Anybody who has ever played football for a lousy team can tell you how miserable the experience can be. The sun is warmer when it's hot, the hits sting more when its cold and the bumps and bruises just seem to linger longer during the week.
As the season progresses, and it becomes clear the team is probably not going to turn it around, as is the case with Texas Tech, you can fold up the tent or play for personal pride.
The following is a tip of the cap to a handful of Red Raiders who are pretty much playing for the pride in knowing they have made a valiant attempt to whip the man across from them for 60 minutes in an otherwise miserable season. We see you, we notice.
DeAndre Washington was one of the first names mentioned by nearly every coach or player heading into the season for his hard work in the offseason. It is easy to see why now. Washington, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in 2011, has battled back to become one of the top running backs in the Big 12.
The junior is leading the Big 12 in both total rushing yards (796) and yards per carry (5.6), but more than that, Washington has passed the eye test. The first defender hardly ever brings Washington down as he has shown a nice combination of speed, shiftiness, vision and some surprising power this season.
Washington has also been effective as a receiver when given the chance out of the backfield with 20 catches for 155 yards. Add in his pass blocking ability and you have a back who is the total package in this offense and is one of the only players on the roster who is consistently winning his 1-on-1 battles.
The offensive line
Without a good offensive line, none of DeAndre Washington's success would be possible. In fact, all of the running backs have enjoyed success this season when given the opportunity behind Texas Tech's offensive line. True freshman Justin Stockton has shown a penchant for making big plays, redshirt sophomore Quinton White has been effective between the tackles and Kenny Williams, who began the season at linebacker, looks as good as ever, especially as a receiver out of the backfield.
As a team the Red Raiders are averaging 5.2 yards per rush, which is third in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma (5.7) and TCU (5.5).
Left tackle Le'Raven Clark, center Jared Kaster and right tackle Reshod Fortenberry have started every game this season. Alfredo Morales has stared all but one at left guard. Baylen Brown has started six games, five at right guard and he filled in for the injured Morales on the left side against West Virginia. James Polk has started three games (Arkansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia) at right guard and Dominique Robertson, who was inactive last week due to a team rules violation, started at right guard against UTEP.
Not only has this group opened holes for the running backs all season long, but the big uglies have allowed just eight sacks in approximately 430 drop backs by Texas Tech quarterbacks. That means the offensive line is only giving up a sack every 54 drop backs!
Of the above mentioned offensive linemen only Fortenberry is expected to not return as he will have exhausted his eligibility. Clark, a preseason All-American, and first team All-Big 12 selection, could declare early for the NFL Draft as the redshirt junior would likely be a mid-round pick.
It is hard to find many standouts on a defense allowing 503.1 yards and 41.6 points per game, both of which are the very worst in the Big 12. But! There are two players when you go back and watch the games again, who are whipping the men opposite them and making plays for Tech.
First up is junior Bandit linebacker Pete Robertson who leads the team in total tackles (62) and leads the Big 12 in sacks with nine. Robertson also has five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a pass defense to his credit this season.
Robertson was expected to be dominant this season and as the conference sack leader who ranks No. 8 in the nation in that category it's hard to argue that he hasn't been. Even with all his production it is easy to see that Robertson still has plenty of room for improvement and could even be more of a force next season as a senior.
Branden Jackson's stat line is pretty ordinary. He has 30 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Other than the eight tackles for loss it's pretty pedestrian.
Then you go back and watch the film it's obvious Jackson is the best player on the Red Raider defense. The junior defensive end, who bulked up to 270ish pounds after playing the previous season at 245, has been a rock and probably the only player up front who has been controlling the guy in front of him or even held his ground on a regular basis.
Jackson's position as a five-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the tackle), by design, is a selfless position aimed at setting the edge and turning plays back inside where help is supposed to be fitting or scraping in for the glory.
Over and over on tape you see Jackson locking out his blocker, setting the edge, turning the play inside only for no flow to come inside and the ball carrier to be tackled (sometimes) 5-6 yards down the field, usually by a defensive back.
Recently, Jackson has moved inside some to play the three-technique (lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard) or defensive tackle in the Red Raiders' scheme, which has freed him up to make more plays himself.
Sophomore receiver Devin Lauderdale is perhaps the only receiver on the roster and junior college transfer from the 2014 class so far to truly live up to the hype coming into the season.
The speedster has 20 grabs for 326 yards and three touchdowns this season and leads all Tech receivers (with five or more catches) in yards per reception at 16.3. What's more, Lauderdale has proven to be explosive as his three scores came from 76, 56 and 34 yards out.
Lauderdale's top game came against West Virginia where he finished with three catches for 112 yards and two scores. One would think his targets will go up and the coaching staff will design more plays to get him the ball in open space.
He also may have made the play of the season against UTEP when he pancaked two defenders to help spring Justin Stockton's long touchdown run.
Some Bright Spots Amidst the Disappointment
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