The Red Raiders couldn’t have done much better on their non-conference exams if they’d gotten insider info from Richard Nixon and Carl Icahn. Tommy Tuberville’s boys have not even been remotely challenged as they’ve outscored their three overmatched opponents 42-0 in the first quarter, and 151-30 overall.
No, Tech has not exactly faced a murderer’s row in Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico, but rare is the professor who flunks his students because he gave them easy tests. The Red Raiders have simply aced the exams placed before them.
Quarterbacks: Seth Doege lobbed an interception on Tech’s first possession of the season and since then has been almost perfect. Doege is number 16 nationally in passing yardage with 286 yards per game, and more impressive, is number six in passing efficiency. Doege’s efficiency has ensured that backup Michael Brewer gets lots of snaps, and the drop-off has been minimal. Once Brewer’s pocket awareness improves, he’ll be on Doege’s level.
Running Backs: Kenny Williams, Eric Stephens and Sadale Foster have rushed for 639 yards in only three games and averaged 6.7 yards per carry, yet workmanlike is the apposite adjective here. This trio of pluggers gets the job done, and they’ve been very good in pass protection, yet has not broken the big one. (A 46-yard jaunt by Stephens is the longest run so far.) Williams, Stephens and Foster run with power and determination, but so far, not a lot of explosion. They’re not making defenders miss in the third level either. Fumbles have also been an issue.
Receivers: Folks in the know predicted Tech’s receivers would be deep and deadly. Folks in the know were right. Not counting running back Kenny Williams, nine Red Raider wideouts have caught at least five passes. Eric Ward, Jace Amaro and Darrin Moore each have three touchdown receptions. And Amaro, Ward and Javon Bell all average over 14 yards per reception. The current crop of Tech receivers is more dangerous than any we’ve seen in a very long time. Dropped passes have been scarce, although there were a few against New Mexico.
Offensive Line: Tech’s offensive line has allowed two sacks in 140 passing plays. That’s one sack every 70 times a Red Raider quarterback drops back to pass. I doubt there’s been a better pass protecting line in the nation thus far. Tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Terry McDaniel have been utterly dominant. Run blocking too has been a pleasant surprise, as the line routinely gets a good surge. It seems possible the Red Raiders will actually have a short-yardage and goal-line running game this year.
Defensive Line: The Red Raiders have registered two and a half times as many sacks in less than half as many opportunities than have their opponents. Opposing quarterbacks have dropped to pass 69 times and have been taken down five times. That’s one sack per 14 pass attempts. Kerry Hyder is having an All Big 12 season, while Dartwan Bush and Jackson Richards have been extremely solid on the edges. Credit not only Art Kaufman, but also Fred Tate with swotting up this group quickly.
Linebackers: In three games, the Red Raiders have allowed only 4 runs of more than 10 yards, and none of 20 yards. In the 2011 season-opener, Texas State had nine runs of 10 yards or more, and one of 20 yards plus. The fact that Tech’s linebackers are playing assignment-sound football has been crucial to the dramatic improvement in rush defense, although there has been a slight tendency to overrun plays. Will Smith and Blake Dees have been a superb middle linebacking tandem. Watch for true freshman Micah Awe to begin making a large impact in the second half of the season.
Secondary: Texas Tech is currently number two nationally in passing yardage allowed and pass defense efficiency. Obviously, those numbers will plummet once conference play begins, but the Red Raider secondary should at least be able to uphold its end of the bargain. Safeties D. J. Johnson and Cody Davis have been excellent, and Eugene Neboh has also excelled. JUCO transfer Bruce Jones looks to be a keeper. He’s done good work backing up the nicked Cornelius Douglas.
Special Teams: Placekicker Ryan Bustin has been one of the nation’s best so far, but Kramer Fyfe has struggled with depth on kickoffs. Allowing New Mexico’s Chase Clayton to return a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown could be an evil portent. Because of the offense’s efficiency, punter Ryan Erxleben has been in Maytag repairman mode. Tech’s punt return team has made little noise.