Texas Tech: Beyond the Box Score Preview - OFFENSE

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.  And if you just don't like or care about numbers, skip them -- I always attempt to explain what they might be telling us afterward.

At this point in the season, it becomes less relevant to reference my preseason BTBS preview pieces, at least for most teams.  To see the way Texas Tech's season has unfolded to date, I think it is actually quite useful to begin with the template set forward this summer.  So below you will find blurbs from the summer previews, mixed together with current stats and analysis.  This got a little lengthy again, so we'll break it into an Offense piece and a Defense piece.

Tech: BTBS Offensive Preview

It doesn't take long to figure out that this has been quite the up-and-down season for the Red Raiders so far.  Points of encouragement have been quickly followed by reasons for pessimism.  It would make sense that a new coach might struggle to adapt with players recruited for a Mike Leach system, but a combination of injuries and inexperience have hand-cuffed Tech, especially as of late.

Texas Tech 35, SMU 27
Texas Tech 52, New Mexico 17
Texas 24, Texas Tech 14
Iowa State 52, Texas Tech 38
Texas Tech 45, Baylor 38
Oklahoma State 34, Texas Tech 17
Texas Tech 27, Colorado 24
Texas A&M 45, Texas Tech 27

The defense began to lose its way following the Texas game (and really, allowing 17 to New Mexico and 24 to Texas shows clear signs that Tech really wasn't on the right path to begin with), allowing 52 points to Iowa State, and at least 24 in every proceeding game.  Injuries have magnified problems with either depth of talent or depth of comprehension of the 3-4 scheme, and Tech is a team that will need to come up big against either Missouri or Houston to reach bowl eligibility for an impressive 18th consecutive season (they haven't gone to a bowl all of those years, but they have won at least six games in each fall campaign).

Really, though, if you were to draw up an "Upset Quotient" for picking out teams who are capable of big upsets if everything comes together right, Tech might score reasonably high.  They haven't been consistently bad on either side of the ball, they have just run hot-and-cold.  Obviously, if the passing game gets rolling, they can keep up with anybody, but the same goes for the defensive side of the ball.  The defense actually makes quite a few disruptive plays -- the problem is that they tend to give up just as many.  Their upside is still somewhat high, and when you combine that with a nighttime atmosphere at Jones-AT&T Stadium, there is at least a bit of cause for concern.  If Mizzou and Tech both play B-grade games, Mizzou will win, likely by two touchdowns (the F/+ projection has them winning by 21).  But if Mizzou only comes in around B- or C+, and Tech comes in at an A, they are more than talented enough to hand the Tigers their second consecutive loss.

Coaching

Further adding confusion to what Tech's offensive identity is going to be this year, Tuberville brought former Troy offensive coordinator (and spread offense wizard) Neal Brown with him to Lubbock.  Brown's a young guy (29, I believe) who had extraordinary success at Troy.  There's no word yet on whether he has slept since he got to Lubbock, or if the "OH MY GOD, I GET TO PLAY WITH MIKE LEACH'S TOYS" adrenaline rush is still kicking in.  When Tuberville tried to bring the spread to Auburn, there were some sorts of institutional blocks preventing it from working well, be it Tuberville's own style preferences, those of his other coaches, or whatever.  It didn't work, but if it is ever going to work, it will be in Lubbock, with Brown at the chess board.

So have the Red Raiders committed to the pass?  Absolutely.  They run just 41.3% of the time on standard downs (third-lowest in the country) and 26.2% of the time on passing downs (23rd-lowest).  Whether they do it as well as Tech has in the past is a completely different topic.  As we'll see below, neither their efficiency (Success Rates) nor their explosiveness (PPP) find their way into the overall Top 40.  That is a jarring sight considering how highly they have ranked on both accounts in the past.

Offense

Overall Ranks

S&P+: 46th
Success Rate+: 55th
PPP+: 39th

Standard Downs S&P+: 45th
Passing Downs S&P+: 33rd

Redzone S&P+: 17th

Q1 S&P+: 48th
Q2 S&P+: 41st
Q3 S&P+: 44th
Q4 S&P+: 36th

1st Down S&P+: 46th
2nd Down S&P+: 37th
3rd Down S&P+: 31st

Rushing Ranks

Rushing S&P+: 59th
Rushing SR+: 77th
Rushing PPP+: 45th

Standard Downs: 43rd
Passing Downs: 31st

Redzone: 42nd

Adj. Line Yards: 54th

Passing Ranks

Passing S&P+: 44th
Passing SR+: 45th
Passing PPP+: 42nd

Standard Downs: 60th
Passing Downs: 34th

Redzone: 16th

Adj. Sack Rate: 42nd
SD Sack Rate: 27th
PD Sack Rate: 64th

One thing I always enjoy about S&P+ figures is the way it makes all different types of offensive styles fit into the same grid.  Yes, Tech always averaged outlandish point and yardage totals, but they ran a lot more plays than everybody else.  When looked at from the advanced metrics perspective, Tech's offense was quite good, but not great in 2009, ranking between Nevada and Michigan State in Offensive S&P+.  Considering the turnover and injuries, that's pretty good.  This was supposed to be a bit of a dropoff season, and it was.  But Tech continued to win thanks to timely play and ever-improving defense.

