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1. Hello, reset button
As tends to be the case, Tech's fantastic bowl performance raised expectations higher than trends suggest they should be, and that could backfire if the Red Raiders finish 6-6 or 7-5.
I don't see it, though. I don't think the defense improves until 2015, and while I like the offense, I don't necessarily like it to improve without Jace Amaro. I see Tech once again as a top-50-but-not-much-better squad, one likely to start 5-2, then struggle to find Win No. 6. (If it doesn't come against Texas at home or at Iowa State, it might not come.)
I thought I was tapping the brakes when talking about Texas Tech last year, but I evidently wasn't doing it enough.
Kliff Kingsbury's team had razed Arizona State in the 2013 Holiday Bowl; the win cranked up the hype enough that, despite losing five games in a row to finish the regular season, the Red Raiders received enough votes to start the year 38th in the AP poll.
This wasn't a runaway hype train, but the vibes were positive. Kingsbury was recruiting well, the offense was ready to take a step forward after scuffling along with freshman quarterbacks, and the defense ... well, the defense probably wasn't going to be worse. All aboard the Kliff Express.
A year later, the Kliff Express has a few more empty seats. The defense collapsed, allowing 34 or more points in eight of 10 games against power conference teams (and 82! against TCU). The offense was fine but fell into some ill-timed funks, and after surviving Central Arkansas and UTEP, the Red Raiders beat only Kansas and Iowa State after September 6.
It wasn't even a particularly good 4-8. Despite awful turnovers luck, Tech went 3-2 in one-possession games; you could say that the Red Raiders were as close to 1-11 as 6-6.
What many assumed would be Tech's return to league-average play -- Tech hasn't been above average within the Big 12 since Mike Leach left -- was a disaster. The Red Raiders missed a bowl for the second time since 1999, blue-chip quarterback Jarrett Stidham decommitted and ended up signing with Baylor, and a year after he had the world wrapped around his finger, Kingsbury is starting over.
Indeed, since the Leach/Adam James controversy of 2009, Texas Tech has been a Big 12 also-ran. The Red Raiders took a step forward in Tommy Tuberville's third and final season (2012) but found their nadir again with a Leach disciple calling the shots.
Since ranking 27th in Def. S&P+ in Leach's final season, Tech hasn't cracked the top 70 in that category, even with the otherwise defensively sound Tuberville. And after winning at least nine games in three of Leach's final four seasons, the Red Raiders haven't topped eight since.
Right before the 2014 season, Kingsbury signed a contract extension that made him one of the nation's most well-paid coaches. This seemed like a risk at the time because of inexperience, but his trajectory seemed clear enough that few questioned the move too loudly.
Now, entering his third year, Kingsbury faces increasing pressure. His contract makes him unfirable, but he has plenty to prove. Can (another) new defensive coordinator figure out the right buttons to push? Can an offense that returns virtually everybody pick up the difference? And after 12 losses in 14 conference games, can the Red Raiders at least hold their own?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 82|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|25-Sep||at Oklahoma State||75||35-45||L||29%||-13.3||10%|
|4-Oct||at Kansas State||26||13-45||L||24%||-16.2||1%|
|22-Nov||at Iowa State||92||34-31||W||50%||0.0||73%|
|Points Per Game||30.5||56||41.3||126|
2. Is 3 games a trend?
Despite the decent close-game record, luck wasn't on Tech's side. From a statistical standpoint, the Red Raiders did enough to beat UCA and UTEP by far more than 11 combined points -- they outgained these two by a combined 341 yards but recovered zero of three fumbles against UTEP and threw a couple of early picks against Central Arkansas. They prevailed and went on to produce a win expectancy over 50 percent in four conference games. So perhaps saying they were closer to 1-11 than 6-6 is a faulty way of looking at things.
Still, the bad performances were nightmarish. While the Red Raiders played at the 59th percentile or higher (~top 50) four times, they were in the 29th percentile or lower three times. In the three games that I thought would decide the season (Arkansas, OSU, KSU), they were outscored by 63 points and allowed 6.7 yards per play. They allowed 82 points to TCU, then played even worse the next week against Texas.
If there's hope to be found, it's that the Red Raiders improved in each of their final three games.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 9 games): 46% (Tech yards per play: 6.2)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 3 games): 60% (Tech yards per play: 7.8)
Granted, a lot of this late "surge" took place because of the offense. After struggling against TCU and Texas, freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in for the injured Davis Webb, thrived. In the final three games, he completed 57 percent of his passes at 16.5 yards per completion (unheard of for the typically efficiency-first air raid offense) with 14 touchdowns to two interceptions. The defense, meanwhile, still allowed 7 yards per play to OU and Iowa State before buckling down against Baylor (5.7).
