1. The Setting
Good Guys: Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-1, 1-0)
Bad Guys: West Virginia Mountaineers (3-0, 1-0)
When to Watch: Saturday, September 29th @ 11:00 a.m.
Where to Watch: Jones AT&T Stadium | Lubbock, Texas
How to Watch: ESPN2 | Watch ESPN
How to Listen: 97.3 FM | Affiliates | TuneIn App
The Line: West Virginia -3.5 (OddsShark)
2. Uniform Tracker
3. The Big Storyline
I’m always hesitant to buy in too early. It’s why I make a horrible investor because I’m perfectly content to let things play out so that we can get a really good idea as to where things are at before making any bold proclamations. Of course the difference here is that I’m already invested in Texas Tech, and if you’re reading this, you probably are too, but the question for me persists in trying to figure out four games into the season exactly what this team is. So let’s start at the top with my questions (I only really have two big questions) and talk through them.
The first question is whether or not Alan Bowman is for real, this high-touchdown, low-turnover quarterback is what we’re going to see or if once teams get more film on Bowman, he’ll come back down to earth. Each of Bowman’s starts, he’s thrown near-interceptions, that maybe would have been caught by opposing teams had guys like Antoine Wesley not made a better play on the ball or the defender just missed. Bowman threw two interceptions last week, one of those interceptions was nearly the exact same play to KeSean Carter that was intercepted because Bowman didn’t see the high safety. We don’t really ever get the chance to get that video where we can watch safety play (only after the fact when a mistake is made do we get to see what the safeties are really doing) and so I wonder if this will be something that teams employ a bit more. West Virginia is probably pretty apt to do this, in the video reviewed below, West Virginia had no problem rushing 3 players and dropping 8 and I think that West Virginia believes that they have players that are fast enough to close the gap. West Virginia employs three down linemen, a nose guard that’s 300 pounds and two defensive ends who weigh in at about 280, and three linebackers, but check this out, Dyaln Tonkery and David Long, Jr. are both about 6-0 and 230, while their strongside linebacker is JoVanni Stewart and here’s his official height and weight . . . 5’8″ and 195 pounds. West Virginia is essentially employing 6 defensive backs. I think that Bowman’s maturity is going to be predicated on how much weight he and the coaching staff give to the running backs. Tennessee probably has a top 50 running team and they had 129 yards on 38 carries. Youngstown State had 136 yards on 36 carries, so they were the most successful. Kansas State had 91 yards on 36 carries and their offense may be in complete disarray and is in the bottom third in offensive efficiency. In other words, I think the West Virginia run defense has only been marginally tested and the pass defense hasn’t been tested at all. For me, Bowman’s success is probably directly related to how well Kliff Kingsbury and Kevin Johns can exploit the holes in West Virginia’s rush defense. Statistically, West Virginia’s top 50 defense is predicated on having a terrific pass defense statistics, and they really haven’t played a team that can sling the ball the way Texas Tech can. I think Texas Tech and Bowman can answer this question by dominating the line of scrimmage against West Virginia.
My second big question is what do we know about the Texas Tech defense and have they made the right kind of adjustments to say that things are fixed to an extent. With only four games in the books and having the Ole Miss offensive explosion Texas Tech’s ledger, it’s not going to be pretty. Last week, holding Oklahoma State scoreless in the second half (and some of the first half) was the story of the game, but my fear is one in the same of considering Lamar. Oklahoma State did not look like a competent offensive team despite their rankings. Their 44 points against Boise State was partly because the special teams was great and scoring 55+ against Missouri State and South Alabama is nothing to really puff your chest about. Similarly, West Virginia has maybe padded their stats against what may be some mediocre to just bad teams in Tennessee and Kansas State. Don’t get me wrong, you play who’s on the schedule, but I just don’t know how much credit to give them for their offensive output. But what we know is that West Virginia is a significant upgrade at quarterback and receiver in comparison to Oklahoma State. In fact, Grier, Sills, Simms, and Jennings is probably going to be the best quarterback-receiver combination that Texas Tech will face (at least from a passing perspective). If you want a gauge, this is probably it right here. So, much like I am suspicious about grading West Virginia’s offense against less than impressive opponents, I think we can say the same about Texas Tech’s defense except for the Houston game, where the Cougars sport, in my opinion, at top 20 offense. I think the West Virginia offense is better, much different, but better. The thing that gives me encouragement against West Virginia is that Texas Tech sports the best linebacking group that they’ve had in recent memory and the defensive line rotation is one that isn’t wholly dependent on just one player. The other thought is that I think that Adrian Frye is starting to scoop up minutes from Desmon Smith, who is struggling a bit with certain receivers. Pairing Frye with Demarcus Fields has been a pretty good group. Add in Jah’Shawn Johnson at safety has been much better and it seems that Johnson can recover for some of the overplays that Vaughnte Dorsey will make. That’s probably what makes them a pretty good play. The thing that worries me is that Texas Tech will need significantly better play from Justus Parker, who has been marginal at best, and Douglas Coleman. I mentioned this after the game, but the starting 5 in the secondary was John Bonney, Johnson, Coleman, Smith and Fields. Parker, one of the preseason All-Big 12 players has not shown much of anything on the field, and after the Oklahoma State game I noted that Parker didn’t record a single statistic. Big plays are great, but consistent play is what Gibbs wants and Parker hasn’t done that thus far this year.
