This week, we discuss Mahomes and his receivers, finding where the team is making progress (or not), and what our expectations are going into the end of the season and beyond.
Mahomes’ Confidence in his Receivers
Michael_LSRR – While watching the game, it did appear that Mahomes kept the ball a lot more than normal against the Mountaineers. Sure enough, his 18 carries on Saturday are the most he’s had all year with his 34 passing attempts being the least he’s made in Big 12 play.
However, this thought hadn’t crossed my mind until you mentioned it. I think you’re on to something. I kept wondering why Mahomes ran as much as he did, even during the possessions where he wasn’t really pressured. I just assumed that all of the receivers were covered, but his decisions could have been affected by unreliable hands. The last count I heard on the Fox broadcast tallied 6 drops on the day. It’s too late to fix this, and as Seth pointed out, there was even a changeup at the starting position for the outside receivers. Mahomes hardly looked downfield, and when he did, it seemed to always end in a drop. I think this is just where we are.
Brian DonCarlos – I think we saw the idea of Pat taking the game into his own hands take a new form on Saturday, and I think he was right to do it. I’m curious as to if this was a product of the film room, where Kliff just finally told him to pull it down and run if he sees the opening (which wouldn’t surprise me, given the number of option looks we saw as well). But that’s what will happen when your receivers won’t catch and the offensive line can’t hold their blocks for more than a 3-5 count. And, to Mahomes credit, he did a great job of hitting the deck early and not over-exposing himself to injury, though he did deliver a few big hits himself.
It’s hard to watch that receiver corps regress like they have this season. They started out so well, and now they’re back to being a 50/50 proposition. Is it coaching? Is it needing to put more time in at the Jugs machine? Or are drops kind of like the yips or developing a bad slice, and we’re just going to have to drive up Cheech Marin & Rene Russo a la Tin Cup to fix it. I don’t have an answer for it, but the freshmen that have been playing need to find one soon. Maybe Donta Thompson and Quan Shorts (whom I think still has his red shirt) will be the answers we’re looking for. If all else fails, Fehoko has shown that he has some hands, why not throw him at TE?
Meestah Rogers – I hadn’t really considered this until someone pointed out that Mahomes didn’t throw to an open receiver in the end zone (who already had a few drops himself) but instead decided to tuck it and run without there being the pressure to do so. I went back and rewatched it, and sure enough Pat looks off the open receiver and tucks the ball and runs.
I get the point of starting true freshmen on the outside to jolt the upper classmen a bit, and maybe they needed to have a rough day to really send the point across, but that was rough to watch. It started to remind me of the game West Virginia played against TCU the previous week where Skyler Howard kept hitting his receivers downfield for probable scores and the kept dropping it. Like Brian said, I’m not sure if this is a skill issue, a yips developing, or if it was just an off day. We’ve seen this team go through bad days catching the ball, but on a day where they are facing a pretty stingy secondary, not catching the ball when you get open and IT HITS YOU IN THE HANDS is going to lead to a long day. Jakeem Grant can’t do everything for the other receivers, as it showed early that WVU was hell bent on not allowing him to get free and embarrass them a la Oklahoma State. Early on, he had five catches for seven yards. The entire group needs to contributing for this offense to move around the field and score points.
Progress, or Not
Michael_LSRR – I really do see progress, especially offensively. I went into this year after a 4 win season hoping for 6 wins and a bowl game. I don’t like to pump sunshine, but here goes. Tech has already eclipsed last year’s record with 2 games left on the season. They had a great road win in Fayetteville. They went toe-to-toe with TCU and, for about 80% of the game, OSU. Did everyone see what OSU did on Saturday? Was anyone else wondering “how did we play with these guys”? I think it’s because Tech is finally becoming more reliable, overall, on offense. This is so much better than last year’s epidemic of guaranteed first possession three & outs, even though it happened against WVU. TTU is currently tied for 4th with 45 points/game on offense. Through 10 games in 2014, TTU averaged only 28 points/game.
Defensively, I believe in Gibbs and I believe in consistency. The defense, as frustrating as it is in its current state, just needs more time. They allowed another pair of 100+ yard backs on Saturday with one of them having a career day. Running backs seem to have career days against Tech a lot, so that’s how things work currently. Despite having 3 different coaches in a 12 month span, these guys have not regressed. Outside of turnovers, there has not been a huge sign of improvement, but I wouldn’t say they’ve regressed.
Brian DonCarlos – Well, we came back and hit Arkansas in the mouth, but that was it for the Kingsbury Revenge Tour. I honestly would like to know how this season would have progressed if there was an actual bye week in the middle of the season, but that’s just going to remain a “what-if” for me. As Michael talked about, and despite the hemming & hawwing we’re prone to, the offense really has progressed since last season, at least at home. Washington is still a stud, Stockton has been spreading his wings a bit more, and the injury depleted offensive line has stepped up a bit since that Oklahoma game. Defensively, our secondary has improved with Bethel getting his feet underneath him, and Keenan Ward has looked his vintage self, but some of that improvement may come from the fact that any team who opts to throw instead of run against us is foolish. And the young linebackers have shown a lot of promise as well.
As stated above, our receivers have to improve. They just have to. The run defense needs to exist, as it’s actually gotten worse than last year.
