The 2011 Texas Tech football season was grisly and grim by any reasonable standard, but that doesn't mean there weren't noteworthy performances and players who had good seasons. With this piece we give credit where it's due.
Play of the Year: Following two straight home losse to Texas A&M and Kansas State, and facing the No.3 Oklahoma Sooners in Norman where they never lose, it was critical that the Red Raiders got off to a quick start, just to establish some confidence. Ben McRoy did just that with a long kickoff return to set Tech up near midfield, but it was Seth Doege and Alex Torres who actually rang the bell.
Doege hit Torres on a tunnel screen, Deveric Gallington and Aaron Fisher laid key blocks, and Torres blazed 44 yards for the touchdown. Just like Rocky Balboa knocking down Apollo Creed in the first round, the Red Raiders let OU know immediately that they had come to play, and that they were going to go the distance.
Most Improved Player: Kicker Donnie Carona not only wins the award for most improved player, he should also get a special commendation for sticktoitiveness. His first three years in Raiderland were a veritable nightmare, beginning with his freshman season in which he could not make a simple extra point and was replaced by a kicking contest winner who materialized from the south end zone grandstands.
And Carona was no great shakes in 2010 either, connecting on only one of four field goal attempts while backing up Matt Williams.
In 2011, however, Carona was a kicker transformed. Although he did have three field goals blocked, Carona also banged home 14 of 18 field goals and hit on seven of eight attempts between 40 and 49 yards. Carona also handled kickoff duties very well and executed the most beautiful onsides kick I've ever seen against Baylor. He will be missed.
Newcomer of the Year: When budding star Eric Stephens went down with a severe knee injury late in the battle with Texas A&M, the Red Raider ground game could have gone into the tank. Thanks in no small measure to DeAndre Washington, it did not.
The true freshman from Missouri City finished as Tech's second leading rusher with 366 yards on 77 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry ( only .04 yards less than Stephens), and scoring three touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 109 yards before succumbing to a knee injury of his own against Missouri.
Photo By O'Jay Barbee
Washington certainly has a bright future ahead of him. We can only hope that it recommences in 2012.
Offensive MVP: There were those—yours truly among them—who were beginning to doubt whether or not Eric Ward would ever live up to the accolades he garnered as a highly touted high school wideout in Wichita Falls. Verily, the sophomore did very little as a freshman, but had a truly marvelous year in 2011.
Ward led the Red Raiders with 800 receiving yards on 84 receptions, and he hauled in 11 touchdown passes. But more than that, Ward proved to be a sensational blocker, peeling back and knocking the fire out of opposing defenders on several occasions, and doing yeoman work on the bubble screen as well. If the Red Raiders return to their winning ways, Ward has an All Big 12 future ahead of him.
Defensive MVP: There was only one player on Tech's defense opposing offenses had to account for, and that was a big part of the problem for the Red Raider D. That player was defensive end Scott Smith.
Despite sitting out the first four games of the season while on suspension, Smith tallied 37 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. He did this, moreover, despite combating frequent double teams.
Forget the fact that Smith hasn't landed any postseason hardware to this point, he was clearly one of the very best defensive ends in the Big 12. And the big man from Hawaii will be on an NFL roster in 2012.