Gut Check Time in Lubbock

If you read last weeks blog than you know how I much I hate Ames, Iowa… Well I was hoping after Saturday my feelings towards that place would be a little better. Unfortunately Saturday just reminded me how frustrating it is for Texas Tech to play there. Saturdays 40-31 loss wasn’t nearly as frustrating as the last two losses to Iowa State, but it still stings heavily. Plus, the Red Raiders have now lost 3 strait games to the Cyclones. As much as ISU has improved under superstar Head Coach Matt Campbell, that’s still inexcusable. In no world should Iowa State own the Red Raiders the way they do… Yet here we are. So let’s talk about it. What went wrong on Saturday? What, if anything, went right? And what should we expect next week against the Sooners? A game that could be season defining.

What went right?

Let’s get the positives out of the way first… First and foremost, Antoine Wesley is quickly becoming a household name and very well might be the best WR in the Big12. That group of wideouts in West Virginia certainly deserve consideration here. But Wesley once again topped 100 yards last week. Barring injury, he’ll top the 1,000 yard mark next week. If Tech can rebound and get back in the Big12 title race (big if), he could be a Biletnikoff finalist at seasons end.

When was the last time Texas Tech scored on a blocked punt? I have watched every Texas Tech football game since 2007, I’ve only missed a handful since 2004, and I can’t recall it happening even once. I could be wrong here, maybe it has happened a time or two throughout my near 15 years of Texas Tech fandom, but its certainly a rarity. When Thomas Leggett came in untouched, blocked the punt, and fell on it in the end zone, I was ready for a blowout victory… The fact that I was wrong doesn’t take away from the special teams performance though. In addition to Leggett’s big play, Punter Dom Panazzolo was awesome, consistently pinning the ISU offense deep in their own territory. He could be a big weapon against OU this upcoming week if he can keep that up. Other than the continued questionable decisions by kick/punt returner DeQuan Bowman, special teams have been a plus this season.

Lastly, the 40 points that Iowa State scored was in no way the fault of the Texas Tech defense! Not only was there a pick 6, but a safety, and two other turnovers that put the defense in tough spots. David Gibbs’ group showed up once again. For all we heard about Iowa State’s stud Freshman QB Brock Purdy leading up to this game, the Texas Tech D got the better of him for the majority of the game. Now, the kid is clearly really talented and has a bright future, so he made some plays, especially with his feet. But Tech held him to a less than 50% passing percentage, and had the young fella confused for most of the game. I thought the secondary showed huge improvements overall. Demarcus Fields, Douglas Coleman, Des Smith, and Adrian Frye did as well as you could hope for against Iowa State’s big WR’s. Despite losing Jordyn Brooks to a bogus targeting call in the first half, the linebackers were solid for the most part. Dakota Allen did his thing as always, and Riko Jeffers stepped up big time in Brooks’ absence. Jeffers made what looked like a game changing play when he got to Purdy for a strip-sack in the end zone. And the D line was really good for the first 3 quarters. The guys got some pressure on the QB early, and held David Montgomery (possibly the best RB in the Big12) down for 3.5 quarters. Montgomery eventually got his yards, but he’s gonna do that against everyone they play.

Eventually I will stop celebrating just solid performances from this defense, but we’re not there yet. Until I can no longer remember 180lb linebackers and 5’6′ defensive backs, I will celebrate every single pretty good performance on that side of the ball. I still have nightmares of Kalen Ballage scoring 7 TDs in 2016, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams running for like a million yards in 2014, and the infamous 82 points allowed in Fort Worth in 2014 when they literally ran out of fire works to set off after a score. So holding the Big12’s best RB to 125 yards on 33 carries is still a huge positive for this group.

 

What went wrong (again)?

I wasn’t blogging about Texas Tech football in 2016, or 2017 for that matter. But if I were, the post-ISU blogs would have looked very similar to this one. Matt Campbell’s 3 high cloud defense continues to get the best of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. For all of Kliff’s failures, no one can doubt that he’s one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. For whatever reason though, Kliff has never been able to get a running game going against Campbell’s defense. Despite the fact that ISU constantly dropped 8 guys in coverage.

