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2011 Season Preview: The Texas Tech Red Raiders And Survival

After the awkward dismissal of everybody's favorite pirate-coach, the goal for Texas Tech in 2010 was simply survival. With their third defensive alignment in three years and an offense that must replace a number of skill position weapons, is 'survival' the watchword in Lubbock for 2011 as well?

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NOTE: Confused? Don't miss the definitions and footnotes at the bottom. And as always, if you don't like numbers, just skip to the words.

Texas Tech has been a major conference team for just over 50 years now, since they left the Border Conference (with such epic rivals as West Texas A&M and Hardin-Simmons) and showed up on the SWC's door (with a brief bout of independence in between) in 1960. In their history, they've finished in the AP Top 15 five times, once in the last 35 years. Their fans are as passionate (and articulate) as it gets, they're located in the land of Friday Night Lights, and for the past decade and a half, they've been a consistent, winning program; they've got quite a bit going for them. But in their fifty years as a major conference team, their legacy is primarily that ... they've been a major conference team for 50 years.

National success has been hard to come by, but in a decade under Mike Leach, they established both a higher baseline of wins and, perhaps as importantly, an identity. Leach's awkward dismissal from Tech 18 months ago appalled the aforementioned passionate fans and created a bit of a difficult situation for his accomplished successor, Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville was able to steer Tech to another bowl in 2010, but it feels like fans are only now beginning to consider life on the Tuberville bandwagon. (That he has landed quite a few big-time recruits hasn't hurt.)

Life as a fan of what we'll call a second-tier program is often hard. In college football, you can typically only expect to see the level of success that you've seen before. For Tech, that has primarily meant seven to eight wins and road pummelings at the hands of the conference's powers. Leach was able to raise the bar to, typically, eight or nine wins and runs to the Cotton Bowl when the level of experience peaks every few years. The results were good and incredibly entertaining, and while Tuberville actually achieved at an even higher level at Auburn than Leach did at Tech, it is difficult to discern how high Tech's ceiling is at this point. And with another year of coagulation in the works (and a very deep upper-half of the conference), we probably won't know that answer until at least 2012.

2010 Schedule & Results*

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk**: 61
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
5-Sep SMU 35-27 W 29.3 - 24.1 W
11-Sep at New Mexico 52-17 W 28.7 - 36.3 L
18-Sep Texas 14-24 L 11.6 - 22.1 L
2-Oct at Iowa State 38-52 L 31.4 - 37.3 L
9-Oct vs Baylor 45-38 W 35.0 - 28.0 W
16-Oct Oklahoma State 17-34 L 28.1 - 28.2 L
23-Oct at Colorado 27-24 W 22.4 - 22.4 W
30-Oct at Texas A&M 27-45 L 35.2 - 36.0 L
6-Nov Missouri 24-17 W 30.2 - 20.0 W
13-Nov at Oklahoma 7-45 L 21.3 - 36.0 L
20-Nov Weber State
64-21 W 38.3 - 37.5 W
27-Nov Houston 35-20 W 23.2 - 19.6 W
1-Jan vs Northwestern 45-38 W 36.5 - 31.1 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 33.1 23 30.9 93
Adj. Points Per Game 28.6 50 29.1 73

Texas Tech's 2010 season was ... odd. The better the offense performed, the worse the defense performed, and vice versa. Neither unit seemed capable of stringing together consecutive strong performances. The defense looked strong against Texas and atrocious against Iowa State, great against Missouri and shaky against Weber State. The offense was much the same. This makes sense, of course. The defense was breaking in a 3-4 alignment with a mismatched, injury-riddled line and a terribly young secondary. The offense was simply learning to live life without Leach. It was like an American moving to Taiwan for 10 years, then coming back to the States and learning English all over again. There were extended fits and starts. In the end, there was no trend, only survival. After a 4-5 start, the Red Raiders took care of business against two lesser teams to clinch their 11th consecutive bowl game and Boston College-esque 16th consecutive winning season. That it included two identical 45-38 wins in the Cotton Bowl (against both Baylor and Northwestern) was just a quirky bonus.