That the offense returns most key contributors is an excellent sign, but the late-season improvement didn't really give much hope that the defense was going to improve enough to matter.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.5%||50||Succ. Rt. +||112.0||31|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.1||73||Def. FP+||100.0||65|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||41||Redzone S&P+||101.0||62|
|Q1 Rk||32||1st Down Rk||23|
|Q2 Rk||22||2nd Down Rk||72|
|Q3 Rk||35||3rd Down Rk||7|
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Davis Webb||6'5, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||211||345||2539||24||13||61.2%||4||1.1%||7.2|
|Patrick Mahomes||6'3, 219||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807||105||185||1547||16||4||56.8%||9||4.6%||7.7|
|6'3, 241||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8175|
3. A pretty good backup, one way or another
Mahomes was incredible down the stretch, especially considering he was a true freshman. He got hurt against Texas, and Vincent Testaverde finished the game. But he returned the next week and took no prisoners.
That left Tech with either great quarterback depth or an awkward quarterback battle, depending on your perspective. In 2013, Kingsbury had three solid quarterbacks but lost both Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) to transfer. Webb, the most successful of the three despite freshman status, remained and played perfectly well over the first half of the season. He made mistakes, sure -- against Arkansas, OSU, and KSU, as the defense proved it had no hope of making stops, he threw eight interceptions trying to force the issue -- but he still finished with 2,539 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, and a 138.4 passer rating.
And then Mahomes outplayed him in the final three games.
Mahomes had limited availability in the spring because of baseball commitments, and Webb was still recovering from shoulder surgery, so not much was decided. We assume Mahomes will win the battle because he's younger and produced better averages, but both quarterbacks have cases.
- Completion Rate: Webb 61%, Mahomes 57%
- Yards Per Completion: Mahomes 14.7, Webb 12.0
- TD Rate: Mahomes 9%, Webb 7%
- INT Rate: Webb 4%, Mahomes 2%
- Sack Rate: Mahomes 5%, Webb 1%
Webb was the more efficient, with a higher completion rate and far lower sack rate; in 717 career pass attempts, Webb has been sacked only 11 times. That's mind-boggling. But in the process of getting the ball out of his hands as soon as humanly possible, he does force the issue and throws some picks.
Mahomes waits for his receivers to get downfield, which leads to both bigger completions and more sacks. That he threw only four interceptions while averaging nearly 15 yards per completion was rare, but he did get sacked more frequently.
Efficiency is a big part of any offense, especially the air raid, so maybe Webb's still got a solid shot. He produced at least a 136 passer rating in five of seven games, and a lot of his mistakes against Arkansas, OSU, and KSU were due to the pressure the horrendous Tech defense put on the offense to keep up.
But the biggest key for Kingsbury might be not losing the backup to transfer. That he has had three different freshman quarterbacks putting up big numbers in two seasons is impressive, but at some point you'd like to keep a guy long enough to develop him.
|DeAndre Washington||RB||5'8, 192||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8876||188||1103||2||5.9||4.9||46.3%||1||1|
|Justin Stockton||RB||5'10, 193||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||48||396||4||8.3||13.0||39.6%||1||1|
|Patrick Mahomes||QB||6'3, 219||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8807||37||158||0||4.3||3.0||37.8%||3||2|
|Quinton White||RB||5'7, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8413||29||121||0||4.2||2.5||41.4%||1||0|
|Davis Webb||QB||6'5, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||13||59||1||4.5||4.3||38.5%||5||3|
|Jakeem Grant||WR||5'7, 170||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8363||5||35||0||7.0||4.3||60.0%||2||2|
|Demarcus Felton||RB||5'7, 193||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8463|
|Corey Dauphine||RB||5'11, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9134|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Jakeem Grant||WR||5'7, 170||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8363||110||67||938||60.9%||20.7%||61.8%||8.5||120||8.4||133.0|
|Reginald Davis||WR||6'0, 184||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9274||48||29||318||60.4%||9.0%||64.6%||6.6||-37||6.7||45.0|
|DeAndre Washington||RB||5'8, 192||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8876||45||30||328||66.7%||8.5%||64.4%||7.3||-32||7.2||46.5|
|Devin Lauderdale||WR||5'10, 180||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8852||43||31||589||72.1%||8.1%||53.5%||13.7||222||13.6||83.5|
|Ian Sadler||WR||5'11, 200||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8748||42||23||336||54.8%||7.9%||47.6%||8.0||49||7.9||47.6|
|Dylan Cantrell||WR||6'3, 213||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8717||40||20||312||50.0%||7.5%||75.0%||7.8||57||6.8||44.2|
|Cameron Batson||WR||5'9, 170||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8449||17||9||41||52.9%||3.2%||70.6%||2.4||-72||2.3||5.8|
|Justin Stockton||RB||5'10, 193||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672||14||12||76||85.7%||2.6%||85.7%||5.4||-62||6.3||10.8|
|Quinton White||RB||5'7, 208||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8413||13||10||82||76.9%||2.4%||23.1%||6.3||-35||6.0||11.6|
|Brad Pearson||WR||6'2, 213||Sr.||NR||NR||7||6||38||85.7%||1.3%||85.7%||5.4||-31||5.3||5.4|
|Jakari Dillard||WR||6'4, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8545|
|J.F. Thomas||WR||6'4, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9217|
|Tony Brown||WR||6'1, 187||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8763|
|Keke Coutee||WR||5'10, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8672|
|Jonathan Giles||WR||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8322|
4. Plenty of dangerous pieces
Whoever ends up playing behind center will have all the weapons he could want.
