Texas Tech football questions and answers with A-J Media Red Raiders beat writer Don Williams

Texas Tech heads to West Virginia this weekend to take on the Mountaineers at 11 a.m. Saturday. So our A-J Media team will fly up to Pittsburgh on Friday and make the 75-mile drive south to Morgantown. If you ever have the chance, I recommend the trip. Pretty country.

 

In the meantime, we invite you to spend some time on a Friday with our Texas Tech football Q&A. You asked the questions. I did my best to answer.

A: Kansas’ Khalil Herbert carried it 36 times for 291 yards three weeks ago against West Virginia, so that gives the Red Raiders hope.

I’m not sure Tech can exploit the Mountaineers to that degree, though. It’s interesting how many big plays Tech’s gotten from an otherwise punchless running game. Tech’s had runs of 73, 55, 36 and 25 yards from Justin Stockton, 84 yards by Tre King and 47 yards by Desmond Nisby. Take away those big gains, though, and the Red Raiders have 174 carries for 496 yards — 2.85 yards per carry. They haven’t been running effectively on a down-in, down-out basis.

It’s also important to note West Virginia linebacker David Long played his first game last week after a summertime knee injury. He’s to the Mountaineers what Jordyn Brooks or Dakota Allen are to Tech.

My feeling is the earlier you could play WVU in 2017, the better. West Virginia’s not as stout on defense as what the Mountaineers have been the past two years, given that four of their top five tacklers last season and nine of their top 13 were seniors.

However, they put it together last week defensively at TCU, to the extent that Mountaineers’ defensive coordinator Tony Gibson called the first half his unit’s best in his four years on the job.

A: The best angle Kliff Kingsbury can work in that regard is he has enough competition at a lot of positions that guys who hit a lull lose playing time. Last week, Quan Shorts made his first start at wide receiver and Derrick Willies didn’t play much. Kolin Hill made his first start of the season at rush end and Tony Jones didn’t play much.

The Red Raiders have the depth to do that at quite a few positions, outside receiver, defensive end and defensive back especially.

So far, they’ve gotten good effort every week, and I think a lot of that is because all the new blood and competition on defense have set a tone.

A: Preface this answer by saying I don’t think this team will collapse to the point of Tech changing coaches this off-season. In the scenario you outline, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kirby Hocutt called Jim Leavitt, the Oregon defensive coordinator who was 95-57 as head coach of at South Florida from 1997-2009, going from start-up program when he was hired to No. 2 in the BCS rankings 10 years ago this week.

USF fired him for allegedly striking a player, denying it and trying to interfere with the investigation.

So he has baggage, but Tech’s hired coaches with baggage before. And in this case, the one doing the hiring would know the candidate well. Leavitt was Hocutt’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator when Kirby played at Kansas State. He’s been a linebackers coach and-or a DC everywhere he’s been, including coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011-14 and serving as Colorado’s DC from 2015-16.

His dismissal at USF was eight years ago, and now Leavitt, in his first year at Oregon, has the Ducks leading the FBS in sacks (24), sixth in tackles for loss (40) and 29th in total defense (338.3 yards per game) — up from 126th in total defense last year. The guy can coach defense. At Colorado, he cut the yield from 39 points per game the year before he arrived to 21.7 last year, sending a handful of players to the NFL as draft picks or free agents this summer.

It would be a sharp change for Tech, which has built its identity around offense since 2000. Would fans go for that? Or would Leavitt, who’s 60, be viewed as another Tommy Tuberville-type hire?

Frank Wilson at UT-San Antonio and Neal Brown, the former Tech offensive coordinator who’s now head coach at Troy, are others who could get bigger gigs soon. Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery is a Texas guy whose star rose going 10-3 last season, but his team’s started 1-5 this season.

A: The personnel losses the last couple of years — Justin Murphy (knee), Conner Dyer (knee) and Cody Wheeler (concussions) all giving up football, Robert Castaneda getting kicked off — were crippling. Tech coaches thought Murphy, who’d be a junior now, had all-Big 12 potential whether at guard at tackle.

Then go back to the 2013 class, and remember from that group Tech’s lost Josh Outlaw, Cody Hayes and Poet Thomas, all offensive linemen who would be fifth-year seniors now. All three have started games this year: Outlaw at Louisiana Tech, Hayes at Tarleton State and Thomas at Texas A&M-Commerce.

That’s seven offensive linemen who could still be on your team, and you figure more than Murphy would have developed and helped in some capacity. Or should have helped.

And in each case, Tech lost not only the player, but the time invested in each player, so coaches start that process over with the guys brought in to replace them. That’s why the situation was desperate enough that Tech added two graduate transfer offensive linemen this summer and chased more.

Throw in that four of the five starters are underclassmen and Terence Steele, Travis Bruffy and Paul Stawarz are playing positions they didn’t play for most of last season.

That’s a lot to overcome.

