Key Stat: Despite 2011 being Texas Tech's second year under crypto-Power I lover Tommy Tuberville, Tech's rushing productivity actually dipped last year. In 2010 the Red Raiders rushed for 141 yards per game (No.75 nationally) and 4.2 yards per carry. In 2011 Tech rushed for 126 yards per contest (No.89 nationally) and 3.8 yards per tote.
Texas Tech's ground game was adequate for a spread offense, but who knows how good it might have been had Eric Stephens not suffered a season-ending injury on a late hit by a Texas A&M Aggie in game five. Stephens averaged 113 rushing yards per game through those five tilts and was on pace to rush for 1,356 yards on the year. That total would have been easily the best by a Tech back since Ricky Williams' phenomenal performance in 1998.
Losing the talented and experienced Stephens was certainly a hit to Tech's ground game, but it was not as devastating as it could have been. DeAndre Washington gave the Red Raiders a similar look to Stephens before himself going down with a knee injury in the Missouri game. Senior Aaron Crawford ran tough, and freshman Kenny Williams improved as the season went along. Still there's no doubt that Stephens' absence hampered the Tech ground game.
But Stephens and Washington weren't the only grievous losses from the Red Raider backfield. True freshman Ronnie Daniels, in my opinion Tech's most talented running back since Bam Morris, scuttled his own season, and perhaps his career, before it ever really got going.
Daniels was suspended for the season-opener, played well in the New Mexico game, and was then suspended yet again, never to return for the remainder of the season. Odds are he will never suit up again for the Red Raiders. And that's a pity all the way around because he would have helped Tech tremendously last season, and ultimately would have had a career in the NFL.
Despite the sundry disasters that befell the Red Raider backfield, the running backs did combine to rush for 1,455 yards, which is not at all bad. They were solid in other areas as well.
The backs, by and large, pass protected effectively. They also protected the ball well. The Red Raiders fumbled only 19 times (opponents fumbled 29 times against Tech), and not all of those were by running backs.
Eric Stephens improved dramatically in this area. He was a fumble waiting to happen in 2010, but coughed it up only once in five games last season.
Red Raider backs were also active in the passing game. Stephens, Washington and Crawford caught 19, 16 and 12 passes respectively, while Kenny Williams, who demonstrated hands of Crisco in summer workouts, actually looked like a solid receiver by season's end.
All things considered, the Tech backfield held it together about as well as could be expected given the horrendous circumstances, although Washington, Crawford, Daniels, McRoy and Williams combined to average only 4.1 yards per carry. That productivity must improve in 2012. And it will if Stephens and Washington return to health and stay healthy.