The Red Raiders showed against Baylor that they can still put up silly numbers in terms of both points and yards, but a) they have only scored over 40 twice (once was against New Mexico, which shouldn't count), and b) everybody puts up silly numbers against Baylor.  That Baylor can be tied for first in the Big 12 South despite ranking 116th in overall Defensive F/+ says a lot about the capabilities of one Mr. Robert Griffin III.

To the extent that this has been a dropoff season for the Red Raiders (other teams with new coaches -- Kansas, Tennessee -- are struggling to a much worse degree on the offensive side of the ball), it is hard to pinpoint the blame.  Many small reasons have joined forces, it seems. We'll give examples throughout the offense portion.

1. The coaching staff is still figuring out how to drive this machine.  It would stand to reason that a new staff would enter Mike Leach's laboratory and find that their own teaching, leadership, tactical and developmental styles clash quite a bit with old regime.  It's not like Leach was coaching a different sport or anything -- this is still football we're talking about here -- but he had a unique take on just about everything, and it's easy to assume that goes for his coaching style as well.  Players are likely having to re-learn the game of football to an extent, and that could easily make for a tough transition.  The offense hasn't completely collapsed by any means -- they still rank 44th in Passing S&P+ -- but there has clearly been a dropoff here.

Quarterback

First things first: Taylor Potts is considered the favorite to win the starting quarterback job, and he will probably do so.  But I have to give a nod to Steven Sheffield in this space.  In a Q&A I did with Double-T Nation while wearing my Football Outsiders hat, Seth C. asked me about the Potts-Sheffield situation, and here was my answer:

I don't track the schedule-adjusted S&P+ figure on a per-quarterback basis, but I can tell you what their unadjusted S&P figures were. Here they are per-quarterback (NOTE: sacks do indeed count as part of the passing numbers and not the rushing numbers -- I hate that they are counted as part of rushing in the NCAA stats):

Steven Sheffield: 52.1% success rate, 0.58 PPP**, 1.097 S&P
Taylor Potts: 47.4% success rate, 0.38 PPP, 0.857 S&P
Seth Doege: 40.6% success rate, 0.24 PPP, 0.645 S&P

Potts' sample size was clearly the highest, and there's a chance that Sheffield's numbers would have come down if he had played more. But ... Sheffield went 23-for-32 for 234 against Nebraska. I REALLY like Sheffield. Potts is good, but SS is better according to S&P and my own eyes (granted, I did not see the OSU game).

Taylor Potts: 236-for-361 passing (65.4%), 2,388 yards (6.6/pass), 21 TD, 5 INT
Steven Sheffield: 13-for-22 passing (59.1%), 146 yards (6.6/pass), 2 TD, 1 INT

2. The quarterbacks have not played up to their own capabilities.  We saw last year both Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield can do very good things with the football, and really, Potts (who won the starting job in August right after I proclaimed how much better Sheffield was ... thanks a lot, Steven) has been far from terrible (65 percent completion rate, 4-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio), but there is no consistency (they rank 60th in Standard Downs Passing) and little efficiency (55th in Success Rate+) with Potts in charge.  (How much of that is due to Potts' performance, and how much is due to offensive line play or coach, is in the eye of the beholder.)  Sheffield always struck me as more of a gunslinger type, and there's nothing saying he would be any better or more consistent, but it does sound as if Tuberville and company are considering a change.

Running Backs

I have no doubt that nobody was more excited about the arrival of Tommy Tuberville than [Baron] Batch.  If Tuberville makes any changes to the offense whatsoever, it will likely positively impact the number of times Batch is handed the ball.  Any sort of adjustment toward power running will put all the attention on No. 25, and he will likely have a very impressive season.

As a whole, the trifecta of Batch, Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers was really effective last year, averaging about 5.5 yards per carry between them and catching of 700 yards' worth of passes out of the backfield.  This was an effective unit for what they were asked to do, and the only question in regard to the running backs is, can they maintain their lovely per-play averages if they are asked to do more running in predictable situations?  As I've said approximately a thousand times, with Leach calling plays, Tech could run 18 straight times and defenses would be playing the pass on the 19th.  If Tuberville uses the run in more standard ways, Tech's rushing averages could go down a bit, but that is not the same thing as saying they will be ineffective.

