Johnson: The start wasn't deceiving the schedule was back-loaded. Throw in a razor thin depth chart due to constant coaching turnover, especially on defense where the seniors are on their fifth defensive coordinator since hitting campus, and you have a five-game losing streak. Tech was throwing walk-on freshmen out there against some of the top offenses in the country at one point and was rotating true freshman at quarterback. Those who looked at the talent on the roster before the season were hopeful for 7-8 wins and that's where Tech is at.
Aside from Kliff Kingsbury's Hollywood looks, but would you consider as his best assets as well as biggest weaknesses as a young coach?
Johnson: Developing quarterbacks, such as Case Keenum at Houston, Johnny Football at Texas A&M and now winning seven, maybe eight, games with a pair of true freshmen. Also, how he interacts with his players. Earlier in the season running back Deandre Washington carelessly dropped the ball on the 1-yard line before crossing the goal line against bitter in-state rival TCU. The blunder could have cost Tech the game. It was a Thursday night game on ESPN, so a lot of people were watching how he'd react. Kingsbury kept his cool, coached Washington up, Tech ended up scoring and winning. Several recruits I've talked to since said they thought that was telling about Kingsbury and that is the type of coach they want to play for.
How does the fan base feel in general about Mike Leach after his tenure there ended on such a sour note, do they loathe him or are they still grateful for everything he has done in Lubbock?
Johnson: Ninety percent of Tech fans will always love Leach. He brought an exciting, successful brand of football to West Texas and was quite the personality. Five percent hate him for how he left Tech. Not the treatment of Adam James, but that he was actively looking for a way out. Another five percent could care less and just wants to move on with Kingsbury and win a Big 12 championship.
How much of a drop off at quarterback do you expect Texas Tech will have with Baker Mayfield no longer a part of the team? Do you feel that Michael Brewer is prepared to step into the role of starting QB after being injured most of the season?
Johnson: I expect absolutely zero drop of from Mayfield's departure. As I wrote in a story a week or two before he left, Mayfield was the least talented of the three and it was a mystery that he was still receiving playing time. True freshman Davis Webb has an NFL arm and made most of the winning plays for Tech from the quarterback position, including some of the wins credited to Mayfield, who often started, but rarely finished games. Michael Brewer is an enigma. The redshirt sophomore has a live arm and is mobile, but lacks experience. He was expected to be the starter before suffering an injury just weeks prior to the start of the season. I think he will thrive if given the opportunity.
Tight end Jace Amaro is obviously a very dangerous receiver. What makes him a 1st team All-American player? Do you feel his skills negate the issues Texas Tech may have at quarterback?
Johnson: Amaro is a specimen. He is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, has soft hands, is an instinctual route runner and a great blocker at the point of attack. He's also willing to make tough catches in traffic and has proven to be a tough player this season. As far as helping quarterbacks, sure, I think any QB in the country would love to have him. He's a big target and a playmaker. The quarterback issues you are alluded to are way overblown. I wouldn't be surprised to see either Brewer or Webb throw for over 400 yards (the season average) in the Holiday Bowl.
What has prevented Texas Tech from running the ball better and is that a necessity for them to win in the Holiday Bowl?
Johnson: The biggest problem for Tech's offense hasn't been the quarterbacks; it's been the offensive line. It is young, lacks depth and a mauler inside. Redshirt sophomore Le'Raven Clark is first-team All-Big 12 performer and a future NFL tackle, but after him there's a big talent drop off.
ASU is known for pressuring the quarterback. What strengths or strategies will Texas Tech use to counteract that pass rush?
Johnson: Tech gave up nine sacks to Texas in the season finale on Thanksgiving. Some of that was Baker Mayfield needlessly holding onto the football way too long, but Tech has had problems with speed rushers all season long. Expect a heavy dose of short slants, tunnel screens and quarterback draws (if Brewer is the quarterback as expected) to try and keep the Sun Devils' pass rush honest.
Where do you see Texas Tech having more success on defense, stopping the run or the pass?
Johnson: The pass, by default. Texas Tech gave up almost 300 rushing yards a game during the five-game skid and I don't see former Red Raider great Zach Thomas walking through the door. I think Tech is going to be loose, confident and expects to pull off the upset. If Tech wins the turnover battle, it will have a shot.
What are you keys to the game and score prediction?
Johnson: Turnovers and penalties. I hate to sound like an old, boring coach, but Tech is among the worst in both categories this season. Even the most talented teams in the country would have a tough time winning with these characteristics. I think it will be a shootout like most people and I believe Tech will keep it close but eventually capitulate in fourth quarter to a more talented Arizona State squad. 49-38, the Red Raiders need a year or two to develop the incoming talent.