Novice Year for Kingsbury in Season Two?

Texas Tech has regressed in many areas in head Coach Kliff Kingsbury's second season at the helm.

Given Kliff Kingsbury’s incredible lack of coaching experience going into year one of his Texas Tech tenure, I feared numerous and agonizing teething pains. I thought we might see a Red Raider football team that was sloppy, undisciplined and extremely disorganized. And while some of those concerns did indeed materialize, I felt that, on the whole, they were considerably less prevalent than they could have been. This pleasant surprise was the primary reason I gave Kingsbury generally positive marks for his rookie season.

Alas, the very fears that I felt prior to year one have come rushing to the fore in year two. And this phenomenon caught me entirely by surprise.

Logically, one expects a young football coach to improve with experience, and for his team to likewise improve as it becomes more comfortable and familiar with the coach’s expectations and schemes. What’s more, this improvement should be far more dramatic with an extremely young coach—because he has so much room to improve—than with a veteran. We would expect to see a more noticeable proficiency bump from Kingsbury in year two than from Bill Snyder in year 23.

But by many statistical measures, and by the proverbial “eye test,” Kingsbury’s second season is marked by deterioration rather than improvement.

Let’s begin with the offense, Kingsbury’s personal bailiwick. The general consensus was that the Tech offense could be frighteningly good in 2014. A talented Davis Webb was back at quarterback, and he no longer had to worry about Baker Mayfield cramping his style. There was good experience and talent at running back and in the offensive line, and the receiving corps was considered talented and deep.

Yet despite these putative strengths, the offense has gotten worse in many areas. In 2013 Texas Tech finished No. 115 nationally in interceptions thrown. To date, the 2014 Tech offense ranks No. 126. Passing efficiency has dropped from No. 49 to No. 56. And turnover margin, which is a function of all three sides of the ball, but is particularly stressed by passing offenses, has dropped from -1.08 last year to -1.50 as of this writing.

What’s more, those statistical declines have manifested themselves despite the fact that the offensive line has played outstanding football, and that Deandre Washington is having a terrific junior season. Sterling pass protection and a potent ground game should render Tech’s passing attack even more lethal, but they have not. Kingsbury’s passing game has been unable to exploit the advantages that surround it.

News is much the same on the defensive side of the football. The season began dreadfully under defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, improved for a couple of games after Mike Smith replaced him, and then imploded against TCU. Any apparent improvement was more than negated by the swoon in Cowtown.

The most horrid aspect of the defense has been pass defense. In terms of interceptions, the Red Raiders now have three, which is No. 115 nationally. They finished No. 98 last year. Passes defended has dropped from No. 24 to No. 61 presently. And in terms of pass defense efficiency, the decline has been incredibly stark. The Red Raiders finished a very respectable No. 31 in 2013, but are currently mired in the No. 114 spot.

Special teams, despite the hiring of a special teams coach (Darrin Chiaverini), have not improved, and are arguably worse. First, it should be acknowledged that the coverage teams have been very good. Likewise, Ryan Bustin and Taylor Symmank are doing well as placekicker and punter respectively. But there are also areas of severe weakness.

Primarily because of penalties, Tech is getting nothing from its return game. The Red Raiders currently average 2.3 yards per punt return (No. 123), down from 6.8 (No. 85) last season. Kickoff returns have dropped from No. 16 nationally in 2013 to No. 85 as of the present.

Then there are the obvious coaching errors: Tech special teams being penalized in the UTEP game for having two players with the same jersey number, and the decision to attempt a punt block against TCU when the defense desperately needed to get off the field. Instead—predictably, one might say—Tech roughed the punter and gave the Frogs an automatic first down.

And it is those penalties, a significant percentage of which have occurred on special teams, that may be most indicative of the team’s overall deterioration. In 2013 the Red Raiders committed an average of eight penalties per game for 75 yards. So far in 2014, those numbers have increased to 9.6 and 90.

Thus, those of us who, based upon expected improvement from Kingsbury and his staff, foresaw a good season in 2014, have instead been served a buffet of crow. Coaching more like a veteran in 2013, Kingsbury now looks like a raw rookie. The question is why? And I do not have a convincing answer.



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