Then there's a buzz. 'Who is Texas Tech?' 'Correct.'
Who, indeed. This is a team that hadn't been held under 34 points until scoring seven last week in a 41-7 loss to the Cyclones. And those 34 points came against Kansas State, one of the league's best defenses. The Red Raiders scored 41 against Oklahoma and 40 against Texas A&M. At the same time, they struggled to beat Nevada at home, and trailed Texas State and Kansas at halftime.
Part of that can be blamed on youth, and some on injuries. The Red Raiders are still trying to get depth up to where head coach Tommy Tuberville would like it. And there are going to be some growing pains that come with that process.
If there's one unit that has been successful — with the exception of last week, of course — it's the offense. Tech has been typically explosive this year under Neal Brown, who claims his team plays at a NASCAR pace. Tech is averaging almost 39 points per game, while accounting for 508 yards per contest in total offense.
If the development of quarterback Seth Doege (6-1 200) has come as a surprise to you, you're not alone. Doege was ravaged by injuries in high school, but has found health, and stardom, in Lubbock. He's completing 67.9 percent of his passes, and has thrown for nearly 350 yards per game with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Perhaps the most impressive part of his game was pointed out by Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz this week. Diaz said the Longhorns split the field into different segments to look at quarterback accuracy, with short, medium and long (more than 15 yards) throws, and split into right, left and center alignments. In two of the three long zones, Doege is completing better than 50 percent of his passes. Diaz said it's more typical for a quarterback to be 2-of-9, or 3-of-10, but he said that those two or three passes "can get you beat."
The Tech running game took a major blow when star running back Eric Stephens was knocked out for the season. Stephens was one of the Big 12's top runners. His injury moved Aaron Crawford (5-10 211) into the starting lineup, though true freshman Deandre Washington is actually the team's second-leading rusher. Crawford and Washington's combined rushing yardage through eight games (Crawford has played in seven) is 477 yards, or almost 100 yards less than Stephens had in five contests.
But this is Texas Tech, which means that you can't adequately sum up the running game without citing the tunnel and bubble screens that technically count as passing yards, but are an extension of the running game. Tech has 11 different players with double-digit catches (10 of whom have 100 or more receiving yards on the season), and rotates receivers through at a high rate.
Both Eric Ward (6-0 201) and Alex Torres (6-1 194) are in the Big 12's top 10 in receptions, with Torres also ranking in the top 10 in yards and Ward placing fourth with eight touchdown catches. Torres is the latest version of former Raider great Wes Welker, a strong route runner who always seems to be open. Ward originally picked Oklahoma out of high school, but wound up at Tech instead. Cornelius Douglas (5-9 197) and Darrin Moore (6-4 214) also have more than 300 yards receiving, though Douglas is being pushed by true freshman Bradley Marquez (5-10 183).
Adam Jones (6-2 230) is the tight end when the Red Raiders use one, and at times he's also split out at the Y position. He can be a weapon.
One of the less-talked-about storylines from Tech's win over Oklahoma was the way the Red Raider offensive line played. Mike Leach liked to recruit big linemen, and these Red Raiders exemplify that trait. Excepting senior center Justin Keown (6-4 286), the line's runt by nearly 35 pounds, the Red Raiders average 327 pounds per man at the other four spots, and are 6-6 at three of those four positions. The left side of LeAdrian Waddle (6-6 332) and Lonnie Edwards (6-4 320) is excellent. A pair of juniors in Deveric Gallington (6-3 328) and Terry McDaniel (6-6 328) make up a powerful right side.
While the Texas Tech offense has been lauded throughout league circles, the defense has struggled, allowing an average of 225.8 rushing yards per game, at 4.9 yards per clip. The Red Raiders have also been largely unable to get to the quarterback, making just 10 sacks and boasting just one player — Scott Smith — with more than one sack. He has two on the year. That has allowed opposing teams to score 32.0 points per game, meaning that the offense has to do its job just to keep pace.
Smith (6-6 256) wrecked the Longhorns last year just a few games removed from junior college. He and Leon Mackey (6-5 256) make a nice set of bookends, with Dartwan Bush (6-1 247) emerging as a sophomore. Bush has forced a whopping four fumbles so far this season.
The Red Raiders are undersized at defensive tackle, with three of the four players listed on the depth chart weighing less than 270 pounds. The exception to that rule is backup nose tackle Chris Perry (6-4 286). Kerry Hyder (6-2 260) and true freshman Delvon Simmons (6-5 265) man the defensive tackle spot, while Donald Langley (6-1 266) starts over Perry at the nose.
The Red Raiders play just two linebackers at a time, but they have five players who could see the field. And all of them are sophomores or younger. Sophomore Daniel Cobb (6-0 213) is the SAM linebacker, while MIKE Cquilin Hubert (6-1 237) mans the middle. Behind Cobb is another sophomore, Zach Winbush (6-1 219). Hubert's backups are a pair of true freshmen in Sam Eguavoen (6-1 217) and Blake Dees (6-1 224). Cobb, Hubert and Dees are three of the team's top six tacklers, and all have at least four tackles for loss on the year.
Texas Tech has some nice pieces in the defensive backfield, though they're playing a bit shorthanded. Tech has to like its safety trio of SS Terrance Bullitt (6-3 206), FS D.J. Johnson (6-0 196) and WS Cody Davis (6-2 200). Davis is one of the most underrated players in the Big 12, and leads the Red Raiders in tackles and passes broken up. Johnson is second in tackles and has been associated with four turnovers, picking off a team-high two passes, forcing a fumble and recovering one. Bullitt makes big plays from his strong safety spot, ranking second only to Cobb in tackles for loss with six, but he's listed as doubtful for Saturday.
Interestingly enough, each safety started the season at a different safety position than the spot he's at now. The starting lineup for the opening two games had Bullitt at free safety, Johnson at weak safety and Davis at strong safety. After some swapping in game three, the current safety group of Bullit at strong safety, Johnson at free safety and Davis at weak safety trotted out for Week Four, and they've played there for each of the five games since.
Thanks to injuries, Tech will rely on Derrick Mays (5-10 179) and Jarvis Phillips (5-10 196) at cornerback, with some depth issues behind them. Mays missed the OU game with a hamstring injury and saw limited time last week. It would help if Eugene Neboh (5-10 180), listed as questionable, can go. Tre' Porter is out with a head injury.
Ben McRoy has had a nice season returning kickoffs, averaging 25 yards per return, though he hasn't been able to break any for scores. His longest return was a 47-yarder. Austin Zouzalik is a decent punt returner. Kicker Donnie Carona has hit 10-of-14 field goals, with three of those misses coming from 48-yards plus. Punter Ryan Erxleben is averaging less than 40 yards per punt.
The Red Raiders are a little banged up, and enter Saturday's game missing some key pieces. But as the Longhorns said all week, it's probably safer to assume that they'll give Texas their 'A' game, and they have the players to create some problems. Just ask Oklahoma.