At the end of the day, I think that I’m more comfortable with Kingsbury and Johns answering the quarterback and the offense questions, even without T.J. Vasher. The defense I have more questions about, but that’s mainly due to personnel in the secondary. The cornerback spot is getting answered, but I’ve still got questions at safety and nickelback. If Texas Tech can answer that question, then the Red Raiders come out victorious.
Freshman Tracker: Alan Bowman (x4), KeSean Carter(x4), Erik Ezukanma (x2), Ta’Zhawn Henry (x4), Sarodorick Thompson (x3), and Jaylon Hutchings (x1).
4. Keys for Texas Tech
- Protecting Alan Bowman and creating a significant rushing attack will be key again for the offense. I wrote after the game how much Texas Tech employed a tight end or H-back during the game, nearly 50% of the time and Oklahoma State didn’t have an answer. The tight end or H-back was more or less sealing the backside of the play, while various parts of the line was off and running and pulling and creating holes for the running backs. Texas Tech will need more of that.
- West Virginia has been very good at protecting Grier and I don’t know how well Texas Tech will fare in getting pressure on Grier. He’s really superb and any other opponent, he’s going to be fun to watch. Eli Howard looked much better last week, and maybe it’s just taken him some time to get over his spring injury. Tony Jones has also proven to be a better pass rusher, but Kolin Hill started to make a difference last week as well, along with Lonzell Gilmore. Grier will make some questionable throws and if there’s pressure, maybe that will give Texas Tech an advantage. That’s going to be a tough road to climb.
- And when I talk about creating pressure, I think blitzing West Virginia may be one of the worst things that Texas Tech could do, West Virginia is a top 5 team against the blitz, and this is one of the reason why Grier is so good, if Texas Tech blitzes, most likely, Grier will find the single coverage. The pressure will need to be with standard personnel and West Virginia is great at protecting Grier on blitz plays as well.
- Bowman has done such a great job at being consistent and I’m guessing that’s what makes him the best option as a true freshman. Bowman will need to continue that. Having a Slack conversation with the the STP staff, I’m in favor of moving Seth Collins to Vasher’s spot and not moving around Ja’Deion High to the outside. I’d like to keep as many pieces in place at receiver as possible.
5. What to Watch
The first highlight is a Will Grier pass that goes almost to the goal line and it’s picked off. Grief throws it to the wrong side of where the receiver is at, and the thing that initially stood out to me was how spread out the receivers were, somewhat Baylor-esque, stacked and nearly outside the numbers . . . The very next play is a fumble and the receivers are all basically within the hashes, the hand-off isn’t clean and that was the problem, just dropped it . . . This is why West Virginia only scored35 and there are no K-State offensive highlights . . . The next pass is a touchdown, single coverage, no safety help and just run down the field as fast as you can. The difference between Taylor Cornelius and Will Grier is that Grier can hit these passes and the receivers are really good . . . Sills is such a weapon, but he won’t be a weapon that’s unfamiliar to Texas Tech because Texas Tech has similar players in Vasher and Wesley, but Sills is much more accomplished, a simple slant route for a touchdown . . . The next touchdown is Sills again, on the other side and essentially a fade route . . . the first K-State offensive play is WVU rushing 3 and dropping 8 into coverage, I think they’ll try to do similar things with Bowman without question . . . WVU is trips left and Jennings just runs a go route, as fast as he can and Sills just hits him in stride . . . Sills can go inside and outside, just so dangerous . . . WVU still only rushes 3, keeps a linebacker back to cover the running back out of the flat and then brings another linebacker late. The middle of the field is open . . . Grier’s second interception is just a bad throw, doesn’t throw it outside enough and wsn’t a great throw . . . Another 3 man rush and another long completion . . .