Even though they were facing just a 3 man front the entire game, Tech was completely unable to get anything out of the run game. Now, it may not be fair to put all of this on Kliff. The offensive line has been a strength of this team all season, but they absolutely worked by the ISU front. Personally, I would have loved to see more opportunities for the guys in the backfield, but I understand why Kliff got away from it… The line simply wasn’t getting a good enough push. But I do question the decision to give up on the run game so quickly. It’s also fair to question the decisions within the run game… Like, why did Tre’ King get a whopping zero carries…? I was glad to see DeLeon Ward back in the mix, but King has been solid this year. And why were almost all of the running plays designed to get to the outside, instead of attacking that 3 man front? The injury to starting fullback Conner Kilian probably had a lot to do with that, but it’s still worth questioning.

Back to the offensive line… Not only were they not getting a push in the run game, but they failed to protect their freshman QB for the first time all season. Bowman was pressured consistently throughout the game, he wasn’t good on his own, but it certainly didn’t help that his line left him out to dry on multiple occasions. Even Paul Stawarz (the center, senior, and captain) let the young QB down when his high snap caused Bowman to get off schedule, leading to the costly pick-6. Bowman obviously deserves blame for that play as well, but the high snap is worth mentioning.

Now lets talk about Alan Bowman… Look, we have all sang his praises after every big time performance so far this season. It would be intellectually dishonest to not come down pretty hard on the kid after his poor performance against the Cyclones. Despite the poor performance by the offensive line, late-game success of Montgomery, and Kliff once again struggling to find plays that work against this defense, the mistakes made by Bowman were the main reason Texas Tech lost this game. You simply CANNOT make some of the decisions he made! All 3 passes that got intercepted never should have been thrown. Even on the pick-6, where the bad snap threw the whole play off, Bowman has to know that and either throw the ball away, take sack, or try to get a few yards with his feet. For the other interceptions, there really isn’t much to analyze. He simply made terrible decisions. The kids that picked him off didn’t make any special plays, they simply caught the ball that Bowman threw straight to them. However, even after 2 inexcusable interceptions (the 3rd had not yet happened), Bowman had a chance to redeem himself; down 7, about 4 minutes left, and a chance to go tie the game. Instead of seizing the opportunity, he fumbles the ball while faking a handoff, picks up the ball and makes the one mistake he couldn’t afford to make… Runs into the end zone, throws the ball away, and gets called or intentional grounding… resulting in a game clinching safety for the Cyclones. I like Alan Bowman, and I think he is going to be a very, very good QB. In some cases he already has been a very, very good QB. But he’s still a freshman… There have plenty of QBs put up big numbers early in their career, only to end up flaking out later on. Tech fans saw it with Davis Webb, although he did end on a good note with in Cal, he never could live up to his expectations that his freshman season set up. Other examples: Kenny Hill, Trevor Knight, Shane Buechele, Blake Bell, just to name a few… Bowman’s story is still being told, we don’t know how good he will eventually be. He has a great opportunity to turn things around next week against Oklahoma. Whether or not he can do that could have a huge impact on the future if this program.

 

What’s next?

I will have much more in a game-preview later this week. But initially, I think Iowa State presented a unique challenge for Texas Tech. Again, Campbell is a superstar HC and has designed a defense that is perfect for air-raid, pass reliant offenses like Texas Tech. Oklahoma, on the other hand, doesn’t present these same challenges, as they recently fired their defensive coordinator and have struggled on that side of the ball all season. I love Ruffin McNeal as much as any Tech fan for what he did while he was in Lubbock, but I don’t think he’s in a position to fix all of their defensive issues at this point, as the interim DC. Obviously Lincoln Rylee and Kyler Murrey will present a multitude of problems of Tech’s defense as well. But, with this game being at night and in Lubbock, Tech will have a chance to win this game… More on that later this week.

As always, GunsUp

-Josh-

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