LUBBOCK — It's been an interesting start to the 2010 season for Texas Tech. To be honest, a 2-1 start is about what was expected for this team through the first three games, although there are many out there who would argue that this could be a 3-0 team right now had things gone better offensively for Tech against No. 6 Texas last week.
Tech (2-1, 0-1 Big 12) now begins the first stretch of a tumultuous conference schedule beginning with Iowa State in Ames (Oct. 2) and Baylor at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (Oct. 9) before heading back home for a meeting with Oklahoma State (Oct.16).
But before we get into the next three games, let's take a look at the three units and what they did the first three games this season for the first of four quarterly reports this year and how the stocks are doing for each group.
OFFENSE: B- (Down from A-)
There were plenty of questions before the season began. Who would be the quarterback? What would Neal Brown's version of the Air Raid offense look like? And how would a revived running game help the Red Raiders?
With the exception of the first answer, the answer has been anything short of disappointing.
The Red Raiders are averaging just 345 yards per game (78th in FBS) with 275 coming through the air. Albeit, Tech quarterback Taylor Potts has been more accurate (hitting 64 percent of his passes, with just two interceptions) but has only 810 yards passing after his first three games. He had 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns after three games last season but also had four interceptions.
A lot of the offense's demise appears to be falling on a depleted offensive line that just simply is not as good as last season, still trying to adjust to the new scheme while staying healthy. Potts has been knocked down several times in the first three games, including six sacks — way more than head coach Tommy Tuberville would like his QB to experience after saying the 31 sacks allowed last season were "unacceptable."
But it's also been a great time for players like Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis to shine while awaiting the recoveries of Alex Torres and Austin Zouzalik, who played their first full games against Texas last week. As they get healthier, expect better the things happening through the air.
But the running game has been non-existent. Tech is 113th nationally among 120 FBS teams with just 70 rushing yards per game. That normally would have been acceptable if the passing average was above 370 per game, but Tech is also attempting almost 25 carries per game, meaning they are trying to run the ball — but it's just not working. As the offensive line gets healthier and improves, so will Tech's running game.
Next Quarter Projection: B
Seems hopeful, but if Tech gets the running game figured out, Brown will be able to open the playbook a little more for Potts and the receiving corps.
DEFENSE: A (Up from B-)
This is one of the most aggressive and better defenses around Lubbock in recent memory. The performance against Texas on Saturday fits right along with what head coach Tommy Tuberville made statements about prior to the beginning of the season: "We want to have a defense that will be able to keep us in the game or even win it when our offense struggles."
James Willis' group did just that against the top-ranked Horns, sacking quarterback Garrett Gilbert three times while intercepting three passes and forcing one fumble. Tech's defense has forced 11 turnovers through three games while sacking quarterbacks 12 times. And the national individual leaders are all on the defensive side now.
Brian Duncan is tied for the national lead with five sacks and Jarvis Phillips leads the country with four interceptions. The Red Raiders are ranked in the top 10 in interceptions, sacks and turnover margin.
Next Quarter Projection: A+
Defense will continue to be dominate and have a chance to show what it's made of against a mobile quarterback in Baylor's Robert Griffin to be better prepared for a showdown on Oct. 30 in College Station against Texas A&M and Jerrod Johnson.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B (No Change)
This could have easily gone down to a C, but there is obviously too much talent around a much-improved special team from the first game to the next two contests. Tech struggled against SMU but looked like a premier unit against New Mexico and Texas, causing problems and gaining better field position with special teams. Eric Stephens is second nationally with 371 kick return yards and is 22nd with 28.5 yards per return. He nearly scored his first return for touchdown against New Mexico with a 93-yard return and is on pace to shatter the school record for career return yards in just his second season.
Jonathan LaCour has had a pleasant "welcome back" party and appears to be even better than he was in 2007-08. LaCour is 12th nationally in net punting with 45.3 yards per punt and has six punts of 50 yards or more.
The biggest question appears to be whether or not there will be a renewed faith in the kicking game after struggling against SMU and New Mexico. Tech has attempted just three field goals with only one getting past the line of scrimmage after two attempts were blocked by SMU.
Next Quarter Projection: B+
Eric Stephens will get his first touchdown return and a healthy Austin Zouzalik will help the punt return game improve.
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