Shape of the Game: Central Arkansas

Texas Tech opens the season against Central Arkansas 6 p.m. today at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX.

Texas Tech’s clash with FCS foe Central Arkansas promises to be a bona fide aerial extravaganza. Naturally, the Red Raiders will sling the ball all over the lot, but expect the Bears to almost match them pass for pass.

One of the reasons the pigskin will be in the air so much is the simple fact that both teams have question marks in the secondary. Texas Tech will start a sophomore cornerback who has started only a few games and played in a few others in Justis Nelson, and at the other cornerback position will trot out two true freshmen in Tevin Madison and Jah’Shawn Johnson.

Central Arkansas, however, hasn’t been any great shakes defending the pass either. At least last year they weren’t. The Bears allowed 251 passing yards per game last season, which was No. 102 among 122 FCS programs. CAU was somewhat better in pass defense efficiency—No. 72—but still, that won’t do anything whatsoever to deter Kliff Kingsbury, Davis Webb, Jakeem Grant and Tech’s fleet of jets.

Both teams, in other words, will air it out.

But there is one mitigating factor where Central Arkansas’ offense is concerned. Specifically, the Bears will do what they can to slow the tempo of the game down and to try to disrupt any rhythm the Tech offense develops. What that means is that CAU will milk some clock, snapping the ball close to the expiration of the play clock. It also means that the Bears will pick and choose their spots to run the football.

But this game will still be all about the pass for the visitors. The Bears have quality receivers in Desmin Lewis, Damien Watts, Courtney Whitehead, Desmond Smith and Clay Murphy. CAU coach Steve Campbell believes his receivers against Tech’s cornerbacks are a matchup advantage for the Bears, and he will try to exploit that advantage to the hilt. And given that the Bears were No. 5 in the FCS in passing yards per game last season, it’s easy to understand why the coach is reasonably optimistic.

CAU will also focus heavily on the turnover battle. Obviously, when a defense creates a turnover, it has thwarted one of the offense’s drives, and there are only so many drives in a game. Simply put, when the Bears turn Tech over they will have taken away not only the football, but one of Tech’s opportunities to score as well.

And again, statistically speaking, Central Arkansas has some reason to feel good about their prospects in this area. Last year the Bears were No. 33 nationally in turnover margin, while the Red Raiders were a miserable No. 123. If the Bears can win the turnover battle by at least two, and if their receivers prove too much for Tech’s young corners to handle, this game could be a mite too close for comfort for the Red Raiders. But realistically, those are rather large ifs.

The Prediction: Texas Tech 44 Central Arkansas 12

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