Tech indeed survived what was truly a bitter divorce last fall, and that is, in and of itself, commendable, but with another new defensive alignment and a boatload of skill position players to replace, Tech could be in store for another autumn of survival. As long as fans don't get impatient, however, this might pay off. Tuberville is recruiting well, and Tech could be quite experienced and talented in 2012 and into the future.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 43 48 46
RUSHING 86 91 71 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 30 21 40 65
Standard Downs 49 49 49 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 35 37 37 20
Redzone 9 14 9
Q1 Rk 60 1st Down Rk 55
Q2 Rk 25 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 49 3rd Down Rk 40
Q4 Rk 58

Though this wasn't the Leachian Airraid by any means, Tech often looked like the Tech we'd come to expect in 2010. The Red Raiders still threw a ton, committed to their identity and played at a top five pace. This makes sense, of course; Tuberville brought Neal Brown aboard to play the role of offensive coordinator. He was at the helm of a tremendous Troy offense pre-Tech, and his offensive identity isn't all that different than Leach's.

The main difference in 2010 was simply that Tech just wasn't as good offensively as they had been. A running game that was used both sparsely and effectively under Leach was just sparse, and while Tech was decent on passing downs, they faced too many passing downs to thrive. They were good in the red zone, sure, and they protected the passer almost as well as ever, but the big play threats weren't really there, and basically, this entire paragraph is how you end up with ups and downs like Tech experienced last fall.

Oh yeah, and now the Red Raiders have to replace their top two quarterbacks, their leading rusher, and two receivers who combined for 37% of all Tech targets in 2010.

That's the bad news. The good news is, there are still signs of optimism. For starters, on a per-carry basis, running backs Eric Stephens (668 yards, 5.3 per carry, -0.7 Adj. POE, 6 TD and, admittedly, a fumble problem) and Ben McRoy (149 yards, 6.8 per carry, +3.0 Adj. POE, 2 TD) outperformed since-departed starter (and blogger) Baron Batch (816 yards, 4.6 per carry, -9.6 Adj. POE, 5 TD). Plus, the two receivers who left -- Detron Lewis (852 yards, 9.8 per catch, 73% catch rate, 6 TD) and Lyle Leong (926 yards, 12.5 per catch, 73% catch rate, 19 TD) -- were far from irreplaceable, new quarterback Seth Doege displayed a strong grasp of the offense and a stronger arm this spring and, perhaps most importantly, all five starters return on the offensive line. Granted, only one has started more than one year, but 83 combined starts is a lovely total, and two players -- left guard Lonnie Edwards and right tackle Mickey Okafor -- were good enough to snag second-team all-conference honors

Other tidbits:

  • I mentioned that Lewis and Leong were replaceable, which is an odd thing to say about two receivers who combined for 161 catches and almost 1,800 yards. But here's why I say it: a lot of players can produce what Detron Lewis produced in 120 targets (73% catch rate, 7.1 yards per target). Leong was special, both because of his solid 9.1 yards per catch and his strangely effective nose for the end zone. Regardless, Tech has any number of receivers who can, at the very least, replace Lewis' produciton. Alex Torres (481 yards, 12.3 per catch, 63% catch rate) was basically the same receiver in half the targets last year, while Austin Zouzalik (432 yards, 13.9 per catch, 71% catch rate) led the team with a 9.8-yards-per-target average.
  • Perhaps the two most interesting receivers to watch, actually, are newcomers. Junior college transfer Marcus Kennard, a big, 6-foot-4, long-strider, could offer a big play threat that Tech simply didn't possess last year. But from a creativity standpoint, there's another newcomer I want to see: Rivals 100 tight end Jace Amaro. As a Missouri fan, I know that when spread offenses add big, strong tight ends to the passing equation, things get interesting. I'm always the first to say that if you're counting on newcomers to make a huge difference, then you're almost certainly going to end up disappointed. But Tech really isn't counting on these two for anything in particular; they should have a decent offense no matter what, but the emergence of these two could bump them up the Big 12 ranks more quickly than expected.