First play we see is very wide receivers, nice blocking up front and the running back is running to the side where the safety is not, really fast and hits it very quickly . . . An interesting formation, 12 personnel, but the tight ends are more H-backs, just nice blocking results in a pretty simple touchdown . . . A traditional Air-Raid formation, Grier looks left, but eventually goes to the slant on the right side of the field . . . The touchdown on the WVU defense is really a broken play where the tight end and the quarterback really just don’t give up on the play and they just didn’t account for the tight end dragging along with the quarterback . . . The next WVU touchdown is another play where Grier looks left, but the inside receiver just sort of finds the soft part of the coverage and Grier does a good job of being patient and finding him . . . The next WVU touchdown is just speed and recognition, Grier just finds Jennings . . . It’s the downfield blocking that really gets the Penguins that second touchdown . . . Another nice read by Grier and the receiver just sitting in that zone coverage . . . Misdirection on that running touchdown, fake the jet sweep and hand it off to the running back . . . That INT by WVU is just not a good throw . . . The next WVU running touchdown is just a much stronger offensive line pushing YSU around, nothing fancy there . . . The next WVU touchdown is the very definition of giving too much cushion to a receiver and then just some bad tackling . . .
6. Coach’s Corner
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen gets his press conference on and let’s go. By the way, Holgo is a quote machine and he likes to talk, so there’s going to be a lot of it.
Here’s Holgo on Texas Tech’s offense and defense:
Not surprisingly, he found himself another young quarterback that is as good as advertised from what I’ve seen. Ever since he stepped in against Ole Miss, they’ve been playing at a very high level offensively. Kliff is doing a great job of mentoring that kid, training him, getting him ready to go, protecting him. They’re doing a good job up front – all five guys are back from last year, and they’re better. They’re running the ball adequately, a lot of run-pass stuff. And then, they just continue to reload at the receiver spot with guys that can make plays. Their two wideouts are really good players, (Antoine) Wesley and (T.J.) Vasher – tall, matchup problems, and they’re making a lot of plays. We have to ready for about anything with this group, and it will be a huge challenge for us defensively, and one that I know we’ll be ready for. It’s completely different from what we’ve seen to date this year, so we’re going to have to do a good job of giving our defense what they need practice-wise to get them prepared for what is a really, really different style of offense. I know we’ll be up for that challenge.
Defensively, they continue to improve. Coach (David) Gibbs is doing a good job out there, Coach (Zac) Spav (Spavital) is doing a good job out there. They’ve calmed down a little bit with how much stuff that they’re doing based on guys that are familiar with what they’re doing. Their two linebackers, (Jordyn) Brooks and (Dakota) Allen, are as good as we’ve seen. Those guys are really good players. Even No. 13, the (Kolin) Hill kid, they have really good players that are making a lot of plays. They do a lot of the same stuff that we do defensively with their front just plugging gaps and letting those linebackers run and make plays, and they’re good at it. Them getting their safety (Jah’Shawn) Johnson back last week was a huge shot in the arm for them. He’s a four-year starter, team captain, seems like he’s been there forever. And then the Texas transfer, the (John) Bonney kid, that guy is going to keep getting better and better with experienced and understanding the scheme. Defensively, they’re good, and they’re getting better. It’s going to be a big challenge for us to figure out not only what they’re doing, I.D. their fronts and block them up. We have to run the ball; we didn’t run the ball very well against them last year, and we have to do a better job of keeping that thing going. It’s a big challenge for us; I’m looking forward to it.
