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October 15, 2012

West Virginia Post-Mortem

If you have a healthy disdain for Kool-Aid, then I'll warn you ahead of time that this probably isn't the article for you. I'm going to be a bit exaggerative in places because, well, it's been a long time since I've been able to write a feature in which I can shower the Texas Tech players and coaches with so much praise. And, they deserve every bit of it.

This team is starting to develop an identity. It's one that knows how well they are capable of playing and that they let one slip away from them last week when they played their C-game and lost to the top team in the conference. They were ready to brutally punish whoever they played this week and that's the way good teams respond.

I will say that I felt West Virginia was just as exposed as it was a statement game from the Red Raiders. Kansas State will drill them in Morgantown this week and, so will any team in the conference that can appropriately drop into sound zone coverage. Definitely the Sooners. I won't be surprised if they lose in Stillwater and Ames as well, but none the less, they were ranked No. 5 in the country and everyone consensually agreed they were a good football team before this game so let's not cheapen it any at this juncture.

West Virginia is still a solid bowl team at worst and this dismantling by chainsaw warrants praise. The only bad news is the injuries. Tech has a lot of guys on the roster that have played good football in every game, the Oklahoma game included, and this was the fruits of their labor. They just need to play well and they'll be fine.

Congratulations to Tommy Tuberville for having them ready to play.

OFFENSE

I couldn't have been happier for Neal Brown and his staff. They needed this game as badly as anyone in front of a home crowd. The Red Raiders' preparation and gameplanning for West Virginia's deficiencies showed up from the first drive of the game and never let up.

I like seeing things on the field that were successful for other teams and just copying them since everyone has the same playbook. Brown obviously noticed in the Baylor and Texas games that West Virginia cannot, for the life of them, cover a slot receiver on a wheel route from the twins set in zone. They also can't cover a 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end who runs a 4.5. Tech's offense skipped the process of picking at a scab until it bleeds and just punched straight through the sternum creating a sucking chest wound.

This was easily my favorite Neal Brown moment to date. Outstanding work of dissecting a questionable outfit in a game where good offense was a key ingredient for good defense. The Red Raiders got touchdowns.

Quarterback

I'm even more happy for Seth Doege today. He had to have this game. This was his first victory over a Big 12 opponent at home as the team's full-time starter. If he plays like that every week, it surely won't be his last. We saw a fiery side of Doege that played with a killer instinct. There were a lot of people watching this game on a national scale and bringing your A-game to an expected shootout reflects a bit of mental toughness. A well-deserved Offensive MVP award for him. We saw improved decision making and he climbed the pocket into pressure much better this week allowing him better field vision and form on his throws.

Running Back

SaDale Foster stole the show with the electric touchdown run right before the half to all but seal the game. I knew Foster was quick, but I didn't realize his top end speed was that good. Four defenders had an angle on him and he blew past all of them. Just as impressive was his vision in setting up all the blocks down field. Kenny Williams has more of a bull in a china shop style and was brutally effective until he fumbled. Those were some monster plays in the passing game. Hopefully he can get the ball security issues resolved. Eric Stephens has always been an underrated short yardage back and he's finding a critical post-injury role as a specialist.

Wide Receiver

The identity that is being developed by the Red Raiders' receiving corps is one that screams you-better-enjoy-playing-contact-football-when-you-line-up-with-us. A lot of the damage they inflict, not only physically, but psychologically occurs on plays where they don't have the ball. Eric Ward, Tyson Williams and Jace Amaro catch a few balls each game and spend the rest of their time kicking someone's ass. The officials threw a playing-football-too-mean penalty on Ward in the first half.

On any given run or pass play you typically see a defensive back getting a swirlie in the Gatorade cooler on the sideline or being pinned down on the turf getting punched in the chest until forced to say uncle, if not simultaneously. Williams' value is not gained in the amount of yards and catches he has as much as the fact that you have to cover him with a linebacker in the run game.

This was a breakout game for Amaro in more ways than his five catches for 157 yards and a touchdown indicated. This is the first week we've really seen Amaro start to handle defensive ends in the run game without tackle help and he becomes a whole different level of weapon at that point. He's mauling defensive backs in Tech's screen game and downfield blocking. I hope he recovers quickly because the lightbulb seemed to come on for him in this game and he's capable of changing the way football is played in this conference. It takes a special type of talent to do that from the tight end position.

This duo of Amaro and Williams gives me some confidence that the Red Raiders give teams some of the same problems the Missouri offense did a few years back with Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, but Amaro is taking it to the next level in the passing game. That 62-yard catch would have been an amazing play for Michael Crabtree. I'm honestly still not sure what his ceiling is and this is the first time in his career that he really showed the game had slowed down for him. Tech's offense can hit a whole different level if they can start forcing teams to put an extra linebacker on the field and then try to cover those two guys.

Williams is my kind of football player and his value with only increase the further the Red Raiders get into conference play. Foster's play won't be the last 50-yard plus touchdown the team houses in the run game if they play like this every week.

Tech won the physical game in this contest and tapped WVU out with three minutes left in the first quarter. The team's inside receivers averaged over 22 yards a catch on 13 receptions and got a big play from the run game as a result of their downfield blocking. These guys were getting it done. They were probably a 28-point swing in quality of talent between what their counterparts produced.

This facilitates even more space on the outside for their teammates and Ward and Darrin Moore took every advantage outplaying Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. I would have never predicted that. Moore ran great routes and showed no fear going over the middle proving to be a serious red zone threat with three touchdowns. Marcus Kennard showed up big once Bradley Marquez went down.

Can we get some Sonny Cumbie and Tommy Mainord love here?