Category S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
OVERALL 59 32 74
RUSHING 44 14 74 Adj. Line Yards:
PASSING 74 60 79 33
Standard Downs 74 43 93 Adj. Sack Rate:
Passing Downs 40 48 36 73
Redzone 39 50 33
Q1 Rk 95 1st Down Rk 64
Q2 Rk 68 2nd Down Rk 103
Q3 Rk 37 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 58

Sometimes the transition to a 3-4 goes smoothly (Texas A&M), and sometimes it doesn't. When Tech moved to a three-man line last year, they did so with a converted linebacker serving as their best end and a smaller, quicker tackle serving as the nose. Tech was undersized up front, but then they lost junior college transfer Scott Smith (12.0 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 2 FF) to a suspension after just four games. Throw in an injury to reserve Aundray Barr (2.5 tackles), and any semblance of depth was decimated before October. As a result of this, and the fact that the secondary was made primarily of underclassmen (their best cornerback was a true freshman), Tech's defensive performance regressed almost as much as their offensive performance.

After the season, Tech defensive coordinator James Willis left the program to "pursue other opportunities" (at first, I assumed that meant he was either asked not to return or had another job lined up, but it turns out there may have been other reasons for his departure), meaning the Red Raiders' defense will take cues from their third coordinator in three seasons this fall. It will be their third different alignment as well, as Tuberville elected to pull Chad Glasgow and his 4-2-5 from TCU. When it works, the Gary Patterson-esque 4-2-5 is devastating. Here's what I wrote about it back in my Rice profile.

Rice runs a variation of the 4-2-5 defense that TCU and others have ridden to fame. As TCU has proven, a 4-2 front can do great things if you have the speed to pull it off. As with a 3-4, you are able to get lighter, faster players on the field, and you can disguise what you are doing. But to me at least, the 4-2-5 is based more around reaction than any sort of attacking nature. Run to the football. Leverage them where you want them to go, then swarm. ... Gary Patterson says your free safety should be your second-leading tackler and should be making plays close to or behind the line of scrimmage.

The 4-2-5 works if the speed you add to the mix is good speed, capable of playing close to the line of scrimmage without getting burned deep. It will feature what is now a rather experienced secondary, and if the DBs are ready to take a step forward, the defense as a whole could take two. That some of Tech's best ratings came in limiting big plays on passing downs is a very encouraging sign.

Three of Tech's top four corners in 2010 were either freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Tre' Porter (68.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU) and Jarvis Phillips (50.5 tackles, 4 INT, 10 PBU) were put in very difficult situations last year, but as sophomores they could be ready to thrive. Their high tackle numbers tell us that their receivers probably caught a ton of passes, but they also defended a ton of passes as well, combining for five interceptions and 16 break-ups. This is a very encouraging sign for their playmaking ability in the future. Throw in another sophomore corner, Eugene Neboh (20.5 tackles, 2 PBU) and a host of experienced safeties -- Cody Davis (76.5 tackles, 6.5 TFL/sacks), converted corner D.J. Johnson (40.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 3 INT, 4 PBU), Brett Dewhurst (30.0 tackles, 4 PBU) -- and it's pretty easy to spot the strength of the 2011 Tech defense. And hey, if you're going to have a strength in the Big 12, secondary is a pretty good place to start.

