Critical 20: No. 17 DeAndre Washington

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of the critical players is to determine if they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.

With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.

Texas Tech Critical Twenty
Gary MooreDERS FRClarksville, TX6-5245No. 20
Rodney HallRBSRAngleton, TX5-10240No. 19
Donte PhillipsDlJRMilwaukee, WI6-2280No. 18
DeAndre WashingtonRBJRMissouri City, TX5-8190No. 17

When Ricky Williams rushed for 1,000-plus yards in 1998 nobody would have predicted that Texas Tech would watch 15 more football seasons elapse with no other Red Raider cresting the four-digit peak, but that is exactly what has happened. This is a drought that makes the current climatic drought look like small potatoes. And like the present period of parched conditions, Tech's thousand-yard rushing drought looks like it will continue for at least one more season.

Not that an underwhelming ground game is part of Kliff Kingsbury's gameplan, mark you. The coach will go frequently with two-back sets featuring battering ram Rodney Hall, in large part to beef up the rushing attack. The reality, however, is that Tech simply does not have a dominant back. The sort of workhorse who will tote the pill at least 20 times per game and average over five yards a pop.

On the contrary, apparently it will be rushing by committee in 2014, with junior DeAndre Washington as the starter. The Missouri City product looks to get the bulk of the carries, but Quinton White will get many a crack at creasing the line, while Hall will get some calls in short-yardage and goal line situations. Moreover, it is entirely possible that one of two incoming frosh, either Justin Stockton or Demarcus Felton, could get in on the act. In short, Washington could start every game this season and still rush for no more than 700 yards or so.

Washington was a favorite of former Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown. The current Kentucky coach volunteered that Washington was a much overlooked member of Tech's 2011 recruiting class, and early returns suggested Brown was right.

As a true freshman Washington rushed for almost 400 yards and nearly five yard per carry before being derailed by a late-season knee injury. And to tell the truth, Washington hasn't looked quite the same since.

Washington redshirted in 2012 and last season ran for only 485 yards while averaging a pedestrian 4.2 yards per carry. That somewhat lackluster performance may have been at least partly attributable to a hangover from the knee injury, but no such rationale will be in play for the 2014 season. Washington is 100 percent healthy and ready to go.

One factor in Washington's favor is the presence of Hall in the backfield. It's been quite a while since Tech has had a fullback (or H back) who is not only such an adept run blocker, but will also be utilized as much has Hall. He will clear some lanes for Washington; it will be up to Washington to exploit them to the full. And if he can do so with unexpected success, perhaps Washington will be the back to break that lengthy drought.

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