The quasi-rival, quasi-regional, full-fledged opponent of the
years returns with a lot of the game you know Tech will bring....
with a twist.
There's a lot we already know about Tech but what's
changed is the
faces. Several changes in their coach line up and a few
head coach Tommy Tuberville's past will be on display in Lubbock
Many of which will test the Lobos in several facets of their
playbooks, game time IQ and ingenuity.
The first piece that UNM will need to decipher is the Red Raiders front against the Lobos' new weaving offense. Where to chisel away...where to get a breakthrough.... and to see what to read (and from who) to be successful.
The first breakdown of the Big 12's red headed Raiders will look into their defense - an ever changing animal in itself - and what Texas Tech will likely use to combat the Lobos as they push the ball into the turf of Jones AT&T Stadium (6pm CT; Fox College Sports). Tech plans a "Celebrate Cotton" theme for this home game: a theme that can't be more fitting for a Lobo offense looking to pick the opposing front seven apart and through it's own personal "Hitmen" thresher.
The term "garden variety" doesn't even begin to sum up the last three meetings defensively, but thankfully I only have to excavate this season's squad. Let's begin.
Texas Tech has shown a mix of scheme in their first two games, and thankfully there's ample video on both of their wins at Northwestern State and Texas State. Consider the Texas State win a Cracker Jack box that keeps on paying out prizes, as we take on the same squad at home later in the year. Invaluable footage to take in, chew up and spit out on the playing field at your own convenience.
Texas Tech has been through four defensive assistant coaches in four years, each one peeled off of their positions like bananas off a bunch. The D has been through four different methods the last four years and the entire stint of Tuberville's (former Auburn, former Mississippi) tenure has been absolute tinkering/firing. The Raiders have run a 4-3, a 3-4, a 4-2-5, and now a multiple stack 4-3 with new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, fresh off stints at North Carolina, Mississippi and Southern Miss. Struggles in conference play (and coming in dead last in NCAA run defense totals in 11' amazingly) have made this side of the team a squeaky cog unresponsive to whatever oil it's dipped in. This is Tech's Achilles heel and one of the biggest hindrances from becoming contenders traditionally.
Tech isn't hurting in raw bodies or returning starters mind you, but ANOTHER method to their defensive madness could leave them in questionable sorts. Hopefully this group hasn't found their rightful leader in time for UNM's match up. Thus far they've had more success against waning OOC competition than usual.
Let's breakdown the units.
Compared to the last game at Texas, facing Texas Tech's D-line might seem a bit like facing the diet version of your favorite soft drink or the pointless switch to your favorite beer's light version. Texas Tech has above average talent compared to most Mountain West Conference teams, but their bright spots are bit more speckled...or at least less covered and coveted by the college football media.
This has affected NFL prospect potential too: Out of Phil Steele's top 60 DE and DT preseason prospect lists, the red raiders yield big fat zeros in each department. Athlon took Lubbock's own to the cleaners with a 10th Big 12 ranking for this particular unit with Steele guessimating them for 6th in the Big 12 matched head to head.
You have to think that facing the sum of the Longhorn's dual all-American DE front last week and Tech's speedy but much smaller line will pay dividends no? How couldn't it make a difference for the Lobos ground game?
First, don't let me oversell your expectations...this is still a Big 12 squad with starters in the recruiting top 100 of their respective positions. We have a challenge to keep our technique discipline and they will be looking to disrupt the flow of the pistol (whoever's under center) with strength infused speed.
There's a bit of bad news as well, as Texas State has prompted the raider's front seven with their option offense the previous week. The concept will be at least partially rehearsed in theory and principle, but not in carbon copy scheme.
The weekly press conference from Tech's new DC says as much, though the new head D man has little to say about it publicly. 28 years of coaching and 10 years of coordinator work (5 as a DC) imparts as much. Mums the word and more focus on his own squad's execution was all that was found at the press grill. Tech will face an option attack (out of a version of the pistol) in ALL THREE GAMES SO FAR IN 2012. They lined all of these schemes up and should be fairly prepared for us.
Tech's D-line will have only a few upperclassmen, but many returning are bridging the sophomore to junior gap, gather seasons in the sun and on the football field. None of them top over 300lbs and resemble a smaller, quicker line you might see at Oregon or well...non-AQ squads with crafty blitz defense. JUCO's are being used to fill in the depth chart and some, like Chris Knighton and Lee Adams, at defensive tackle spots. Their DE's are even younger and hope to carry the load in conference.