First, last year's top three running backs all return; senior DeAndre Washington was wonderfully efficient, taking advantage of big line splits and defensive preoccupation to grind out at least five yards in nearly half of his carries. He isn't explosive, but he can leave the big gains to sophomore Justin Stockton, who did most of his damage early (12.4 yards per carry against UCA and UTEP, then 6.6 the rest of the year) but showed dramatic big-play capability.
Meanwhile, six of last year's top seven wide receivers return. Renowned kick returner Jakeem Grant produced solid numbers as a No. 1 target, Reginald Davis provided a decent efficiency option, and former four-star prospect Devin Lauderdale made big plays. [Update: Davis could miss time early in the season as a result of a marijuana possession charge he received in May.] Lauderdale was a large part of Mahomes' late success, catching 11 passes for 263 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games.
These three, plus sophomores Ian Sadler and Cameron Batson, a new batch of exciting freshmen (including four-star J.F. Thomas), and the running backs will give Mahomes or Webb too many weapons for defenses to handle. If the quarterback makes the proper reads, he will almost certainly find an exciting receiver to target.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Le'Raven Clark||LT||6'6, 307||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9059||38||2014 1st All-Big 12|
|Jared Kaster||C||6'3, 287||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8970||25|
|Alfredo Morales||LG||6'4, 316||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8559||24|
|Baylen Brown||RG||6'5, 312||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8609||12|
|Tony Morales||C||6'3, 290||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8985||4|
|Poet Thomas||RT||6'6, 330||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8282||0|
|Robert Castaneda||RG||6'4, 301||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8307|
|Justin Murphy||RT||6'7, 270||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8160|
|Emeka Okafor (Houston)||LG||6'5, 320||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Paul Stawarz||LT||6'5, 295||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Conner Dyer||OL||6'5, 265||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9034|
|Madison Akamnonu||OL||6'6, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8989|
5. Few worries up front
Even with Mahomes, Tech's sack rates were excellent. The Red Raider line has long been a strength, particularly in pass protection -- wide splits, big bodies, and a quick-passing style have been a lovely combination -- and it's hard to imagine that changing much with the return of all-conference tackle Le'Raven Clark and four others with starting experience.
The starting right tackle could be untested, be it sophomore Poet Thomas or redshirt freshman Justin Murphy. But until proven otherwise, the Tech line gets the benefit of the doubt, especially with the addition of Houston transfer Emeka Okafor and two four-star freshmen (per the 247Sports Composite), Conner Dyer and Madison Akamnonu.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.6%||116||Succ. Rt. +||92.4||100|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||26.6||125||Off. FP+||94.9||122|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.2||127||Redzone S&P+||98.6||69|
|Q1 Rk||33||1st Down Rk||117|
|Q2 Rk||113||2nd Down Rk||103|
|Q3 Rk||121||3rd Down Rk||125|
6. Death, taxes, Bo Ryan, and a new Texas Tech defense
4-3, 3-4, 4-2-5, 4-3, 3-4. Perhaps the only surprise is that, in the last five years, Tech hasn't given the 3-3-5 a significant look. The Red Raiders have tried everything else.
It's now David Gibbs' turn to make something of a defense that has been mediocre for a while but was awful last fall.
