After giving up 369 passing yards to a talented and structurally-sound Northern Arizona offense, Arizona State’s defense will face a completely different challenge Saturday against Texas Tech’s potent Air Raid scheme.
In a game that could likely be a shootout, ASU will be tasked with stopping a Red Raiders' offense that eclipsed 758 yards of total offense -- 633 yards of which came through the air -- in its 69-17 victory over Stephen F. Austin in its season opener.
“We’ve competed against this system for a lot of years so that helps us a lot, but it still boils down to matchups and personnel and all those things there and our guys will be ready,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said.
Texas Tech junior quarterback Patrick Mahomes only played about 35 minutes in the contest, but is the current FBS leader in total offense with 540 yards and is second in passing with 483 yards.
Pegged by some as a darkhorse Heisman candidate, Mahomes went 30-for-43 for 483 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night. He also rushed for 57 yards and two scores. Seventeen players recorded a reception in Texas Tech’s home opener.
Last season as a sophomore, Mahomes led the nation in total offense with 393 yards per game and was fourth in passing, averaging 357.9. He was the youngest quarterback in NCAA history and the 13th quarterback all-time to have more than 5,000 yards of total offense in a single season.
“Probably as good as a quarterback as there is out there,” Graham said regarding Mahomes. “He’s got to be one of the best, if not the best, in the Big 12. Got to be up there in one of the best because he is a phenomenal player.”
Mahomes’ success marks the latest quarterback to have shined under fourth-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Prior to joining the Red Raiders in 2013, Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M and coached Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. From 2008-2011, Kingsbury was at Houston and played a hand in crafting quarterback Case Keenum.
Since Kingsbury joined Texas Tech, the team has posted records of 8-5 (2013), 4-8 (2014), and most recently 7-6 in 2015. Kingsbury led his team to two bowl appearances -- a 37-23 win against then-No. 16 ASU in the 2013 Holiday Bowl and a 56-27 loss to then-No. 22 LSU in the 2015 Texas Bowl.
In his Monday press conference, Kingsbury said he wouldn’t be taking much from Texas Tech’s 2013 Holiday Bowl win against the Sun Devils because it was too long ago and a lot has changed since then for both teams.
However, Kingsbury noted ASU will be “tough to stop defensively,” citing good pass rushers and noting sophomore cornerback Kareem Orr as a solid player in the Sun Devils' secondary.
Against ASU, Kingsbury said he would like to run the ball more than the Red Raiders did against SFA -- 28 carries for 125 yards -- but if ASU decides to load the box he has no problem passing the entire game.
Despite scoring the most ever points in a Texas Tech season opener (69) against SFA, Kingsbury said he was still disappointed in the play of his offense, including Mahomes, who he said was too loose and played too much “street ball.”
Kingsbury also noted he felt his receivers were sloppy in their route running and were “soft” when it came to blocking on the inside. Along the offensive line, Texas Tech had two redshirt freshmen playing the tackle positions, Terence Steele and Madison Akamnanu, but only managed to give up two sacks on the night.
Last season, the Red Raiders led the nation in total offense with 393 yards per game and were fourth in passing averaging 357.9 yards per game.
“It’s the same challenge for everyone they play every week,” Graham said. “It’s an Air Raid system. One, they are very, very well-coached and he (Mahomes) really understands the system. He’s hard to tackle, he has a very quick release and they spread you all over the place. Obviously the strength of their team is their offense and their ability to score points.”
Graham compared Texas Tech’s version of the Air Raid to Washington State's offense under head coach Mike Leach. Not coincidentally, Leach brought the Air Raid to Texas Tech -- and ultimately the Big-12 -- in 2000.
Kingsbury was the Red Raiders' starting quarterback in Leach’s first year.
“Mike, coach Leach, is obviously to me, as far as what I know and what I’ve studied, he’s kind of the foundation and the traditional way of doing it (Air Raid),” Graham said. “They’ve all added different wrinkles and stuff to it, but I would say Texas Tech is more pure and more similar to Washington State.”
In addition to the Red Raiders’ offense, their defense earned high praise from Kingsbury who said on the Big 12 media call his best takeaway from the opener was the physicality of the defensive line.
In years past, Texas Tech’s defense as a whole was often the main cause of frustration among fans who saw the strength of the Red Raiders as their offense.
Last season, the Red Raiders offense was among the best in the country, yet its defense was among the worst in the nation in rushing yards allowed (280) and the defense as a whole gave up 47 points per game. Texas Tech was 1-4 against teams that averaged at least 200 rushing yards per game and only managed to rack up 19 total sacks.
In its 2016 season opener against SFA, Texas Tech had five sacks in the game and held SFA to only one third down conversion and three three-and-outs in the first half alone.
The Lumberjacks only managed to rush for 58 yards, -3 in the first half, which was a clear improvement from Texas Tech’s season-opener last year against Sam Houston State when its defense allowed 317 rushing yards.
The defense also forced three SFA turnovers, which makes 28 turnovers in 14 games under Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs. Junior defensive backs Keenon Ward and Thierry Nguema both had interceptions and junior linebacker Malik Jenkins recorded five tackles and recovered a fumble.
While the Red Raiders had to replace four of their top five defensive linemen this season, Texas Tech added seven defensive linemen to its 2016 recruiting class, the most of any position group. Michigan transfer nose tackle Ondre Pipkins recorded five tackles in his debut and Notre Dame transfer Kolin Hill had two tackles and a sack.