You'll have to wait until later today to get my thoughts from the Longhorns perspective, but the observations Seth from Double T Nation are too good to sit on. Below you'll find his most insightful answers to my questions on this year's Red Raiders. My answers to Seth's questions will run at DTN later today.
If you're not reading Double T Nation, well, now's not a bad time to start. Great, great stuff.
First things first: how are fans feeling about having a new coach? There was a lot of anger about the dismissal of Mike Leach. Has the return to live football changed any of that?
Seth, Double T Nation: It depends who you talk to and the day of the week. I do believe that quite a few fans are buying into what he's selling and Tuberville has essentially been to to as many Red Raider Clubs as humanly possible in order to rally the troops. When people leave those events, I think they generally come away impressed with what Tuberville brings to the program. I think I mentioned this when Tuberville was hired and I still believe this today, which is that Tuberville is "Mack Brown 2.0". I really do believe that Tuberville is managing the program and leaving the coordinating to the coordinators. That's not to say that fans aren't skeptical, because they are, but there are a lot of fans who love what he brings to the program. I think Tuberville's track record at Auburn keeps fans grounded because he could leave at any time. I keep reminding myself that as long as he's continuing to better the program with high quality football and solid recruiting classes, it will be tough for me to complain.
Speaking of the coaching transition, in what ways are things noticably different on the football field with Tommy Tubberville? In what ways has continuity been preserved?
Seth, Double T Nation: On the field, the offense is quite similar to what Leach ran at Texas Tech. That's not to say that it's exactly the same and I do believe that Leach was an innovator of the game, so I don't expect the same type of production. Tuberville has said a handful of times that he wants to run the ball more and there's been a lot of consternation about that. Overall, Leach ran about 30% of the time and Tuberville would like to run the ball about 40% of the time. When you're running 80 plays a game we're not talking about more than a handful of plays, maybe 6 additional running plays a game. Thus far, offensive coordinator Neal Brown (N. Brown) has pretty much kept this ratio. There's been 161 plays thus far and 67 of them have been rushing plays, that's a rate of 41.61%.
N. Brown continues the tradition of getting to the line of scrimmage quickly and he would like to see 80 plays a game. He does like to speed up the offense at times in a true hurry-up fashion, but he's not doing it at full speed all of the time.
Defensively is where you'll see your biggest change. The very safe 4-3 defense that Ruffin McNeill improved during his tenure is gone. That's not to say that there aren't instances where there's some 4-3 concepts, but you'll see everything from two down linemen and three linemen and/or linebackers standing around the line of scrimmage to a very traditional 4-3 alignment. Defensive coordinator James Willis likes to blitz and he wants the offense continually guessing as to where the defense will be sending a player (sound familiar?). Willis is really focusing on forcing the the defensive backs and cornerbacks to play man-to-man, which is a completely new concept to the entire secondary. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't as the results thus far have been a little hit or miss (giving up lots of yardage, but not many scores).
Along with Potts, Tech is loaded with returning skill position talent. How well is the offensive line doing? Where has the offense excelled, and where must it improve?
Seth, Double T Nation: The offensive line is still in a bit of flux, but I'm guessing that most offensive lines are at this point in the season. From the center out to the left tackle, I think Texas Tech is pretty solid. Thus far, the left side hasn't allowed a sack and they've done an excellent job of keep Potts relatively clean and they've held their blocks for the most part to allow some decent running lanes. The right side of the line is still working out the kinks. During the SMU game, RT Chris Olson allowed two sacks and he was sick during the New Mexico game. Insert Terry McDaniel, a much stronger player, and the running lanes started to open up, especially for RB Eric Stephens.
There is a ton of talent returning at the skill positions, and much like last year, it could be anyone of a handful of receivers that could go for over 100 yards. So far, WR Lyle Leong has been Potts' go-to-receiver. Remember that fade rout in the back of the endzone? Well, it's back with Potts and Leong as they found a connection (they were teammates in high school) three times in the endzone against SMU and twice against New Mexico. Truthfully, it could be Leong, IR Detron Lewis, IR Austin Zouzalik, WR Jacoby Franks, or WR Tramain Swindall, etc.
Improvement needs to come from attention to detail. Receivers can't drop any passes and need to run precise routes. Running backs need to not fumble the ball. Linemen need to be a little more aggressive and attack the defender.
Obviously, with the departure of Leach and hiring of Tubberville, defense is no longer a nuisance merely to be tolerated. In what ways is there a noticeable difference in approach?
I mentioned this above, but to be more specific, you will see man coverage, multiple fronts and stunts . . . unless things fall apart. Willis has force-fed his young secondary with the hopes of having them ready for conference play. If I had to guess, I'm thinking that Willis can coach them to back off a bit and play zone, something they did all of last year, but he probably really needed to test his secondary to see if they could play.
OLB Brian Duncan mentioned this after practice on Tuesday. When asked if the Texas Tech intends on coming after Gilbert, he didn't hesitate or hem and haw about how they're putting in a game-plan and we'd see it all on Sunday. What he did say that yes, Texas Tech will be coming after Gilbert all game long. It would absolutely be fine to play it safe, but I don't think that's how Willis is wired. If he thinks he can get after a player, then he's going to give it a shot, at least for a half.
What's the best way to attack this Red Raiders defense? Where are they vulnerable? Where can they give offenses trouble?
Seth, Double T Nation: As evidenced last week, Texas would be smart to test the deep pass early and often and really test the young cornerbacks. Will Ford and D.J. Johnson are both sophomores, Jarvis Phillips is a redshirt freshman and Tre' Porter is a true freshmen. Although they have been put on islands quite a bit, which helps explain the big yardage against New Mexico, these young players are making plays as this four have already snagged 5 interceptions this year. Texas Tech hasn't seen a traditional power running attack thus far, so I'm keenly interested to see how the defensive line reacts. I thought the inside linebackers have struggled a bit, Bront Bird and Sam Fehoko, but I also get the feeling that this team had no clue what gap responsibility when Willis showed up. When they play like they're supposed to play, it works out.
Offensively, it's truly about consistency. I am worried about right tackle and I still have nightmares that run through my head about the hit that Potts took last year. Despite the fact that Potts has thrown for 652 yards, completed 64.4% of his passes for 7.5 yards per attempt, 7 touchdowns and no interceptions, it's not enough. Potts hasn't been perfect, but he has been better than last year. He is making improvement. And Texas Tech has the luxury of 2 senior quarterbacks that have both seen significant action in 2009. We could get into the Potts vs. Sheffield discussion, but Sheffield is a very nice option to have.
Many thanks to Seth from Double T Nation, SB Nation's blog covering the Texas Tech Red Raiders.