Meestah Rogers – I think you can find progress if you break it down into small pieces. Overall, the offense has improved as we expected it to under Mahomes as he got more game experience and didn’t turn it over as much as Davis Webb. But the defense? Oooof. I want to show you a few stats.
In 2014, the defense allowed 512.7 total yards per game, 259.5 rushing yards, gave up 41.1 points and forced only 15 turnovers (with a -13 margin; side note: Tech was only positive in the TO margin in one game last year, vs OU). In 2015, the defense is allowing 560.3 total yards, 273.6 on the ground, giving up 42.2 points and has forced 20 turnovers (with a +3 margin). And you’ll say, “but look! The turnovers have gotten much better! Especially the turnover margin!” And that’s absolutely true. But if we’re taking more opportunities away from the opposing offense and they’re somehow giving up more yards and scoring more points, the turnover margin would seem to be masking a considerably worse defense than even 2014’s. Tech is +16 in the turnover margin from last year and is giving up more yards/points. I’ll let that sink in.
Michael_LSRR – Tech has to beat Kansas State on their own turf. They just have to. I think they can, and they will. Snyder will run all over us, but the offense can score on anyone when they’re clicking, especially at home. Texas Tech has averaged 59.8 points/game in Lubbock in 2015. Texas has had our number even on their worst years, so I don’t think Tech will come out with a win on Thanksgiving in DKR. I have seen no proof in the last decade that gives me any confidence in Austin. I just hope they don’t wear some spectacularly ugly Lone Star Pride uniforms. So, that leaves us a 6-6 getting to that elusive bowl game.
To paraphrase myself, I believe in Kingsbury, and I believe in consistency. Any talk of giving him the boot after 3 years is nonsense. I still remember the day he was hired in December of 2012. In my head, I gave him about 7 years right then and there. Most of it was out of sheer happiness to have a coach who understood Lubbock, West Texas, and Texas Tech. A coach who lived it, breathed it, and thrived in it. This is who I wanted leading our team, and I still feel the same way.
As long as Kingsbury and Gibbs are back next year, I’ll be happy.
Brian DonCarlos – I never look forward to the Kansas State game. They’ve always matched up well against Tech, and it seems they can always run well even when they’re not very good. Add to that the fact that they hardly make mistakes, and it’s a hard out for Tech. The Jones desperately needs to regains its mystique, and for that to happen Tech has to take care of business against unranked teams at home as well. As for that UT Thanksgiving game, there’s a very real possibility that both teams will be playing for bowl eligibility. If Tech is able to pull that win out on the road on national television, getting that particular monkey off the program’s back will be absolutely massive. Huge. It will also ruin so many pleasant holiday meals across the state (mine probably included).
Looking towards the offseason, I want a repeat of 2015. No flux, no drama. Gibbs is here, I doubt he leaves (knock on all of the wood), and I look forward to the recruiting class he’ll bring in. I long for the day when a senior takes the field playing the position they were recruited for on defense (/pours one out for Jackson Richards). I don’t know if there will be any coaching changes, but linebacker & outside receiver definitely need work. I don’t know how much of this is Chiaverini & Spavital/Haverty getting acclimated to the positions or if it’s personnel, but those are the two big spots I’d like to see improve besides the defensive line.
As much as all of this sucks, I don’t think anybody should get fired. Kliff was starting from the ground up, has had to extensively use his own very young recruits, and learn on the job as he goes. There’s a reason Hocutt gave him that huge extension early on: to give him time and let him know he has it. He’s been recruiting well, his system seems to be getting installed better as time progresses (RE: offensive improvements), and we are at least 1 win better than we were last year. We live in a time where waiting is the worst, and when you see Urban Meyers and Jim Harbaughs and Nick Sabans come in and win close to immediately, you start to expect that’s the norm, when it most certainly isn’t. Regardless of how bad those schools they inherited were, they were still pulling in blue chip talent on name recognition alone. Texas Tech doesn’t have that. So let Kliff have that extended amount of time. If by year 5 we haven’t toppled a giant or two, then maybe it’s time to call it. But I’m not convinced he hasn’t done a better job than anybody else would have with what he was given.
Meestah Rogers – Without having a whole new team and coaching staff, I would expect much more of the same for these last two games, especially considering the opponents. These last two seem to have Tech’s number recently and I think it’s going to take some massive improvements to get back to a bowl game. And for the record, I said that Tech could be improved in 2015 and not see much change in the W/L compared to 2014, but I admittedly got swept up in the early season progress and thought this team was capable of much more.
Assuming my expectations came true and Tech finishes 5-7, I expect there to be a lot of gnashing of teeth. There is already a strong “Fire Kliff” movement on Twitter. I don’t think it’s time for that, yet. I do think it is absolutely time for there to be some accountability around the program (I was more than a little disappointed to see two senior leaders have huge mental gaffes at the end of the WVU game, but even moreso that nothing was done about it). I think it might be time for some of the position coaches to get shuffled. And if that means let go and the position is hired with a new person or if the current coach is reassigned, I don’t think I have a strong opinion either way. There has been some talk that maybe Gibbs should be allowed to form his own defensive staff and I would be OK with this. And just take your pick on the position coaches that need some improvement, outside receivers, defensive line, linebackers, defensive backs. And the biggest change I think could possibly happen, although I STRONGLY doubt it does (at least yet) is that Hocutt approaches Kingsbury and “tells” him he should let go of the offensive play calling.