In what is doubtless a surprise for most people, Kliff Kingsbury already has many elements in place to have a special season.
The Tech defense, long a bugaboo for this program, is looking terrific. The Red Raiders are number 15 in scoring defense, number 32 in yards per carry rush defense, number 27 in pass efficiency defense, and number 30 in yards per play defense. Not quite dominating numbers, but good enough to win many a ballgame.
And the special teams, if anything, have been even more impressive. Ryan Bustin, who was shaky in fall camp, has been rock solid when it counts. He's connected on nine of 10 field goals thus far. Special teams coach Trey Haverty has two good punters at his disposal in returning starter Ryan Erxleben, and Taylor Symmank who usurped the starting spot the last two games. Sadale Foster has been solid on punt returns, and Tech's kickoff coverage unit is currently number seven nationally.
Thus, on two sides of the ball the Red Raiders are playing winning football. But on offense, Tech has some issues.
The receiving corps is not one of those issues. The starting unit is one of the nation's very best, and depth is coming along nicely. Tech clearly has problems on the offensive line and at running back, but as nettlesome as those may be, they will not determine whether the Red Raiders win six games or 11. Quarterback is the key.
In the higher levels of many sports, rookies, freshmen and newcomers often enjoy a sensational start for the simple reason that the opposition doesn't have a book on them yet. The film upon which coaches and players rely so heavily to scheme and gameplan, isolate strengths and weaknesses, simply isn't there. The newcomers are thus sometimes able to take advantage of this fact and do damage.
Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield certainly did. So perhaps did Davis Webb to a lesser extent.
But Mayfield has now played enough college football that the opposition has gotten a pretty good book on him. And with a few more outings, the same will be true for Webb.
As defenses have become more aware of Mayfield's tendencies, his effectiveness has diminished. He was terrific against SMU and Stephen F. Austin, but struggled severely against TCU. Mayfield exited the game with an injury and was replaced by the unknown—to TCU—Webb who rallied the Red Raiders to victory. Mayfield had problems with Texas State as well, and was pulled in the second quarter for Webb who did enough to win.
But defeating Texas State is one thing; making a serious run through the Big 12 is something else yet again. Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas are all among the nation's top 50 in total defense. Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, Kansas, Kansas State and Texas all have top-50 pass defenses. Thus, the learning curve is about to seriously steepen for the Webbfield combination.
For the quarterbacks to succeed in this more challenging environment, and for Tech to have that special season, Webbfield will have to develop. Both quarterbacks will have to increase their mastery of the offense so that Kingsbury will feel comfortable letting them utilize the entire package. And Mayfield in particular, will need to demonstrate that he can complete more than screens, flares and the occasional fly to Bradley Marquez, while also breaking the tendency to tuck and run when it's not necessary.
If Webbfield succeeds in breaking tendencies and expanding their game beyond what they've shown thus far, the offense will take off and the entire team will be a force. But if not, the defenses will continue to home in on the quarterbacks' limitations and to squeeze the limited Tech offense until it has no breath.
The Key to Texas Tech's Season
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