Quarterback: In any spread offense the performance of the quarterback will be an even greater determinant of the entire team’s success than in any other offensive system. Teams with spread offenses are “quarterbackcentric.” Therefore, the disappointing performance of Davis Webb figures very large in a disappointing 2014 season. Even with strong performances by Pat Mahomes late, the grade for this unit is unacceptably low.
Running Backs: While the quarterback position was disappointment, running backs were a pleasant surprise. For the first time since Ricky Williams’ tremendous season in 1998, a Red Raider running back rushed for 1,000 yards. Deandre Washington stepped for 1,103 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Freshman Justin Stockton added further speed to the backfield and rushed for 396 yards. Interestingly, despite carrying the ball 140 fewer times than Washington, Stockton doubled Washington’s touchdown total, four to two. In general though, rushing touchdowns were scarce; Tech had only eight on the season. Dropped passes by running backs were an occasional problem.
Receivers: In tandem with the quarterbacks, Tech’s receivers contributed to the decline of the Red Raider passing attack in 2014. Preseason stars Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez were both fairly productive, combining for 132 receptions for 1,759 yards and 17 touchdowns. But those numbers would have been much higher were it not for multiple drops throughout the course of the season. Grant and Marquez’s disappointing seasons were partially offset by the late emergence of Ian Sadler and Devin Lauderdale. Reginald Davis was not much of a factor, and starter D.J. Polite-Bray moved to cornerback. Downfield blocking was the poorest it’s been in many a season.
Offensive Line: Given the rather strong play of Tech’s offensive line, the offense as a whole should have done better. Run blocking by this group was a major surprise. When given the opportunity to dig in, the line almost always got a push in the running game, and that is something that hasn’t been seen in Lubbock for a very long time. The Red Raiders allowed only 13 sacks, which tied for 13th best in the nation. Jared Kaster, Alfredo Morales and Le’Raven Clark all had strong seasons. The only real weakness of this group—and it was a serious one—was penalties. Holding, false start, personal fouls—you name it, Tech’s line did it and did it often.
Defensive Line: Given the departure of defensive line coach John Scott, one may infer that Kliff Kingsbury was not entirely thrilled with the play of the line. Now there were injuries, of course, but that cannot excuse this group’s subpar performance. Branden Jackson, who had five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss was the only defensive lineman who made a dent. The other returnees accomplished little, and the JUCO imports who were being counted upon to do so much, were largely non-factors.
Linebackers: Pete Robertson had a standout season, particularly as a pass rusher, collecting 12 sacks and seven quarterback hurries. But there’s no hiding the fact that the linebackers in general were atrocious against the run. With a weak defensive line in front of them, the linebackers were unable to shuck blockers and make plays. And even when the linebackers had clear shots at backs, they frequently whiffed. The group was also wildly inconsistent, playing quite well on occasion, but collapsing in other games.
Secondary: Like the line and the linebackers, Tech’s defensive backs took their lumps. But more so than the other two groups, the secondary had a good excuse: extreme inexperience. Outside of safety J.J. Gaines, the secondary went to battle almost exclusively with freshmen and sophomores. Tevin Madison and Nigel Bethel, true freshmen, started several games. Freshman Jahshawn Johnson saw extensive action in four games before suffering an injury. Freshmen safeties Jalen Barnes and Derrick Dixon played ever more as the season wore on, and sophomore cornerback Justis Nelson was pressed into service at safety against Baylor. Despite the unbelievable youthfulness of this group, they pretty much held their own.
Special Teams: There were hits and misses for this unit, but the overall impression was not very impressive. The Red Raiders got precious little from the return game (kickoff and punt), and committed many crushing penalties, particularly in the first half of the season. But Taylor Symmank had a very good year, averaging almost 43 yards per punt, and Ryan Bustin was a reliable medium-range kicker, which was the best anybody really hoped for. Tech went in for trickery on special teams fairly often, and it usually worked. Coverage of punt returns was excellent, of kickoff returns mediocre.