up five tackles. None of the linebackers got burned in any way in pass coverage, although Texas did utilize the bubble screen concept to isolate linebackers in space, which worked very well. Also, the run defense was generally solid, however a couple missed tackles did allow Keaontay Ingram to break multiple runs for over 20 yards.
Defensive Backs: C-
Progress! The defensive backs were not atrocious in this game, even if they allowed five touchdowns and fell apart at the end of the game. Ehlinger completed 14 of his first 18 passes, but ended the game only 27 of 40, and he only averaged 6.6 yards per attempt. This is significant progress given how Bailey Zappe had over 11 yards per attempt in game one.
There were not as many blown coverages this week, and most of the issues could be attributed to simply being overmatched or fatigued. Eric Monroe played nearly every snap at safety, and Adrian Frye and Alex Hogan both played an uncomfortable amount of snaps given their status as generally rotational corners. Hogan had the first pick of his career, and generally looked much better than he did in week one. Rounding out the corners- Zech McPhearson played okay at corner, but a crucial miscue in not securing the onside kick tainted the perception of his game.
Finally, the safeties played a solid game given the personnel issues they had. Seth Collins looked passable in his first game playing safety, Monroe played a good game, and Thomas Leggett was a force in defending the run.
This still was not a good game by any means for the DBs, but they were not totally played off the field, and that is definitely a source of optimism going forward, especially with Damarcus Fields supposedly returning next week.
Keith Patterson called a very interesting game on Saturday. He was very conservative in the first half, only calling blitzes on a handful of plays, which allowed Ehlinger to get settled in and pick apart the secondary. the third quarter saw him call a much more aggressive defense, which led to some huge mistakes from the UT offense, including an interception from Ehlinger and a near disaster of a double pass from Joshua Moore.
Unfortunately, Patterson played a much more conservative defense down the stretch. While the three man front was able to get some legitimate pressure in the first three drives of the fourth quarter, the last two appeared to really wear them out, and without any blitzes it was nearly impossible to get a rush on Ehlinger. I do not really understand why their was not more of an attempt to blitz, but that could be related to having personnel that just simply cannot consistently handle the increased coverage risk of bringing pressure.
Beyond that- the substitution pattern was better than Houston Baptist, but still not optimal for keeping guys fresh, which has a lot to do with personnel deficiency in my eyes. Eric Monroe played virtually the entire game at safety, while Seth Collins was forced to play more than expected in his first action as a defensive back.