Five for 10: Red Zone O and Penalties

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has stated repeatedly the goal every year is to win the Big 12 championship. In order to do that the Red Raiders must win at least 10 games as the last team to win a Big 12 title with less than 10 regular season victories was Colorado back in 2001. With that in mind is doing a five-part series analyzing what Tech must do in order to get to 10 wins.

In the first year of King Kingsbury’s reign, the Texas Tech Red Raiders continued one gridiron tradition and broke with another. The tradition that lives on is the commission of numerous penalties, while the one in smithereens is converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

With regard to the former, the Red Raiders finished 124th nationally in penalty yardage per game with an average of 75 yards in infractions stepped off per game. You can’t do much worse than that, but Tech has come close, finishing an average of No. 111 in the country in this category over the course of the last seven seasons. Instead of throwing tortillas, perhaps Tech fans should just throw yellow hankies and save the refs some effort.

Regarding red zone touchdown efficiency, the Red Raiders slotted in at No. 87 last season (despite having Jace Amaro, the best tight end in school history), which is bad enough, but becomes positively atrocious when compared to Tech’s performance in this area dating back to 2007. Over the course of the six seasons prior to 2013 Tech averaged No. 12 in red zone touchdown percentage. And if we limit the sample to the years 2011 through 2007, the Red Raiders are an marvelous No.8. Mike Leach’s last few Tech squads, in particular, were lethal in the red zone.

If the 2014 Red Raiders are to have a season anything like Leach’s storied 2008 team, Tech will have to pick it up in the red zone, and reducing penalties certainly wouldn’t hurt their cause either.

Surprisingly perhaps, the ability to score rushing touchdowns may not be the key to doing well in the red zone. In 2007 when the Red Raiders finished No. 2 nationally in this category, they rushed for 18 touchdowns. Yet last year, when Tech was pretty dreadful at scoring red zone TDs, the Red Raiders cashed in 19 rushing touchdowns.

It seems that the Texas Tech version of the spread offense relies on the pass in the red zone as much as anywhere else on the field. Many readers will recall Leach’s fondness for the fade pass in the shadows of the oppositions’ goal-posts, and it seems as though that play has almost disappeared from the Red Raider playbook. Perhaps that is because defenses have figured out how to defend it better. But if so, it would behoove Tech to find another bread-and-butter play or two to light up the scoreboard from in close this season.

While improving red zone performance should be doable, reducing penalties may prove a bit more refractory simply because of the type of offense Texas Tech runs. It seems as though a great many of Tech’s penalties have been false start and holding infractions in the offensive line. And those could well correlate to running an up-tempo, passing offense. Haste makes waste, and constant passing pressurizes the offensive line.

In looking at a few other college offenses that have been pass-heavy and/or up-tempo, we do see that penalties have been a problem for them, too. Thus, over the past seven seasons Hawaii has averaged 86th nationally in that category, Oregon 101st and Oklahoma 72nd.

Oklahoma, however, is an interesting case. In 2009 the Sooners finished No. 119 nationally in penalty yardage. But in 2010 they vaulted all the way to the 24th position. Perhaps not coincidentally, OU also went from an 8-5 record to a 12-2 season.

Perhaps with a veteran offensive line and one well-seasoned quarterback instead of two jittery freshmen, the Red Raiders will also improve dramatically in terms of discipline, focus and penalty yardage.

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