Question: Last year the Raiders were ranked in the top-25 in the nation in yards per carry. How is the running game this year? We know Baron Batch. What about Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens?
Jeff: This is the most depth Tech has had at the RB position since I’ve been following them. Spike always had a superstar on his roster, but I think there was more dropoff at the 2nd and 3rd string position. They all bring something a little bit different, but most importantly they’ve got speed and something out of nothing ability.
That being said, the running game hasn’t really got untracked this season. I think we’ll try to run a little more against UT as Muschamp probably won’t respect the Tech OL based on the film we’ve put out to date. He’ll play some variation of Cover 2 and bring a lot multiple fronts dropping 6 guys. Muschamp will defend the run in the backfield and use Muckelroy as his screen destroyer. If this is the case, you’ll see some running attempts early in the game since the playcalling is based off numbers. If we don’t have success early, we’ll abandon our ground campaign early.
Seth: Struggling. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that it’s not so much the running game that’s struggling, but rather it’s the lack of opportunity. Thus far, the running backs have only been afforded 14 and 13 carries thus far this season. I think the running game, and offense as a whole, is most effective if the back can see 25 carries a game. The other problem is that the offensive line has been a bit of a question mark. Against Rice, the offensive line coach moved Brandon Carter from left guard to right guard, where he played last year, to be alongside Marlon Winn at right tackle and one of the solid returning starters. By moving Carter, you’ve got a brand new left side of the line that includes Chris Olson, a junior, and Lonnie Edwards, a sophomore. To say that there’s some upheaval is an understatement. I think the coaching staff knows they need to get some more production from the running game and perhaps this gets it done. As far as the two running backs mentioned, Harrison Jeffers and Eric Stephens are absolutely electric. I had the opportunity to see Jeffers and Stephens for the first time last week and they’re exactly what you think when you think of Texas Tech running backs in that they are small, shifty and explosive. Jeffers has the ability to turn the corner like few I’ve seen and Stephens, although a true freshman, really understands how to run behind his blockers and let the play come to him.
Jeff: Well, that’s a good question. Potts is a prototypical Tech QB in that he hails from Abilene and has really great facial hair. Like Burt Reynolds circa 1978. How is he unique? Potts can ride the bumper cars by himself at the Fair. Plus, he’s got a little stronger arm and maintains decent ball velocity even when perfect pocket conditions aren’t available, which can be a deadly combination, either way really.
Seth: I guess he’s prototypical in the sense that he’s been in the system for the first three years of his collegiate career and I’m sure that everyone is borish with the idea that the Red Raiders have a guy that should be in the NFL rather than the CFL, but I’m very serious this time. Potts is atypical in that he’s 6’4" and he’s able to make throws over the middle and to the flats that Graham Harrell couldn’t dream of making. Last week was the first week that I was able to see Potts live for a full game it seemed if it took little effort for Potts to throw the ball 60 yards down the field, out-throwing a Texas Tech receiver, who was probably somewhat shocked that the ball was actually out in front of him.
The one thing I was concerned about was that with this attitude of being able to get the ball down the field, you’d have to think that he might hold onto the ball longer and thus far, that hasn’t been the case. Potts was quick to work the underneath bubble screens, receiver screens and crossing patterns against Rice. I hope like hell I’m not eating my words in two years when Potts is eligible for the NFL draft and he doesn’t even get an invite to a camp.
But even if he is just like every Texas Tech quarterback, I don’t see how that’s necessarily a bad thing. Not every quarterback who plays in college is going to move onto the NFL. Playing at college on a high level is an accomplishment all by itself. Playing in a program that wins more games that it loses, passing for 5,000 yards, throwing a handful of touchdowns and having a pretty good time doing it doesn’t seem like that bad of a gig.
Question: Tell us about the receivers. Detron Lewis is the primary guy, but lacks the elite size that Crabtree possessed -- how effective has he been in the early going and can he catch balls in tight spaces as well as Crabtree?