Eliminating drama might be a decent first step. Last year, coordinator Matt Wallerstedt resigned after a poor start and was eventually accused of coming to work under the influence and giving away Tech's signs to opponents. He naturally denied the signal allegations, but there's no question that the Tech D had to deal with ineptitude on the field and awkwardness off of it.
Assuming Gibbs' tenure is free of drama, it will be interesting to see what he's able to accomplish. Gibbs' Houston defenses were unabashed ball hawks, doing everything they could to induce quarterback mistakes.
Fostering interceptions became a function of Gibbs' chess-match scheme. Just as hurry-up offenses run a base set of plays over and over from different formations, Houston's defense would run the same calls from multiple looks. This flexibility is due in part to UH's rush end position, a linebacker who plays as a standing defensive end regardless of a 3-4, 4-3 or nickel look.
Gibbs estimates that a college quarterback can be fooled by coverages into throwing a potential interception at least once every six passing plays. Gibbs has a theory that tempo/spread offenses sacrifice two tenets of old-school logic:
1. Maximizing the skill players with the best hands. Spread teams often rotate skill players during a drive.
2. The lack of attention given to turnovers in hurry-up practice schedules.
We know the Kingsbury offense is going to produce points and short possessions. One can see what he might like in Gibbs, whose defenses move just as quickly and place a premium on breaking serve. He's willing to give up yards and points if his guys are also able to create (and take advantage of) mistakes.
If he succeeds, he could succeed quickly. If he fails, he will fail miserably.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Pete Robertson||BANDIT||6'3, 243||Sr.||NR||NR||12||65.0||8.4%||15.5||13.0||0||3||2||0|
|Keland McElrath||DT||6'4, 307||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8344||11||37.5||4.8%||2.5||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Branden Jackson||DE||6'4, 272||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8951||12||34.5||4.5%||9.5||3.0||0||2||1||0|
|Rika Levi||NT||6'2, 330||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8416||11||16.0||2.1%||1.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Smith||DT||6'3, 316||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||10||14.0||1.8%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Andre Ross||BANDIT||6'2, 234||Sr.||NR||0.9000||8||7.5||1.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Gary Moore||DE||6'5, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8772||11||6.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Demetrius Alston||DT||6'3, 274||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8035||6||6.0||0.8%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kris Williams||BANDIT||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8348||7||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Donte Phillips||DT||6'2, 280||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8186||5||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Outlaw||DT||6'4, 309||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8748|
|Zach Barnes||DE||6'3, 232||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8252|
|Breiden Fehoko||DT||6'3, 293||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9744|
7. Simply dreadful against the run
Perhaps the most important player will be rush end Pete Robertson. Robertson's a motor guy; he wasn't much in run defense, but he pursued well, and he wreaked havoc in the pass rush. Pressure will be key in forcing quarterback mistakes, and Robertson is one of the most proven pass rushers in the conference.
Of course, harassing the passer only matters if you can force your opponent to throw. Tech's pass defense was pretty efficient, but the Red Raiders had one of the worst run defenses in America. They ranked 119th in Rushing S&P+ and 120th in Adj. Line Yards. They had almost no presence in the backfield, and opposing runners were able to gain five or more yards on 45 percent of their carries. Opponents ran 67 percent of the time on standard downs (7 percent above the national average) and 34 percent of the time on passing downs (1 percent above); they knew they had nothing to fear by keeping it on the ground, and while good rushing teams like Arkansas and TCU had plenty of success on the ground, so did lesser attacks like UTEP and Iowa State.
That virtually everybody from last year's front four returns is a good thing, but sometimes you need some new blood. Perhaps younger players like sophomore tackles Demetrius Alston and Josh Outlaw or four-star freshman Breiden Fehoko can bring a bit more hope to the run D.
