There is ample justification for expecting Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech offense to be a shock-and-awe air attack. One reason is that Kingsbury himself was a gunslinger extraordinaire in his days as a Texas Tech quarterback. It was Kingsbury's aerial pyrotechnics at the turn of the century that put Mike Leach's Air Raid offense on the college football map.
Then there is Kingsbury's association with Leach himself. Kingsbury's baptism into high-level offensive football came at the knee of the Pied Propagator of the spread offense, and Kingsbury professes himself a disciple of Leach's basic offensive principles to this very day.
There is also the fact that Kingsbury's quarterback at Texas A&M last season, a certain Johnny Manziel, became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy. And we invariably think of quarterbacks as passers, particularly in this day and age.
But when it comes to Kingsbury and the spread attack, all is not quite what it seems, and the head man himself has hinted at this fact more than a time or two. In his boldest statement to this effect, Kingsbury stated, "I think in the spring we made progress there [in the running game]. But it'll be, if we can run every play, we'll run every play. To be successful we've got to adapt to our personnel and go from there."
One cannot imagine Mike Leach declaring that he would run the ball every play, yet that is exactly what Kingsbury said. Now perhaps Kingsbury was exaggerating for effect, but there can be no doubt about his fondness for running the football and his willingness to do so if conditions make it sensible.
One need look no further than Kingsbury's history as an offensive coordinator to confirm that he's not just blowing hot methane.
Last season at Texas A&M Kingsbury's Aggie offense ran the ball 533 times and passed it 492. In 2010, when Kingsbury was offensive coordinator at the University of Houston, the Cougars ran it 410 times and threw it 484. And over the course of Kingsbury's three-year career as an offensive coordinator, his offenses threw the ball 55 percent of the time and passed it 45 percent. That is the very definition of balance. And while Kingsbury's offenses may still be spreads, they are not Air Raids.
So what can we expect from Kingsbury's 2013 Tech offense? Will the Red Raiders actually run the ball more than throw it, or will they, like Kingsbury's 2011 Houston Cougars, air it out 62 percent of the time? There are clues.
First, Kingsbury is a believer in adapting his offense to his personnel. If his runners are better than his receivers, and his line can run block as well as it pass protects, Kingsbury will run the football. If vice versa, the passing attack will be paramount.
As Kingsbury says, "We take a lot of pride in adapting to our personnel. You saw at A&M last year; we led the SEC in rushing. If you do what you're good at and play to your strengths [you'll succeed]."
Likewise, when asked whether the 2013 Tech offense will feature some designed runs for the quarterback, Kingsbury replied, "We'll see. If it's a guy who's comfortable with those things, we'll do it and play to his strengths and make sure he's comfortable with our offense. There were some runs Johnny [Manziel] liked and others, he didn't like to get up in there and hit it; he preferred to get outside. We'll adjust to whoever it is to make him comfortable."
Thus, to a significant degree, the design of plays and play-calling itself will conform to personnel, and this is particularly true of the quarterback position. And in that connection, presumptive starter Michael Brewer is a shifty runner with good pocket awareness and challenger Davis Webb has deceptively good straight-ahead speed. It is hardly out of the question that either could run frequently and well in 2013 if anointed the starter.
Then there is the issue of depth. As Kingsbury readily allows, the up-tempo spread takes its toll on offensive players; fatigue is a real concern.
"You've got to have the depth, have the numbers to play fast because guys are getting tired in that system," Kingsbury confirms.
"Especially the skill players. You've got to have the numbers to roll in quality players to run that type of offense."
The same cannot be said, however, for the receivers. Starters Jace Amaro, Eric Ward, Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez will be exceptional, but behind that group there are few players who have drawn significant blood at the collegiate level. Thus there is real doubt whether Kingsbury will be able to rotate in quality receivers to keep the passing game functioning at a high level.
Kingsbury's statement that he would run the ball every down if he could, his history of running the ball almost as much as passing it, his belief in adapting to existing personnel, a surfeit of backs and a dearth of receivers—put it all together and it could spell the death of the Air Raid in Lubbock. But in this age of zombies and vampires, nothing stays dead forever.