Jeff: I actually think Detron Lewis is a little underrated. Plus, you know a guy named Detron is in all likelihood an outstanding break dancer, which can’t be dismissed with regards to locker room morale. He’s faster than what people perceive, and he doesn’t seem small, if you’ve ever seen him in person. Lewis has some good ability after the catch and tacklers seem to just slide off him. He doesn’t get going as fast as Crabtree, but his stop/start moves are good enough to freeze most LBs and Safeties at the college level. I think he could play his way into a 3rd or 4th round pick by the time he’s done. Ranking the Tech receivers of the Leach Era, I think Lewis will come in 3rd behind Crabtree and Welker when his time is done. We’ve been worse off at #1 before and done alright.
The rest are guys you’ve probably never heard of, but never seem to graduate from the Tech receiving corps. Austin Zouzalik has some sub-11 second hundreds to his name from the high school days, so he’s got enough speed to get by 95% of college DBs. Ed Britton still scares me from a fan perspective. Tramain Swindall doesn’t jump out at you on paper, but must read coverages well as he always seems open. Lyle Leong is a favorite target of Potts going back to the Abilene days and it still amazes me that he can be as effective as he is at times given his slight nature. He is a former high jump champion, so he’s not quite all heart. This unit will out-athlete most Big 12 secondaries in all but about 3 games on the schedule. This will more than likely be one of them. Sometimes a physical guy, who has mastered the craft of the push off, like Jarrett Hicks, can have more success in this offense against a secondary like Texas. We might get more production out of the bigger guys, Alexander Torres and Adam James, early in the game.
Seth: There’s a pretty good chance that Lewis doesn’t play. Lewis came up lame against Rice and from all accounts it’s a hamstring issue. That sort of thing doesn’t usually get solved in a week. I hope it does, but that’s been the refreshing part about Potts. Leach’s idea of a balanced offense is getting the ball into as many different receivers’ hands as possible. Over the first two games there are eleven different receivers and running backs that have caught three passes or more.
Yep, Crabtree was maybe the best receiver and player to ever play at Texas Tech and he did have a knack to catch passes in tight spaces, but that’s been the calling card for this offense and these players for quite some time. Last week in Lewis’ absence you saw Tramain Swindall, who was held out of the first week, catch 6 passes for 123 yards as an inside receiver. You had Lyle Leong go up and make plays on the outside despite weighing a buck-fifty. There was Austin Zouzalik, a former high school quarterback turned receiver who might be one of the fastest players on the team, caught his first touchdown of the year as he looked away a defender, who bit on that look, and by the time Zouzalik turned outside the ball was on it’s way for an easy touchdown. The difference the past two years is that Crabtree was a huge part of the offense and in 2007 and 2008 and deservedly so, but in 2009 the better question is who is not involved in the offense.
Jeff: Blah to date. That’s about all I’ve got to report. If this unit can’t block the Texas front, this game will be over before it ever starts. I trust Tech line coach Matt Moore immensely, and he’s one of the best in country at his trade. He’ll shuffle bodies if things get ugly, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Marlon Winn ends up on the left side at some point in this game.
Seth: Thus far, the offensive line has had great success against two less than impressive opponents. I have no idea if the line will hold up against Texas. Traditionally, the line has held up and thus far, the line gave up a sack in two games. As mentioned above, it’s the running game that’s the concern and whether or not the offensive line can get that initial push against the Longhorns. Last week against Rice was somewhat encouraging, but doing it against Rice and doing it against Texas are two different things.
Jeff: Strengths? The RB position when called upon. The right side of the OL. Weaknesses? Taylor Potts only known weakness at this point is kryptonite. We may find out he’s human this weekend.
Seth: Right now, the strength of the offense is the number of playmakers available to Potts and Potts willingness (except for the running game) to utilize those weapons. The thing about the Texas Tech offense is that despite losses, it’s always produced. Always. It may not be as efficient, and 2008 is a prime example of that offensive efficiency, but it will always put up numbers so long as Leach is in charge. The overall weaknesses are discussed above in that the lack of running game and the relatively inexperienced offensive line going up against a talented UT bunch is going to be interesting to watch to see how these guys handle it.