There is not a ton of optimism in Lubbock surrounding the current edition of the Texas Tech Red Raiders football team.
Sure, Kliff Kingsbury's team is improved defensively over past years, but the group lacks its signature explosive offense that the Big 12 had become accustomed to.
Jay Burrous, staff writer at the Texas Tech SB Nation blog Viva the Matadors, was kind enough to provide us with more insight on a 5-6 Texas Tech unit that has competed, but rarely pulled big wins out this season.
Burnt Orange Nation: A win against Texas would help push Texas Tech to .500 and bowl eligibility. Just how big is Friday’s game for the future of the Tech program?
The speculation is that Kingsbury will be fired if we lose, and most likely still fired if we win. Given that, I’d still say the game is big because it’s the Longhorns, but the fact bowl eligibility is up for grabs almost feels like a distant thought. It’s painful to think about how far we’ve fallen as a program, but we’re hopeful things will start to improve moving forward.
What’s the general mood in Lubbock surrounding Kliff Kingsbury? Do most fans think he deserves another year?
There were maybe 40,000 people there for K-State, 15,000 Tech fans in DFW for Baylor, and maybe 48,000 for TCU (capacity is 60,000). I’d say the fans are fed up and speaking with their actions. While we all love Kingsbury for what he did as a player, and we believe he really did try to do it the right way - you can’t have three losing seasons in five years.
Of course, I’m sure there are a few Kingsbury apologist out there who think he deserves another three or four seasons. But, the writing is on the wall. Historically, Texas Tech has been a winning team that always played people tough. I’m not clamoring for National Championships, but simply winning records.
How is this year’s Red Raiders team different than the Tech we’re used to seeing?
We’ve got a solid, but not spectacular defense. This is a complete night/day difference from what you’ve likely seen in the past. We’ll rotate in 18-19 guys and the overall talent level has greatly increased. This group should assuredly cause the UT offense some trouble. I’d be shocked if we don’t force two or three turnovers in fact.
Offensively, Shimonek has started to regress and has lost a lot of his early season confidence. Expect a super conservative passing game, but a solid run game. We love to pull our guards/tackles on power plays - which have sprung for big gainers several times. On the off chance you see our backup quarterback McClane Carter….your guess is as good as mine as to what you’ll see. He does run pretty well, so I’m sure a heavy dose of zone-read. Although, it’s a bit of speculation that Shimonek has finally played his way out of the starting lineup.
Who is one impact player for Texas Tech that Longhorn fans may not know about but should be aware of?
Mych Thomas playing in potentially his final game should be a treat for Longhorn fans who love immovable objects. Anytime a nose guard comes up with 33 tackles, an interception, and some fumble recoveries you’ve got a solid player on your hands. He’ll likely wind up being drafted, or at the very least getting a shot on someone’s practice squad. Should he be a force, the Longhorns assuredly won’t be moving the ball on the ground much.
Even though Texas Tech isn’t as explosive offensively without Patrick Mahomes under center, the team has turned in some solid games defensively. What’s been the key to improvement on the defensive side of the ball?
As I mentioned earlier - we've got some depth, and generally will play 17-19 players on defense. In the past, those numbers were likely more around 12-15 players getting regular playing time. Past that, turnovers have come in droves this year, and we've got likely the most underrated linebacker duo in the Big 12. David Gibbs is in year three, and has finally started to get some ROI on the solid recruiting classes that he put together. In fact, outside of Jah'Shawn Johnson, I think every player that gets legitimate playing time is a Gibbs recruit. We're all excited about what 2018 can be on this side of the ball.
What’s your favorite memory from the Texas—Texas Tech rivalry?
Crabtree 2008 - The Catch. I was personally there for that one, and it’s etched into the minds of every Tech fan ever. It’s almost unfair to use that game though. I suppose my second favorite memory is Kingsbury over Chris Simms in 2002.
What’s one reason you’re nervous about Friday’s game and one reason you’re optimistic the Red Raiders will pull it out?
I’m nervous about what the UT secondary is going to do to our quarterback. If Shimonek can’t get easy throws, he’ll hold onto the ball, and you’ll see the Longhorn pass rush devour him. This has been the recipe to success all season, and that book was written against Oklahoma State early on.
Optimism? I don’t have a ton. But, if we can manage to run the ball well, and land a few big plays anything is possible. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the horses to win this race though.
And finally, what’s your prediction for the outcome of the game?
Texas wins 35–7.