Craving even more knowledge of the Texas Tech Red Raiders, I sought out dedfischer. You can find his entertaining and informative Tech coverage over at Barking Carnival and The Tortilla Retort (here's his write-up on the KU defense). Even before this I felt like I owed half of my Tech knowledge to him; now it may be closer to three quarters. Thanks for the efforts.
1. Tech is 7-0 and on the list of no more than 8-10 teams that have a shot at the MNC. However, they could play well, not ever be upset and finish the regular season at 8-4. What were your expectations going in and what are they now?
I thought this was a 9-3 team coming in. Basically, they returned everyone from a 9-4 squad that was two plays away from being 11-2. The defense has 3 more guys this season making plays than it had last year in McKinner Dixon, Daniel Charbonnet and Brian Duncan playing his natural position of MLB. They could very well go 8-4, but when you figure in a healthy Batch coming off a redshirt season, I don't think we're any less than a 9-3 team with a better shot at 10-2. We'll need one of those two plays to beat Kansas.
2. Obviously the offense is as effective as ever. However, I don't think you've been running nearly enough. Do you agree? And also, do you think we should expect the same ratio here on out or has Leach been saving this in light of the next four games?
Leach is 28-3 since 2005 when his RBs receive 20+ touches, which includes a 5-0 record this season. Over the last 5, the Batch/Woods duo has accounted for an averaged 28 touches for 223 yards per game. During the Nebraska game, the RBs carried or caught the ball on 24 of our 48 plays. Given the way our OL is run blocking and with Batch running hard, I think we could run a little more, especially against A&M in the 1st half. But, overall, we've never seen Leach this committed to getting the RBs involved in the game. If we hit our average in the last 5 games, I would be happier than a pig in shit as this opens things up for the passing game and keeps the LBs and Safeties honest. We've outrushed our first 3 conference opponents for the first time since the Spike Dykes Era.
3. Baron Batch is someone I didn't now much about before this year and really enjoy watching. Has he been the biggest surprise for you? If not, who?
I think Brian Duncan's success after the move to MLB has been the biggest surprise to me, but Batch isn't far behind. If you've watched this Tech team play very much, you'll start to realize that he's the most dangerous weapon in this offense. If you can't stop Batch, it will be too easy for Harrell. You can take some preventative measures to keep Crabtree from getting the ball, but there's not much you can do about Batch except line up and try to contain him. He's been my offensive MVP to date.
4. While I'm hesitant to say Tech's defense has turned the proverbial corner, they are playing physically and do seem better than in year's past. Colby Whitlock, Brandon Williams and Brian Duncan seem to be the most valuable members from my limited perspective. Mind discussing them and any other important cogs?
I'm not going to say this is an elite or even good defense, but there's no doubt they're solid, especially on the DL. Tech is one of three teams (TX and OU) in the Big 12 that can get pressure on the QB without blitzing. That's a tremendous advantage in this league as it allows you to roll with dime personnel and play 7 on 4 in the secondary on obvious passing downs. In conference play, Roy Miller at Texas is the only guy I've seen playing at a higher level than Whitlock at DT. He was a freshman All American last season and a year in a college S&C program has benefitted him tremendously. Whitlock is holding up better to double teams this season, and Duncan has been the direct beneficiary at MLB. Duncan is not the fastest LB around, but he just doesn't make many mental errors. He typically plays the run like it's supposed to be played, inside-out, one step behind the ball carrier. You can tell Duncan is a film junkie as his diagnostic skills have come full circle from his freshman year at OLB. Williams is our best pure pass rusher. I would test him with the zone read even if it wasn't working well just to keep him honest. Williams has improved against the run this year, but bad habits still show up and you'll catch him too far upfield a couple of times a game. He's been a lot better at containment, though. The other guy to look out for is McKinner Dixon. He's got 5 sacks on the season with 3 of those coming from the 3 technique position in our dime package. Kansas will need to manage 1st and 2nd down very well throughout the game. Stay patient with the short stuff, as teams who get in 3rd and longs have not fared well against Tech when Williams, Whitlock, Dixon and Daniel Howard are on the field.
5. Keeping with the defense, I would expect them to come hard at the Jayhawks and try to out-physical them. Agreed? And more importantly, what kind of schemes do they like to run? Where would you attack them if you were Todd Reesing?
The key to this game for both defenses will be the same. The team that stops the run the best with a 5 man front against 4 wide sets will probably have a decided advantage from a coverage standpoint. Overall, I think Ruffin McNeill has done a good job with this unit. Not great, but good. The numbers seem to support that as well. My one bone to pick with this defensive staff is that since we're predominantly a staunch Cover 2 or Cover 4 zone team, we allow average QBs to get comfortable and execute easy plays. See Nebraska. As much pressure as we've been able to generate with our DL, you would think this would play into the hands of Cover 2 man under. Tech just isn't a very good zone team, and the big pass plays we've given up, have been in zone coverage. We go through stretches where we don't mix our coverages enough and allow teams to thrive on 4 to 8 yard passes hoping they commit a penalty or make a bad throw. Which doesn't work very well given the caliber of QBs in this conference. Tech has played approximately 3 quarters of Cover 2 man under against K-State and A&M. Tech won those quarters by a score of 44-2 and recorded 4 sacks. I'm pretty sure we'll start out with base 4-3 Cover 2 zone to begin the game. If Kansas is moving the ball (which I expect them to at this point), I think we might see some Cover 2 man under in the 2nd quarter to see if we can make Reesing hold onto the ball a little longer and sack him. With that being said, Reesing just needs to stay patient and not rush things. Take the short stuff and run some time off the clock. Use your legs for 3 or 4 yard gains versus incompletions or forced passes.
6. Speaking of our gunslinger, how do you guys feel about him? Where would you rank him in the Big XII pecking order?
I think Reesing's abilities lie in that he makes good decisions with the football. He typically knows when the run, knows when the throw it away and doesn't turn the ball over. This works real well for Mangino's philosophy. Talent wise, he might be the 8th ranked QB in this league, but from a decision making standpoint, I would rank him 5th overall.
7. Quick aside, were you pretty surprised that Vegas labeled you underdogs this week? I know I was.
I was a little surprised because I do think Tech has an advantage in the trenches. It doesn't surprise me that Vegas anticipates the public's lack of faith in Tech, and therefore, feel they need to favor Kansas in order to get even money.
8. Finish this sentence. Tech will win if...
Can stop the run on 1st down. We need to keep Kansas in 2nd and 7s or longer for most of the night. This will keep KU from running time off the clock, and the more possessions in the game, the less likely the Jayhawks can keep pace with the Tech offense. It will also allow us to go to our dime package and bring in Daniel Howard in lieu of Richard Jones to rush the passer. This is where teams have had trouble handling the Tech DL.
9. And finally, your final score is...
On paper, I think Tech is 2 TDs better than Kansas in the trenches. Since it's a home game for KU, I'll knock 1 TD off that. And since Tech pulled a guy out of the stands to kick field goals this week, I'll say 42-38, Tech.