Holgorsen on if he changes his coaching philosophy when WVU plays a team that can also score:
On changes in philosophy when playing a team that can score a lot of points
I think you have to gauge that with how the game is going. Believe it or not, every time we snap the ball, we want it to be successful. We want a first down, or we want to make a guy miss and go score. We’re trying to move the ball and score. We’re averaging whatever we’re averaging on how ever many possessions that we’ve had, and if they are averaging more possessions, that means that we get more possessions, too. I think you just have to look at how the game is going. I can see this being high-scoring or low-scoring, you just don’t know how it’s going to be going into it. Our philosophy is to move the football, be efficient and score. If it takes two plays like our first touchdown did last game – we went 90-some yards in two plays – that’s fine with me. But if we go on a 16-play drive and be efficient and do a great job on third down and run the clock and win time of possession, then I’ll be just OK with that as well.
On avoiding negative plays on offense:
On avoiding negative plays on offense
We’re getting better there. I think it starts with our tackles. We’re throwing the ball a good bit, and our tackles have done a great job. I think (redshirt senior offensive lineman) Yodny (Cajuste) played probably one of the better games he’s had, (redshirt junior offensive lineman) Colton (McKivitz) was our player of the game. Those tackles, it starts with them. We’re still a work in progress with the inside three. There’s still competition there. (Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman) Josh Sills probably had his best game. He’s young, he should continue to get better. He’s progressing. And then we have competition at center and right guard, so we want those guys to continue to improve. I think (redshirt senior quarterback) Will (Grier) has a lot to do with that because (assistant coach – offensive coordinator/quarterbacks) Jake (Spavital) is doing a great job of putting him into position and coaching him up and giving him freedom to be able to check things based on what he sees. There are a lot of times where he checks something, and we don’t even know what he’s checking until after the play is ran. We obviously have confidence in him to be able to get us into those right plays. If you run the ball into bad numbers, that’s how negative plays happen. They’re doing a good job with this on offense as well, but if you have outs, whether it’s (run-pass options) or checking passes because you understand what they’re doing, then it’s good, efficient, offensive football. And we’re better at it now than we were at any point.
On West Virginia’s pass defense:
On WVU’s pass defense
Hopefully, we can pressure the quarterback. They’re doing a really good job of getting things out quick, and it makes it hard to pressure the quarterback when that’s going on. So, we have to take some of the easy stuff away from them, and I’m anxious to watch this (defensive) line. Let’s see if we’re as good as we think we are right there and pressure those guys and try to get the quarterback to make some mistakes. We always know that we have the ability to be able to bring second-level people to get there, but I want to see if our (defensive) line can get after that quarterback. That helps your pass defense more than anything. We have a plan, and I’m looking forward to watching us execute it.
On his philosophy of the importance of yards per play:
On yards per play compared to yards given up in a game
I don’t want to get too into it because I think our way of looking at it and what we’re looking at makes a whole lot of sense that me and my staff is privy to and you’re not. The higher that number is, the higher your percentage is that you’re going to win. (Mike) Leach used to talk, and the first thing we’d look at was yards per play, he would obsess over it. So, I had to listen and pay attention, and over the course of the years, I’ve understood it. That margin is a direct result of winning and losing.
Light a Fire: It’s hard to pick on someone after last week’s win, but I think Justus Parker had so much offseason expectations and I really want him to do more on the field. I think a lot of you have noticed that he’s just been a step slow or simply out of place and if Parker’s penchant for making big plays like turnovers doesn’t materialize, which that can be luck based as much as anything, then he’s not as an effective player. I’d love to see a Parker that is technically sound and maybe doesn’t have the turnovers than the guy that’s trying to gamble.
Eraser Wanted: I normally choose a defensive player here, but if the running backs and offensive line can erase any advantage that West Virginia has with their smaller defensive lineup, that would be a significant revelation.
Needs Repair: Difficult to pick someone offensively here, but as good as the offensive line was against Oklahoma State, and they were, they gave up some late sacks to Oklahoma State. This is a very small nit, but I think the line is going to need to be very cognizant of the West Virginia blitz because I think the Eer’s will try to blitz and fluster Bowman. Quick decisions by Bowman and protecting him will be significant.
Under the Microscope: West Virginia having success means David Long being very productive, if the offensive line can neutralize him, then good things will happen for Texas Tech offensively.
Tacos vs. Burritos Matchup of the Week: Antonine Wesley vs. Josh Norwood – Wesley will tower over WVU’s right cornerback, who stands at 5-10/180. With Vasher unlikely to play, Bowman may rely on Wesley’s size advantage over Norwood.