One way Kliff Kingsbury’s worked around it is by attempting to run the ball, trying to dissuade pass rushers from coming full bore, down in and down out.

Shimonek’s style helps, too. When he’s been pressured, he’s not made the situation worse by throwing interceptions. And although about a third of those 11 sacks are on Shimonek for holding the ball too long, for the most part he’s done a good job of not putting the offense behind the chains.

A: I wouldn’t hold my breath. A&M’s part of that agreement in which the SEC assigns its teams to six of the bowls with which it has contracts. It was clear after the 2015 season that the Aggies and the SEC weren’t interested in a Tech-Texas A&M game in Houston, and I doubt that’s changed.

Remember, two years ago, Texas A&M people said they’d been there/done that in regard to playing Tech and playing in Houston. Wanted to see new destinations. So they took an invitation to the Music City Bowl in Nashville — about 5 1/2 weeks after they’d played Vanderbilt in Nashville. That Grand Ole Opry’s such a treat one month you want to see it again the next month, don’t ya know.

Tech’s going to have to win a lot of games to get to the Cotton Bowl. That sounds pretty ambitious. There’s some attractive options out there, though.

Beyond the matchups made by the College Football Playoff committee, here’s the order for Big 12 bowl tie-ins: Alamo, Camping World, Texas, Liberty, Cactus and Heart of Dallas. Tech’s not been to the Camping World Bowl — the old Tangerine Bowl in Orlando — since Kliff Kingsbury’s last game in 2002, the 55-15 rout of Clemson. And Tech’s never been to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Both nice destinations for fans who can make it.

The Red Raiders are always good box office and a popular choice, though, for bowl executives in Texas.

A: Thanks for the fun research project, Viva. The scenario you describe has happened 19 times in 16 seasons, according to my reading of Tech’s records.

Keep in mind The Associated Press ranked 20 teams from 1936-61 and only ranked 10 from 1962-67. The AP went back to the Top 20 from 1968-88 before expanding to the current Top 25 in 1989. The coaches poll ranked 20 from 1950-89 and expanded to 25 in 1990.

1954

Oct. 11, re-entered at No. 20 (AP) and lost 20-13 at LSU (had been ranked for three weeks earlier)

1955

Sept. 19, entered at No. 12 (AP) and lost to TCU 32-0

1967

Oct. 2, entered at No. 10 (AP) and lost to Mississippi State 7-3

1968

Nov. 11, re-entered at No. 18 (coaches) and lost at Baylor 42-28 (had been ranked for two weeks earlier)

1970

Oct. 12, entered at No. 17 (AP) and lost at Mississippi State 20-16

Nov. 16, re-entered at No. 19 (AP) and lost to Arkansas 24-10

Dec. 7, re-entered at No. 19 (AP) and lost to Georgia Tech 17-9

1972

Nov. 20, re-entered at No. 20 (AP) and lost to Arkansas 24-14 (had been ranked for two weeks earlier)

1974

Nov. 11, re-entered at No. 18 (coaches) and lost at Baylor 17-10 (had been ranked for four weeks earlier)

1977

Nov. 14, re-entered at No. 16 (coaches) and lost at Houston 45-7 (had been ranked for seven weeks earlier)

1995

Sept. 26, entered at No. 24 and lost at Baylor 9-7

2002

Nov. 17, entered at No. 23 (coaches), No. 24 (AP) and lost at Oklahoma 60-15

2003

Oct. 12, entered at No. 23 (coaches) and lost at Oklahoma State 51-49

2004

Oct. 17, entered at No. 24 (coaches) and lost to Texas 51-21

2007

Oct. 14, entered at No. 21 (coaches), No. 22 (AP) and lost at Missouri 41-10

2009

Oct. 18, entered at No. 21 (AP), No. 24 (coaches) and lost to Texas A&M 52-30

2011

Oct. 23, entered at No. 19 (AP), No. 22 (coaches) and lost to Iowa State 41-7

2012

Sept. 30, entered at No. 24 (coaches) and lost to Oklahoma 41-20

Nov. 11, re-entered at No. 25 (coaches) and lost at Oklahoma State 59-21 (had been ranked for four weeks earlier)

And now some questions from Facebook:

Q: Is Jett Duffey hurt? Why did he not get any reps last week?

— Craig Crawford

A: Tech’s redshirt freshman quarterback didn’t make the trip to Kansas. He’s been dealing with arm soreness, according to Kliff Kingsbury.

Q: Tech’s had a punt blocked in each of the last two games. While under different circumstances, it must stop. What is the coach’s explanation behind each blocked punt and what have they implemented so it won’t happen again?

— Robert Powell

A: The one against Oklahoma State happened because Kolin Hill, one of the personal protectors, didn’t engage the guy rushing. Not in physical enough fashion anyway. The one at Kansas happened because Dominic Panazzolo just dropped a good, waist-high snap. Nothing but effort on the first and concentration on the second.

If the punt-game issues continue, I wonder when the Red Raiders might insert John De La Garza, the redshirt freshman from Allen. He has plenty of leg strength.

