Texas Tech's season-opener against Texas State is all about the Red Raiders, not the Bobcats. In the days leading up to the kickoff, expect Tommy Tuberville and staff to say all the usual nice things about Dennis Franchione's club no matter how dreadful it may be. But the obvious reality is that the Red Raiders are favored by nearly six touchdowns for one very good reason: they are vastly more talented.
That being the case, the value of this game for Tech will be in gaining experience, developing cohesion, improving execution, and figuring out what the newcomers can and cannot do. Avoiding injuries would be nice, too.
And speaking of injuries, the wounds suffered by centers Justin Keown and Tony Morales mean that developing quality depth on the offensive line is critical. Neal Brown recently stated that Tech has only six linemen who are "game ready," with eight being the ideal number for a rotation. Clearly then, depth is razor thin.
The linemen who inspire coaching confidence at this moment are starters LaAdrian Waddle, Lonnie Edwards, Terry McDaniel, Deveric Gallington and Mickey Okafor. Current backups are LaRaven Clark, James Polk, Alfredo Morales, Kyle Clark and Beau Carpenter.
That's a second line comprised of four freshman and a sophomore if you're scoring at home, and none of them have played a college snap in anger. Were the Red Raiders playing just about anybody other than Texas State, this would be a scary situation. As is, look for some of these youngsters to play against the Bobcats, and hope that they play well. Tech will count on a couple of them to be in the rotation for the conference opener against Kansas.
Another interesting storyline on the offensive side of the ball will be the deployment of the running backs. The depth situation here is the exact opposite of the offensive line. Whereas the line doesn't have enough bankable players, there may be too many in the backfield.
Neal Brown has made it clear that veterans Eric Stephens and Aaron Crawford will be the workhorses. But youngsters Ronnie Daniels and DeAndre Washington are just too talented not to see the field, and sophomore speedster Ben McRoy will also be inserted in certain situations.
Are there enough balls to go around?
What happens if Stephens reverts to his fumbling ways or Crawford's breathing difficulties flair up again?
Also bear in mind comments from Tuberville and Brown that Daniels, McRoy and Washington will see duty at receiver positions. This is one way to get more talent on the field, and it could confuse defenses as well. But such maneuvers, particularly with young players, could also confuse the offense. Execution could suffer and busted plays could result. At any rate, it will be interesting to see if Brown opens up this chapter of the playbook against an overmatched Texas State team.
On the other side of the ball, the entire defense should be a fascinating story unto itself. Tech's stop unit was so miserable in 2010 that even the Bobcats are probably licking their chops in anticipation of scoring 30-plus points against a Big 12 squad. If they are able to do so, there will be reason for concern in the Tech camp.
Words about the defense from fall workouts, however, have been very positive. Everybody from Tommy Tuberville on down has tried—unsuccessfully!—to keep the smirks off their face while talking about the defense.
Speed and athleticism are better, we are told. Several newcomers are making big splashes. And new defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow has his charges running furiously to the ball and playing hard.
All of that sounds very positive, but the fact remains that this is an extremely young defense, and it is learning a new scheme. Breakdowns are to be expected.
What Tech fans should hope to see is a defense that physically manhandles the Bobcats. In order to compensate for the inevitable mistakes, this defense must be fast in the back seven, physical in the front four, and deep across the board. If this proves to be the case, the Red Raider defense will be formidable once it begins executing precisely and playing confidently.