Texas Tech Still Looking For Complete Win

The Red Raiders defeated the Jayhawks 34-21 Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX. Tech (3-4, 1-2) snapped an 8-game losing streak in the Big 12 and four-game overall skid this season, but still have plenty of room for improvement.

As evidenced by Texas Tech’s 34-21 win over Kansas, and even its last-gasp defeat at the hands of a very good West Virginia team, progress is happening in the Red Raider football program. But the rate of that progress is glacial enough to produce severe frustration.

The greatest forums for progress are in the most fundamental of areas. Thus we see a Tech team that blocks and tackles well enough to contend with the vast majority of teams in the nation.

The Red Raider offensive line has been an excellent unit all season, and maintained that level of play against a solid Kansas defense, springing DeAndre Washington for a career best 164 rushing yards, and helping Justin Stockton to yet another explosive touchdown run, this one of 21 yards. Outside of a couple of penalties and Reshod Fortenberry allowing a sack, the line blocked lights out.

But blocking is about more than just the line. Tech’s receivers are also blocking noticeably better than they did earlier in the season. What was a serious weakness has slowly morphed into a team strength. And one would be remiss not to point out Rodney Hall’s contributions, as well as those of the backs—Washington in particular—in pass protection. On the whole, this team blocks well and that gives the offense a chance to score on every series.

Much like receiver blocking, tackling was a bit of a sore spot early in the season as well. This problem came to a head against Arkansas when Tech’s poor tackling made the defense a regional if not national laughing stock. But since Mike Smith assumed leadership of that same defense, tackling has improved steadily, even dramatically. Even without ace headhunter Keenon Ward, the Red Raiders did a solid job of getting the Jayhawks to the ground.

And yet, despite the good news in these critical areas, Tech still is coming nowhere near to playing a truly excellent football game. The offending areas that continue to hold the Red Raiders back are turnovers, dropped passes, and penalties on special teams. Combined, these trouble spots prevent Tech from finishing off opponents when the opportunity presents itself.

Against Kansas, the Red Raiders committed two turnovers—an average rather than terrible statistic—but the untimeliness of those errors was monumental.

The first came with Tech leading 17-0 and driving to drive a stake in KU’s heart right before the half. Instead, Davis Webb tossed a completely unforced interception to Ben Heeney who returned it to the Red Raider 39 yard line. Eight plays later the visitors had six on the board and what should have been a 24-0 laugher at the half was instead an uneasy 17-7 game.

The second occurred in the third quarter with Tech holding a 20-7 lead. Again, the Red Raiders had a chance to go up by three scores with a touchdown drive, but instead, Webb was sacked and fumbled the football at the Tech 40. Kansas recovered and quickly cashed in an easy touchdown. The score tightened to 20-14.

Killer turnovers, the both of ‘em.

Against West Virginia, Tech’s receivers actually did a good job of making the catches they should, committing only a couple of drops. But in the Kansas game Jakeem Grant alone dropped three passes and Ian Sadler, who otherwise had a standout game, dropped one. In a pass-oriented offense dropped passes are every bit as damaging as inaccurate passes, and this problem continues to plague and befuddle the Red Raider offense.

Tech’s special teams actually had a decent day against Kansas, but penalties continue to be a major hobgoblin. One nullified a long Cameron Batson punt return and pushed the Red Raider offense back inside its own 10 yard line (the actual cost of the penalty was 50-some-odd yards), and another erased a Taylor Symmank punt that was downed at the Kansas one. Such penalties take away opportunities not just from the offense, but from the defense, too.

Put it all together and what we see is a team that is physically proficient in the basics of football, but that continues to make errors that undermine that proficiency. The result is that Tech fails to win games it should (West Virginia), and struggles with teams it should dispatch easily (Central Arkansas, UTEP, Kansas). If and when the Red Raiders clean up the silly errors they will become a formidable football team. And they will need to do just that to stay on the field with TCU.

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