Offensive Line

Much better play this weekend and the Red Raiders showed that, if they avoid our own mental mistakes, they can physically handle someone. We're past the point of talking about Le'Raven Clark becoming a good player and recognize that he already is. Terry McDaniel is playing the best football of his career and together they performed well.

Tech seems to be molding something consistent here with their zone blocking behind those two guys. West Virginia was a team that thrives on blitzes, sacks and negative run plays and you would have never guessed that from watching the game. I think that's the best complement I can give them. We'll move on.

DEFENSE

I've had a chance to watch most of the defenses in the Big 12 now. The Red Raiders don't anything fancy or exotic and there is no secret. They've got 11 guys playing with great leverage on each play as consistently as anyone in this conference. That's their secret. Leverage. And, I'm not just referencing the run game, where they are going to be a bit susceptible to off tackle zone/power plays against their nickel package, but have shown the ability to scheme around it. Tech is playing with as good of leverage in their zone drops as any defense I've watched. The team has gone stretches at a time against every opponent on the schedule where it appears they are playing with 13 guys in coverage.

Art Kaufman chose not to blitz as much this game, playing coverage and letting his pass rushers work to the quarterback and the Red Raiders looked the best they have all season. In fact, they looked better than LSU did against WVU last year. It's organized. It's disciplined. It's focused. And, I like it. Creating chaos is often a product of not having it yourself.

This is where Tech is succeeding while others around them fail at attempting similar basic concepts. Kaufman had Dana Holgorsen frustrated by the second quarter and blaming the wind by halftime. The team's goals were obvious through their level of play. Tackle well in front of you and don't let anything behind you.

The Red Raiders have found a perfect spot for Tre' Porter and it allows the defense to accomplish things from their nickel package that they couldn't accomplish with a base nickel defense.

Defensive Line

Mark this date down right here: Oct. 6, 2012. That's the day Delvon Simmons arrived. He was a bright spot last week against a solid Sooner offensive line, but he was really more of a difference maker this week. I'm not sure how he'll project for the rest of the schedule, but he's making some of the same plays those really good guys from the big name programs make on the defensive interior.

Kerry Hyder was back wrecking shop this week finishing second on the team with six tackles. Tech is largely playing Hyder as the team's one-tech and Simmons at the three-tech, which could be some kind of brilliant strategic move that I haven't quite thought of the answer for.

Against a pass happy offense the Red Raiders relied on Pete Robertson more to facilitate a better pass rush. They also left him in long enough to where it was cleary that they trust him a little more against the run and Robertson responded. He's got really long arms with man strength and uses that asset well to separate from blockers. Nobody has manhandled him yet despite his size deficiency. I'm guessing Tech will start to rely on him more as the season progresses if he continues to do a nice job setting the edge on run plays while giving the team a guy on the field that can juke around a tackle. Robertson plays much bigger than he is. Dartwan Bush can't hold up too many series against a committed off tackle game, so developing fresh depth here will be critical in the weeks to come.

Jackson Richards is having a great season and does everything that his coaches ask of him pretty well. It's good to have those kind of guys on the field. When you throw Branden Jackson in the mix, I can't remember feeling better about Tech's defensive end two-deep.

Overall, the defensive line had 17 tackles between four positions and that usually means you were getting run plays on the ground for minimal damage. The Red Raiders can be had with the aforementioned off-tackle zone plays using lead blockers against nickel personnel, but that's not an unusual weakness of any defense. Tech rotates its defensive ends appropriately and will eventually answer with a linebacker if they really need to stop you, but they're not going to fall for play-action in the process.

Smart football feels good.

Linebackers

Blake Dees seemed to play more than Will Smith -- understandable given how Smith battled illness all week -- and was great in coverage and cleaned up a few plays. Terrance Bullitt ran around and did some good things. I can't stress enough how good they all were at filling their passing lanes and denying the ball. There is a difference in how Jim Boeheim and Pat Knight play zone defense. It's not meant to be a passivist approach to guarding an opponent.

Secondary

Geno Smith started the game 7-of-9 for 81 yards and a touchdown. He finished 19-of-46 for 194 yards and no touchdowns. I'm not sure there is an end point to writing good things about them.

You hate to see Cornelius Douglas go down but Bruce Jones answered the call more than admirably. That's two weeks in a row that Eugene Neboh has made big play after big play on a national platform against top 10 opponents. How do you define big time player again?

This is another great example of how well the Red Raiders understand the concepts of leverage. Watch their cornerbacks cover a go route. They do a text book job of using the sideline as a third defender denying back shoulder throws. Teams generally complete deep balls to their outside receivers three yards out of bounds if Tech doesn't swat it out of their hands in a six-inch window on the field of play.

Porter has been a luxury the last two weeks in neutralizing the two preseason first-team All-Big 12 wide receivers out of the slot position. He's probably the one guy who is still making more mistakes than anyone, but Porter's also the only one on the roster capable of executing the assignments he has been given and he's been great at playing the next play. He gets a little tied up by blockers at times, but he serves as an asset over the course of four quarters.

While I was happy for Tuberville, Brown and Doege, no one more deserved this game than Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson. These two guys have been through the most in the defense debauchery of the last two years and, like most safeties, when they have been asked to over-compensated for other areas of deficiency, they have been made to look at bad football players. Those days seems like years ago at the mid-way point of the Red Raiders' schedule and no other safety in the Big 12 will be spoken of more highly than Cody Davis.

In the last two weeks, Davis has missed one open field tackle, which is two less than Texas averages every play. He has played like a star. Davis reads plays fast, runs to the football and gets people on the ground. It's much harder to do than he's making it look. Johnson has been a calming force, who has done a great job protecting the deep ball. He appears to be the most vocal leader on the defense and is demanding high standards from those around him and keeping them focused. It was definitely the best Tech's secondary has played in the modern passing era of the last 10 years.




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