LUBBOCK — Questions are surrounding the Texas Tech offense after its worst total yardage output since 1990. Some think it was the play calling, some blame the quarterback, but I'm here to tell you to look no further than the five slimmed down bodies up front. The Texas Tech offensive line broke down in the first half and then tired in the second half, which put the offense in a stalemate that has fans asking questions they didn't think would have to be asking this time a month ago.
Matt Moore, the offensive line coach, has said before the season that they "feel good" about eight offensive linemen, but would like to have a solid starter and backup at each position. Right now, it appears that there might be as many as seven that they trust on the field, but in most instances one starter's backup is a starter in another position.
These problems started yielding their ugly head a year ago, when Tech trotted out eight different offensive line combinations throughout the season, gave up 31 quarterback sacks, and saw Tech start three different quarterbacks because of injury. Now, with the departure of three multi-year starters, these problems are compounded and young players are being asked to fill huge holes, especially at the tackle position.
Instead of asking what needs to happen to right the offensive ship, no pirate analogy intended, let's look back and see why the Red Raiders are in this position.
Let's go to 2006. Texas Tech signed seven offensive linemen. There are six players, who would/should have been fifth year senior offensive linemen on this team. Instead there is one. And instead of being the leader of the offensive line, following in the lineage of Louis Vasquez and Brandon Carter, Chris Olson is fighting for a job. Ofa Mohetau was the junior college signee, who ironically enough also left the program early, but the other five offensive linemen are nowhere to be found either. Buddy Brummit, the other four star recruit along with Olson, Tyler Duggans and Adrian Archie saw their careers end very early to injury. Ben Davis left the team, and Dimitri Lott was dismissed from the team very early in his career.
In 2007, Tech signed seven more offensive linemen. Of those seven, only four remain in the program, and of those four, only Lonnie Edwards has seen significant starting time. Mickey Okafor and Justin Keown could be potential multi-year starters, but have not been consistent enough to land a starting position before this season. Blake Emert has not made an impact at all, but remains with the team. Omar Castillo was moved back and forth to tight end and is no longer on the team. Dominique Delpeche had played one year of organized football when he signed with Tech and was considered a 6-foot-7, 330-pound. project. He left the team early in his career as well. Jerrod Gooch, a one-time Texas commitment who signed with the Red Raiders, lasted only one season and was last seen at Navarro College.
If you're keeping score, that's eight players who should be upper classmen that have left the program due to injury or other circumstances. And in those eight players, there were two four-star recruits (Brummit and Gooch). When Texas Tech has been dominant offensively, they have been dominant in the trenches with a group of offensive lineman that has either had NFL talent or several multi-year starters. The group who started Saturday night against Texas had a combined 21 collegiate starts: Waddle (4), Edwards (12), Keown (4) Gallington (2) and Okafor (3). Chris Olsen has 11 collegiate starts, while sophomore Terry McDaniel has started 4 times. The good news here is that number will double when mid season arrives.
To compound this problem, the signing class of 2008 only saw three linemen sign with the Red Raiders. While Deveric Gallington is promising and Terry McDaniel still continues to gain back the form he had before his season-ending injury last year, there was still another defection. This time, it was Joe King from Oklahoma, who departed early last season after seeing little playing time.
All of that said, Texas Tech still had the opportunity to acquire blue chip offensive line talent following the 2008 season. There were two top notch offensive line prospects from West Texas in that class, but Frenship Tiger product Mason Walters and Odessa Permian alum Garrett Porter signed with the Texas Longhorns. Walters, a five-star recruit who can play any offensive line position, played early as a true freshman on a team that went to the National Championship game, then was sidelined with a season-ending injury last year for Texas. Now, Walters is the starting right guard in Austin and probably a future left tackle. Porter is a redshirt freshman as well, and listed as the backup center for the longhorns. If Texas Tech lands one of these prospects, the loss of the players mentioned above can be mitigated. Not signing Walters especially hurts because he's so versatile and grew up in Tech's own backyard cheering for the Red Raiders. I bring up Walters and Porter not to chastise a local kid for going elsewhere, but to point out that there was talent available in West Texas and seeing the losses of 2006 and 2007, it should have been imperative to make sure that the players signed would be able to play as late as their redshirt freshman year.
The question now is, what do you do in the meantime? Linemen can't grow up overnight. While left tackle La'Adrian Waddle shows promise and might have the brightest future, he's still now only started five Division-I football games. And while Waddle is young, most of the questions seem to be rising about the right side of the offensive line, not the left. Olsen gave up the two sacks against SMU, and Okafor started against the longhorns. McDaniel spelled Olson in the New Mexico game and in my opinion played well, but the coaches didn't play him against Texas.
The Red Raiders do have another option, as true freshman Beau Carpenter dressed for the Texas game after missing the first part of the season following an appendectomy. Maybe Carpenter is the answer, maybe he isn't, but I do know that Coach Matt Moore will work diligently and resiliently to find the combination that will give this offense the best opportunity to gain yards, score points and win.