Q: Is this year helping the Red Raiders on the recruiting trail?

— David Easlon

A: Tech’s last commitment came on Aug. 26, so no one’s jumped on board based on the 4-1 start. Which doesn’t necessarily mean a lot. Tech already has 19 commitments, so the Red Raiders don’t have a lot of spots left. And typically the boost a team gets in recruiting tends to come in the next year’s recruiting cycle. Meaning, the Red Raiders need to keep it up and there could be some payoff for the class of 2019.

Q: What’s the difference in this year’s OLine coaching and last year’s? Is Brandon Jones’ scheme that different? If so, how? Is it better players? While still not a dominant line, it’s making progress and getting better every week.

— Robert Powell

A: Think they wanted to simplify the run game and perfect a few plays. They’ve also mixed in a little power sweep, using pulling guards to spring Tre King on that 73-yard run at Houston. Reminded me of Kramer and Thurston leading Hornung or Taylor for the Lombardi Packers. Some more of that would sure be nice.

Again, though, as mentioned above, if you take away six runs of 25 yards-plus, the ground game hasn’t done a lot.

Starting a true freshman, three sophomores and a junior up front, it’s going to take some time.

Let’s crack open the email for some more questions:

Q: The offensive line has been an issue for the past 4-5 seasons. Clearly it’s been a point of emphasis over the past two recruiting cycles, however, the struggles remain as players haven’t completely developed individually nor have they gelled as a unit. My question is this: why was the Leach offensive line philosophy (massive bodies, wide splits) abandoned at Texas Tech? It’s been proven to work in the spread. Is Kingsbury’s emphasis on more complex run-blocking schemes worth the decline in pass protection we’ve seen?

— Chad Matthews

A: Not trying to not sound flippant here, but it’s just not what Kliff Kingsbury does. And few coaches split the offensive linemen to the degree Leach did, so it’s not just Kliff. Given that Kingsbury and Tech line coach Brandon Jones came from the Leach offense, I’d think they’d be inclined to try the wide splits if they believed they could replicate that success with their current personnel.

Leach and Tech certainly got a lot of attention with those line splits, but I think it bears asking was the scheme or the personnel more responsible for the success.

The 2000s constituted the best decade of offensive linemen Tech’s had. Louis Vasquez, Manny Ramirez, Dylan Gandy and Daniel Loper went on to lengthy NFL careers. Rylan Reed and Brandon Carter earned all-America recognition. Rex Richards, E.J. Whitley, Toby Cecil and Cody Campbell were really good college offensive linemen. You don’t have anywhere near that level of talent up front right now.

And Kliff’s always been more open than Mike about tailoring his offense to fit the personnel from season to season, hence the success the Red Raiders had running the ball in 2014 and 2015 with DeAndre Washington. Kingsbury would like to take some pressure off the passing game and the defense if he can bring the running game along.

Q: Who do you project our starting QB will be next season?

— Ben

A: Would guess Jett Duffey. He’ll have to earn it, though.

Q: Gibbs has proven his worth and, so far, turned around the nation’s worst defense. Does he stick around another season or head for greener pastures?

A: It’d surprise me if he stays at Texas Tech for a whole lot longer. That’s based on nothing more than the reality that coaching is a transient business and it’s certainly been so for David Gibbs. He’s 49 and the longest he’s ever stayed in one place was four years: from 1997-2000 as defensive coordinator at Minnesota. Next longest stints: Three years with the Denver Broncos, three years with the Kansas City Chiefs and now in year three at Texas Tech.

I asked Gibbs this past spring about his job prospects and here’s what he said:

“When you’ve coached as long as I have … you have options ever year. But it’s one of those things (where) if you fix this one, then you’ve done something. You’ve done something. And these kids have worked hard to do it. It’s one of those ‘backs against the wall’ and ‘it’s us against the world’ type of deals.”

If this year’s defense keeps playing solid, I can see him wanting to stick around for at least another year. Gibbs is playing 25 guys. At least 20 to 22 are playing a lot, and the only seniors are Mych Thomas, Zach Barnes and D.J. Polite-Bray. All of a sudden, there seems to be quite a bit of young talent and depth. It figures to be an even more fun group to coach in 2018.

We’ll close out this Q&A session by going back to Twitter.

A: I’ll go wherever KAMC’s David Collier goes. He’s good company. Ya know, as much as I like this trip, I haven’t found a go-to place yet in Morgantown. Might have to ask former Red Raider Club boss Steve Uryasz, who used to work at Tech and now works at WVU.

We’ll actually be splitting the distance from Pittsburgh and staying in Waynesburg, PA, home of Division III Waynesburg University, about a half-hour north of Morgantown. That means I’ll probably eat at Bob Evans like last time I stayed in Waynesburg. Hey, I’m all about homestyle.

Sorry, I know. That won’t get me a show on Food Network anytime soon.

 

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