Question: Ruffin McNeill had to replace Brandon Williams, McKinner Dixon, and the 19 sacks that they took with them. Where is the pass rush coming from this year?
Jeff: Daniel Howard has been much more effective than anticipated. He’s faster than Williams, but lacks the long arms and rangy frame to keep elite OTs from getting to his body. He’ll try to run around you most often and I haven’t ever seen him quit on a play. Brandon Sharpe spells him as well and I don’t really know much about him other than he sounded really hungry in his post-game interview last week. Rajon Henley has moved over to Dixon’s spot. I’m not sure how you really replace Dixon. He’s one of the more baffling natural talents I’ve ever seen play. Guy never lifted a weight in his life and half his sacks came on double teams from the 3 technique position. I saw him chunk Phil Loadholt 4 yards. What a shame. I feel confident about Henley as our starting SDE, but I haven’t seen the big play ability Dixon brought to the table. Ruff might blitz a little more this season, but not in this contest and I would agree with that policy.
Seth: Replacing Brandon Williams, McKinner Dixon and Brandon Sesay (suspended for grades) was my biggest concern heading into this season, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Rajon Henley has moved from defensive tackle to defensive end, which suits him much better physically. Henley was an undersized tackle and he lost weight during the offseason to have move speed. Of course that means nothing so long as he’s injured this week. Daniel Howard and Brandon Sharpe, both are JUCO’s, are extremely hard workers and naturally they don’t have the talent of Williams, Dixon or Sesay, but they’re grinders and there’s a place in this world for guys that just don’t stop. If the Texas offensive line is beat on Saturday it won’t be because these guys blow past them or over-power them, but because Howard and Sharpe have worn them down. The only other option at defensive end, other than true freshmen, is Ryan Haliburton who is also a grinder. If Henley isn’t healthy then this group could be in trouble.
Jeff: Strengths? The interior of this defense, which doesn’t do us a whole lot of good against the 2009 Greg Davis’. Weaknesses? Youth at safety. That doesn’t make me feel good seeing it typed out on paper.
Seth: Thus far, the strength of the defense has been the deep defensive line with Colby Whitlock, Richard Jones, Victor Hunter and Chris Perry. The stats don’t reveal how good of a job they’ve done this year in keeping the linebackers relatively clean to make plays. A veteran linebacking corp has been very productive thus far, led by WLB Marlon Williams, MLB Brian Duncan and SLB Bront Bird. Again, this is all relative to the Red Raider opponent, but the secondary has also been very solid and so long as everyone is healthy.
The biggest problem for the defense thus far has been the underneath short passes where if a quarterback is patient (hello, Colt McCoy) there’s going to be yards to be gained. The other issue I’ve had is that Bront Bird can be great against the run and he’s the type of linebacker that would have been great 5 years ago, but he is sometimes asked to cover the slot receiver and that’s a position where he struggles. I don’t necessarily fault Bird, it’s more of a coaching call, but Bird just isn’t mobile enough to keep pace with a running back coming out of the backfield or a slot receiver. The defensive end depth is going to be a huge question if Henley cannot play.
Jeff: For the Tech offense, Potts needs to get his RB involved in the game early. Toss them some easy balls and let them make some plays. I feel there’s a chance we could see more of the 2 back sets in this game for protection issues. If Batch, Jeffers and Stephens can make some plays early, then we might be able to sneak Lewis or Britton (yikes!) behind the aggressive Texas safeties later in the game. Potts has the arm to stretch the field, and for Tech to score points, they’ll have to force the Texas DBs to defend the entire field. The worst case scenario is we can’t block the Texas DL and all those big, fast back 7 players are flying around in the 5 yard range with everything in front of them simply jumping routes and lighting people up. The game will be moving at a very rapid pace for Taylor Potts at the point. We’ve got to find a way to keep him clean and let him gain some confidence, or we can’t score with Texas.
For the Tech defense, we’ve got to keep McCoy in the pocket. Sacks aren’t nearly as critical as containment. Tech did this better than anyone in 2008 and it was the difference in the ball game. McCoy is much more dangerous on the run, than he is sitting in the pocket reading coverages. Though, he’s pretty good at that too. We have to try and defend as few things as possible, so we can allocate more resources to coverage. Keeping him in the pocket will at least eliminate the threat of run. We can’t let McCoy run around behind the line of scrimmage, and then turn the coverage game into a sprint for the end zone. Texas has plenty of speed to win that game. I’m not really worried about the Texas running game, but if for some reason, that’s working, we’ll have some bigger issues.
Seth: I think the matchup most in favor of the Longhorns is Colt McCoy and his ability to be patient in the passing game. There are holes in the Red Raider defense, especially over the middle of the field with the running backs and slot receivers, where if Texas Tech keeps their base 4-3 defensive package on the field that will be susceptible to some decent gains. Offensively, the Red Raiders need to keep the pressure off of Potts and allow him to make the right decisions and give him the ability to throw the ball down the field.
Jeff: Still the State Champs for 4 more days. You gotta take that belt from us, baby. (Now they can celebrate their mythical state championship 2 more days.)
Seth: I’m of the opinion that this 2009 team is a team in transition. Offensively, there hasn’t been too big of a drop-off and from year to year, despite replacing quarterbacks and other skill positions, but just like Oklahoma, you don’t just replace three-fifths of your offensive line and not lose a beat. The thought that the players that can step-up are just as good as those who have moved on due to graduation or the NFL, but the truth of the matter is that it’s just not that easy. The same could be said for the defensive ends. There’s been production from that position thus far, but losing McKinner Dixon, Brandon Williams and Brandon Sesay is going to have an effect at some point, especially now that it looks like Rajon Henley might not play.
A program can only have so many casualties before it catches up to them and that might be the case against Texas. Putting pressure on and containing McCoy is going to be a significant part of the Texas Tech defense having success against Texas.