Other tidbits:

  • Want to know more about the 4-2-5 in general? Tune in to the absolutely wonderful Multiplicity But Simplicity series at Double-T Nation. In it, DTN's Seth C. goes into detail about creating confusion at the line and, perhaps the most vital part of the 4-2-5, leveraging offenses into going where you want them to go. A thin front six prevents us from assuming success for Tech in 2011, but the future could be bright with this alignment, especially since cornerback is virtually set for years to come.
  • Getting to the passer was a huge issue last year; with little perception of risk, opponents attacked Tech with the pass, especially on passing downs. (Granted, opponents didn't pass particularly well on passing downs...) With the departure of Brian Duncan (50.0 tackles, 12.0 TFL/sacks), it is unclear whether the pass rush will get any better, especially in a 4-2-5 setup. The key could be Scott Smith, who may still be suspended for a chunk of this season. He was an undersized playmaker last year in his limited time, and nobody else has really proven themselves in this regard. If Smith isn't the answer, I honestly don't know who is.

Texas Tech's 2010 Season Set to Music

Because as a blogger I cannot let go of Mike Leach just yet...

"A Pirate Looks at Forty," by Jimmy Buffett
"Pirate Bones," by Natasha Bedingfield (I swear this is on my iPod because of my wife. Honest.)
"Pirate Jenny," by Nina Simone (This one is all me.)
"Pirate Jet," by Gorillaz
"Pirate's Progress," by Gorillaz
"Ship," by North Mississippi Allstars
"Ship in a bottle," by Bright Eyes
"Ship Wrecked," by Spacehog
"Shipbuilding," by Elvis Costello
"The Trip to Pirate's Cove," by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Come back to us, Coach.

Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit


Summary and Projection Factors

Below is a small handful of projection and change factors most pertinent to the Football Outsiders' preseason projections you will find in this summer's Football Outsiders Almanac 2011.

Four-Year F/+ Rk 29
Five-Year Recruiting Rk 34
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin**** -3 / +4.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (5, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin***** -0.8

As with a lot of teams I've been previewing lately, I think Tech might be a year away from being a truly stellar football team, but while they will potentially suffer through a lot more ups and downs in 2011 ... the 'ups' should be rather impressive. They will probably knock off somebody like a Texas A&M or Oklahoma State (they get both at home) while losing to somebody relatively unimpressive. (Then again, getting Iowa State, Kansas State and Nevada at home might preclude some of the drop-offs ... don't forget that Tech has potentially the best homefield advantage in the country.) Because of home field and a reasonably friendly schedule (as friendly as a schedule can be with the phrases "at Oklahoma" and "at Texas" involved), Tech shouldn't have much problem reaching bowl eligibility and a 17th consecutive non-losing season, but any aspirations beyond that will probably be put on hold for another year.

Tommy Tuberville inherited a difficult situation, replacing an extremely popular coach who had won at a rather high level for Tech. With his recent recruiting success, he could begin to put some pressure on both the conference's known powers (Oklahoma, Texas) and assumed powers (A&M). In the meantime, however, 2011 will probably be another year of establishing an identity and simply surviving.




* For more on the 'Adj. Score' and 'Adj. Record' measures below, feel free to read this Football Outsiders column. Adj. Score is a look at how a team would have performed in a given week if playing a perfectly average team, with a somewhat average number of breaks and turnovers. The idea for the measure is simple: what if everybody in the country played exactly the same opponent every single week? Who would have done the best? It is an attempt to look at offensive and defensive consistency without getting sidetracked by easy or difficult schedules. And yes, with adjusted score you can allow a negative number of points, which is strangely satisfying.

** F/+ rankings are the official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

*** What is S&P+? Think of it as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

**** Adj. TO Margin is what a team's turnover margin would have been if they had recovered exactly 50 percent of all the fumbles that occurred in their games. If there is a huge difference between TO Margin and Adj. TO Margin (in other words, if fumbles and unlucky bounces were the main source of a good/bad TO margin), that suggests that a team's luck was particularly good or bad and might even out the next season.

*****Phil Steele has long tracked Yards Per Point as a means of looking at teams that were a little too efficient or inefficient the previous season. A positive Yds/Pt Margin means a team's offense was less efficient than opponents' offenses, and to the extent that luck was involved, their luck might even out the next year.