Sonny Cumbie leads the nation in passing yardage and has piloted the Raider offense to the #3 ranking in the nation. His team, however, is a mediocre 4-3 and his passing efficiency rating is only 38th best in the country. Now, it is hardly fair to pin a team's record, good or bad, on the quarterback, but the position is the most important on the field, and quarterbacks are traditionally judged, in large measure, by the team's success. An inexcusable loss to New Mexico in which the offense was held to 24 points and a disastrous outing against Texas must therefore bring Cumbie's grade down somewhat. He has improved noticeably, however. Cumbie performed spectacularly against Nebraska and was more than competent against a very good Texas defense. If he can continue to hold down the interception count and do a better job of checking into running plays, he will finish strong, and so will the Raiders.
The Tech running attack is currently #116 out of 117 units, averaging only 74 yards per game. Certainly, this is not entirely the fault of principle backs Taurean Henderson and Johnnie Mack, but with a bottom line like that, a higher grade seems unrealistic. Henderson is several pounds heavier than last season, and this was supposed to have translated into more power and broken tackles. So far it has not. Mack provides an occasional spark, but in the final analysis has been no more effective than Henderson. His ball security has, however, improved.
The primary reason for the anemic ground game may well be neglect. Tech has run the ball only 148 times this season, second fewest in the nation. As long as the Raider offense is this unbalanced, Tech running backs will never get a fair shake.
Tech boasts the #1, #25, and #39 receivers in the country in Jarrett Hicks, Trey Haverty, and Nehemiah Glover, respectively. Additionally, inside receiver Bristol Olomua, a talented transfer from BYU, has not disappointed, turning in several solid performances, and contributing numerous plays that make one's head spin. There have been a few drops, but generally speaking, the receivers have been reliable. If there has been any drop-off in comparison to last year's receiving corps, it has been in the number of big plays. The 2004 receivers simply have not been as explosive as last year's group. The speed of Carlos Francis and the uncanniness of Wes Welker have not been replaced.
Pass protection, the most important task for a Mike Leach offensive line, has been very solid. The unit has given up only 14 sacks (two per game) this season, and has generally given quarterback Cumbie adequate time to survey the field. Run blocking is another matter. The offensive line must share some responsibility for the paltry output of the ground attack. Too often, Henderson and Mack are simply stonewalled at the line of scrimmage. None of these offensive linemen will garner post-season honors, but they are all very solid players.
Given that last year's defensive line would have received an F, this is a substantial improvement. But it is still far from satisfactory. This unit has produced only 4.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for losses, and the defense as a whole is number 80 in the nation in run defense. Pressure on the quarterback, particularly in the Texas game, was nonexistent. The line has decent depth and is no longer plagued by busted assignments, but it has not been physical and disruptive enough. Adell Duckett, who came into the season a legitimate All American hopeful, has been largely AWOL. The best player in this group, arguably, has been JUCO transfer Deke Bake who, when healthy, has shown the ability to create some havoc in the interior. He also plays with a fire that needs to spread to the other players in this unit.
Strongside linebacker Mike Smith, the team's leading tackler, has arguably been Tech's best defensive player. He is as tough as they come, versatile, and very consistent. But that's just about all the good news there is for the linebacking corps. Middle linebacker Brock Stratton, who does well in pass coverage, and weakside l¡nebacker John Saldi, have been no more than serviceable. Backup weakside linebacker Fletcher Session has been the second most impressive member of this group, but his lack of size prevents him from being an every-down player. JUCO transfer Sylvester Brinkley, for whatever reason, rarely sees the field. To be fair, the linebackers have not been helped much by the defensive line. Both units must improve against the run if Tech is to finish better than 6-5.
This group is the most pleasant surprise of the season. Currently ranked #24 in the nation, the secondary has developed into a physical unit, that tackles very well, and reliably blankets receivers despite opposing quarterbacks having plenty of time to throw. If Mike Smith is not the defense's best player, either cornerback Antonio Huffman or safety Vincent Meeks is. Backup strong safety Dwayne Slay is a devastating hitter, and it is a bit of a mystery as to why he doesn't get more game time. The only major drawback for this unit is that it has intercepted only seven passes. A greater penchant for larceny would catapault the Tech secondary into elite status and would give the offense more and better opportunities toscore.
Special Teams: C-
Special teams have been neither a tremendous boon to the Raiders nor a terrible liability. Field goal kicking is 4-7 with none longer than 34 yards. Kickoffs have been good with close to 50% resulting in touchbacks, and coverage has been good as well, although penalties have been atrocious. Punter Alex Reyes began the season like a house afire, but had a poor game against Texas, shanking two punts for a total of 16 yards. Punt coverage has been solid, but, with the exception of Danny Amendola's returns against TCU, the punt and kickoff return teams have generated little production. The loss of Wes Welker here is incalculable.