Of course, keeping your starting rotation on the field could help. Of the eight players who averaged at least 0.9 tackles per game, only two played in all 12 games. For that matter, only two of four linebackers and three of 12 defensive backs did the same. Tech wasn't quite as wrecked by injury as a team like Iowa State was, but it was close. Injuries can create depth in the future tense, so perhaps there's reason for optimism there ... however slight.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Micah Awe||MIKE||6'0, 221||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8454||12||58.5||7.5%||3.0||1.0||0||3||0||0|
|Malik Jenkins||WILL||6'1, 220||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8144||8||8.0||1.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sam Atoe||SAM||5'11, 231||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7993||12||8.0||1.0%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kahlee Woods||LB||6'1, 234||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8324||7||5.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacarthy Mack||SAM||6'2, 196||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8394|
|Dakota Allen||MIKE||6'2, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8520|
|Mike Mitchell (Ohio State)||WILL||6'3, 226||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9726|
|D'Vonta Hinton||LB||5'10, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8389|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Keenon Ward||FS||5'9, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8640||10||60.0||7.7%||1.5||0||1||6||1||0|
|Tevin Madison||CB||5'10, 163||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8291||12||51.0||6.6%||3||0||1||7||0||0|
|J.J. Gaines||SS||6'0, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8494||10||50.0||6.5%||2.5||0||2||4||1||0|
|Justis Nelson||CB||6'2, 177||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8222||11||39.5||5.1%||2.5||1||0||16||0||0|
|Nigel Bethel II||CB||5'9, 188||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8807||9||35.5||4.6%||1.5||0||0||6||0||0|
|Derrick Dixon||S||5'9, 194||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8587||11||18.0||2.3%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jalen Barnes||SS||6'0, 191||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8188||10||15.0||1.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jah'Shawn Johnson||CB||5'10, 179||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8395||4||4.5||0.6%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Thierry Nguema||CB||5'10, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7917||12||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|D.J. Polite-Bray||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8007|
|Tevin Madison||CB||5'10, 163||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8291|
|Payton Hendrix||S||6'2, 203||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8866|
|Paul Banks||CB||6'1, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8007|
|Jamile Johnson||CB||6'0, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8769|
8. Hope in the secondary
Between Robertson's pass rushing prowess, Gibbs' exciting tactics, and a naturally aggressive secondary, Tech's pass defense is loaded with potential.
Corners Tevin Madison, Justis Nelson, and Nigel Bethel II combined for seven tackles for loss and 30 passes defensed despite being underclassmen. [Update: Bethel was suspended for the first three games of the season after punching Tech women's basketball player Amber Battle during an offseason pickup basketball game.] Safeties Kenon Ward and J.J. Gaines had their moments, as well. This secondary is deep and far more experienced than it was a year ago. And the upside will only improve if younger players like redshirt freshman Payton Hendrix or freshman Jamile Johnson force their way onto the field.
Gibbs tactics could quickly pay off, and Tech could force far more turnovers if opponents have to pass. That's an "if" the size of West Texas.
|Taylor Symmank||6'3, 194||Sr.||54||42.6||5||24||17||75.9%|
|Taylor Symmank||6'3, 194||Sr.||22||60.5||10||0||45.5%|
|Jakeem Grant||KR||5'7, 170||Sr.||23||22.4||0|
|Justin Stockton||KR||5'10, 193||So.||16||16.2||0|
|Cameron Batson||PR||5'9, 170||So.||17||3.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||84|
|Field Goal Efficiency||56|
|Punt Return Efficiency||111|
|Kick Return Efficiency||108|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||103|
9. Where'd the return game go?
Special teams are a small-sample enterprise, complete with randomness and misleading stats. We know Jakeem Grant has absurd potential as a kick return man; he proved that with two touchdowns in six returns back in 2012. But he has averaged barely 22 yards per return over the last two years, and neither he nor Justin Stockton got any sort of consistent run blocking last year.
Returns were an extreme weakness for an otherwise decent unit. Punter Taylor Symmank was able to boot high and long, and he should remain a strength, but with a new place-kicker, the return game will need to improve.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|5-Sep||Sam Houston State||NR|
|7-Nov||at West Virginia||40|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-1.2% (59)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||47 / 41|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-13 / -4.1|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-3.7|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||18 (9, 9)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||4.8 (-0.8)|
10. Opportunities early
The first seven games are pretty extreme: four opponents projected 86th or worse, three projected 18th or better.
This provides a world of opportunity and peril. Lose to any of Sam Houston, UTEP, Iowa State, or Kansas, and bowl eligibility is almost certainly out the window. Beat either Arkansas, TCU, or Baylor, and you will be about 5-2 and a pretty big story heading into late October.
You can see whatever you want. An optimist will point to a potential top-20 offense. Plus, said optimist could point to new life on defense and a potentially excellent pass defense.
A pessimist would simply have to point out that the run defense was so embarrassing that Tech went 4-8 despite a good offense and decent pass defense.
I'm leaning toward the optimist's point of view. Tech had poor injuries luck and turnovers luck, and while there's nothing saying luck will shift, the Red Raiders have extra depth because of the injuries and should force plenty of takeaway opportunities in Gibbs' system.
If nothing else changes but turnover margin, Tech could be bowling again. If actual quality improves as well, Tech will be bowling again.