The Troubling Win

Texas Tech edged Central Arkansas 42-35 in a lackluster season opening performance Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX.

The main hope is that Texas Tech’s 42-35 win over Central Arkansas was some sort of freak psychological anomaly. Because if the Red Raiders we saw bumble their way to a W over an above average FCS team are the Red Raiders we will see for the remainder of the season, then this will be a year not only to forget but to actively suppress.

Put as frankly as possible, the opening-night Red Raiders will only stand a chance of beating Iowa State, UTEP and Kansas on their remaining schedule. Thus, at best, Tech would be staring at a catastrophic 4-8 season. IF these Red Raiders are the true Red Raiders rather than some ghastly impostors.

And it is certainly possible that Tech was simply not right in the head when they took the field against the Bears. Teams do sometimes come out flat. They do take unpedigreed opponents lightly. They do get so wired up that they expend all of their psychic energy before the ball is even kicked off. And when these things happen, even very good teams can play poorly and even fall to inferior opponents. For the sake of Kliff Kingsbury, his staff and the football program in general, this explanation had better be the true one.

The Worst of the Worst: One could write several volumes describing the ways in which the Red Raiders “embarrassed” themselves, to paraphrase Kingsbury in his postgame press conference. But possibly the most alarming of all was the way Central Arkansas frequently mauled the Red Raiders at the line of scrimmage.

As seemingly has been the case at Tech ever since Mike Leach took command in 2000, the Red Raiders got little push in short-yardage situations from the middle of the offensive line. Sure, statistically Tech ran the ball well, having amassed 184 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry.

But the vast majority of that yardage came in long- and medium-yardage situations when the Bears were playing pass, or it came on runs outside of the tackles. When the Red Raiders were in obvious running downs and tried to cram it between the tackles, the results were less than impressive.

Conversely, CAU was often times able to run it right at Tech at will. When they ran at Jackson Richards they were almost uniformly successful. And when the ballyhooed JUCO guys were in there instead, the Bears ran over them too. Central Arkansas was also 6-6 on 4th down conversions and on five of those occasions the Bears picked up 4th-and-short by kicking Tech in the teeth with the running game.

If Rika Levi was going to be the salvation of Tech’s run defense and his knee injury is serious…

A Tradition No More? Over the last dozen years or so, one of the proudest traditions of the Tech offense was the blocking of its receivers. From Wes Welker to Jarrett Hicks to Joel Filani to Danny Amendola to Eric Ward, the Red Raider wideouts were tough, physical, nasty, and they would flat out lay out opposing DBs.

This characteristic was conspicuous by its absence against the Bears. Reggie Davis whiffed badly on blocks at least a couple of times, which caused screen passes to go awry. And when Davis got loose on a 32-yard pass play in the second quarter, the only thing that prevented Davis from scoring was Jakeem Grant’s failure to peel back and clean up the defender who eventually tackled Davis from behind. Instead, Grant inexplicably sprinted toward the end zone.

The Tech passing game certainly had its moments against Central Arkansas, but if it’s going to be effective against top-flight defenses, the blocking by the receivers will have to improve dramatically. This blocking has always been one of the quiet little secrets to the Air Raid’s success.

A Deep Breath and Some Perspective: Yes, the Red Raiders were virtually catatonic before an equally lifeless home throng of 61,000 fans, and as the foregoing makes clear, it was an ultra-ugly performance. But Tech is still 1-0, and all is not lost. Occasionally good teams just start slowly and are forced to work out some kinks and to “find themselves.”

On September 3, 2011 in Manhattan, Kansas, Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats barely eked out a 10-7 win over an FCS Eastern Kentucky team that went on to a 7-5 season. KSU fans were probably just as disgusted and disillusioned by that performance as Tech fans are by the win over Central Arkansas. And yet, Kansas State went on to a 10-3 season and a Cotton Bowl berth. Perhaps something similar is in store for these Red Raiders.

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