This looks like a positive for the Lobos moving forward and might find a few extra opportunities for our RB's to break one in the middle. Like where this is going? Add this to the fire:
Mark it down: If UNM finds success in it's run game it will be because of this section of the Raider defense. LB is a sore spot for the Raiders so they brought in a talented JUCO player in Will Smith. Despite the family friendly, unfortunately fluffy, and hilarious rapper moniker...Smith looks to be the biggest assist to the Tech line and reinforce a squad that's only trying to come into it's own this season. He was the top LB in the spring 2012 recruiting season at middle linebacker and there's a lot riding on his performance this season.
Tech lost a lot at linebackers in 2011 and only return their 3rd leading tackler...so this is where there's a good place to test them occasionally. As time goes on (and UNM is surely going to win the time of possession battle regardless) you may find them start to break down so long as the game is competitive. Depth at linebacker isn't a glaring issue but it might be a glimmer of one in the UNM game. The lobos should definitely get jiggy with this defensive group.
Working the 4-3 (with a splash of 4-2-5) for the Texas State game saw a lot of rotating over safeties (4-2-5) and OLBs lined up on the D-line to assist in protecting the edges at the line of scrimmage. Properly read, an opportune hole could see a lot of one-on-one match ups, leading to big play potential. That being said: this squad is still quick. Our run game will have to make their moves quick and move horizontal before they're cut down across field.
Peripheral vision is at a premium for this game. The Lobos need to secure the ball, turn it up field as far as it will go (and quickly!) preferably with sound blocking that will get defensive players completely out of the way. Without holding and bringing them to the ground, moving Tech back will prevent second chances for them to speed around our blocks initial contact. We'll have to take it to them.
You could argue that Tech's offense was one of the prime examples that national pundits classified "Big 12 offense" in the public's eye. The number of spreads in this league was rampant at one time and still generally healthy today. In order to counter the ones that are left (and the pro style offenses with above average receivers) Tech has a very healthy contingent of secondary players available on their roster from the previous 4-2-5 and otherwise. This might be one of their perpetual strengths at the moment. The few scary bits are contained here, though there's never time to fear an opponent your looking to beat. Ooo-rah!
Tech has an excellent Strong Safety in Sr. Cody Davis (6-2; 203) and Davis had the pleasure of running back a pick-6 in Texas State's opening drive last week. He's the projected #8 SS in the draft (Steele) preseason and is definitely the first one that will be lending run support on his side of the field. He has the speed to run down RB's on the corners and saved many big plays when Texas State saw some openings last week. Strong, fast and effective. He also led the team in tackles last season (93).
Though not all of the secondary is at this kind of standard, their starting 4/5 are all seniors and will be sorely missed next year.... or possibly this year! They got ripped through the air in conference circa 2011. Low-balling the impedance of this unit's potential could see a "nowhere to go but up" situation and with the right play action could be catching them sleeping after a run heavy scheme. Because of all of these factors they're not looking to impress but I think they've been down long enough.
Support from the secondary will be a heavy factor for our offense on Saturday and our QB will have to keep their eyes active pre-snap when they're checking out their opposing formations. If Tech starts to stack the box, we'll need to make them pay. If trends continue it could be beneficial for our WR's TD stats.
To quote Coach Davie: "We all know what this is..."
The team in front of us is going to try to lay down numbers in front of us in formation, on the line of scrimmage, and try to beat our blocks with their speed. Disruption will be their best friend and second-in-command. I don't expect a lot of frills from the Tech defense and our blocking technique will need to be polished for our RB cuts to reap everything that can be sown from the Tech's front seven.
Holbrook, Gaustche and McCown have hopefully taken a look at some of these outlooks to help their run reads and potential outlet passes down field. If there's a way to shake up this defense it's with some healthy misdirection...add in one or two good blocks and we can keep Tech's offense off the field and put up some points. Tech only allowed 129yds rushing (149yds passing) from Texas State's option offense. Without using every combo in our playbook and knocking some heads in the process, we'll be playing to their speed.
It's better to be lucky than good, but if we don't get a lot of luck we'll have to execute early and often.
Besides, they're not going to guess right all the time and if they try to cover all corners, we'll have to test their gaps in their secondary as they leave their positions.
Like I mentioned previously, there's no way UNM won't go without winning the time of possession battle in this game. Whether that's by a block or a mile is up to the direction from the QB on Saturday.
The main question will be how Tech will get their own offense going. Will it be from short fields? Turnovers? Special Teams? Scores that come in bunches? Whether we win this battle by getting their offense off the field on downs or Tech getting off the field with quick scores...we'll have lots of time to run at them at our disposal. That's a plus for our own defense squad. More time to beat them up!
Let's wear the Raider defense like an old pair of shoes and see where that will take us. How long until the soles (souls) bottom out? That's where I get my anticipation. Go Lobos.