Baron Batch: 103 carries, 449 yards (4.4/carry), 4 TD; 18 catches, 110 yards (6.1/catch), 1 TD
Eric Stephens: 87 carries, 437 yards (5.0/carry), 4 TD; 24 catches, 182 yards (7.6/catch), 2 TD

3. Baron Batch and Eric Stephens have not excelled as expected.  Again, this might be due to other causes -- poor blocking, iffy execution, whatever.  Regardless, we expected that Tuberville's running acumen would pay off in this area, and it simply hasn't.  Neither Batch nor Stephens are as effective as they were a season ago, though thanks to their ability to catch passes out of the backfield (a skill one would think comes naturally for just about anybody, "but there are some guys who just cannot catch the football"), they are still nice weapons for the Red Raiders' offense.  They have been treading water instead of thriving, however, which is a shame -- Batch is one of my favorite non-Mizzou players.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Can you be both great and nondescript?  After the departure of a marquee man in Michael Crabtree, Tech relied on a large cast of characters in 2009.  No single receiver gained more than 65 yards per game via air, but at the same time, Nebraska's second-leading receiver would have been Tech's seventh-leading receiver (eighth including Baron Batch).  In an offense that values poking and prodding and finding weaknesses wherever they are located, Tech's receiving corps was balanced and, there is no doubt, effective.

...

The main question, of course: can this unit remain effective with somebody else calling the plays?  They are oddly balanced this year in terms of shape and size -- the seven top receivers above are all listed between 6'1 and 6'3, with only two straying from the 180-205 pound range -- but will the weapons thrive under a slightly different system?  I have no reason to assume the answer is no ... it's just that, as with everything else, we really don't know the answer yet.

Detron Lewis: 49 catches, 495 yards (10.1/catch), 2 TD; 2 carries, 8 yards
Lyle Leong: 47 catches, 588 yards (12.5/catch), 13 TD
Alex Torres: 32 catches, 392 yards (12.2/catch), 3 TD
Jacoby Franks: 25 catches, 254 yards (10.2/catch)

Tramain Swindall: 19 catches, 132 yards (6.9/catch)
Austin Zouzalik: 13 catches, 180 yards (13.8/catch), 1 TD
Cornelius Douglas: 11 catches, 120 yards (10.9/catch), 1 TD

4. There are quite a few solid options in the receiving corps, but not a single standout threat. Detron Lewis: solid.  Lyle Leong: solid (especially when he can sniff the end zone).  Tramain Swindall: decent-to-solid.  Austin Zouzalik and Cornelius Douglas: solid in more limited action.

With Alex Torres and Jacoby Franks both now out for the season with injuries, the overall depth of the receiving corps will be sharply tested.  Swindall has done good things in the past, and he is likely more than capable of filling in for one or both, but the big-play ability in this unit is sorely lacking.  Maybe that is because of the routes being run, and maybe it's because of a lack of explosiveness ... but whatever it is, it appears that Potts and Sheffield have quite a few solid options, but no great ones.  (Missouri fans know the feeling, of course.)

By the way, if I'm Detron Lewis, I'm starting to get sick of Lyle Leong taking all the touchdown receptions.  The two have extremely similar stats in terms of receptions and overall production, but Leong has scored 13 touchdowns to Lewis' two.  Not fair.  (Regardless, a note to Dave Steckel: double Leong in the red zone! The pass is probably going to him!)

Offensive Line

And now we reach the true question mark.  We know that the winner of the Potts-Sheffield battle will likely be solid, we know that Baron Batch could be ready for a breakout season, and we're pretty sure we know that the receiving corps will be ready to rock and roll.  But what about the line?  When I was setting up the Football Outsiders projections this offseason, I threw basically every projection factor I could think of into an excel spreadsheet (I didn't even know you could get to Column LK) and checked out the strength of the correlations between a given factor and its impact (positive or negative) on the next year's performance.  Easily the single biggest surprise was how little effect returning OL starters had on the team's performance.  I assumed that would be one of the stronger projection factors, and it simply was not.  There was not enough data to use the "returning career starts" factor that is gaining in popularity, and I hope to add that to the mix next season, but quite simply, returning starting OL's barely even factored into the FO projection equation.

That is very good news for Tech, as their offensive line has to replace three rock solid starters -- guard Brandon Carter, tackle Marlon Winn, and center Shawn Byrnes -- and only returns one player with double-digit career starts.  Nobody has yet started a full season.  There is potential (Lonnie Edwards could be an all-conference guard this year) and size (the projected starting tackles combine for 13'1 in height and 685 pounds), but there are still plenty of unknowns.  Both tackles are sophomores, and they could be pushed by a couple of even less experienced players -- freshman Beau Carpenter (a one-time Mizzou target) was in for spring and looked solid, while another tackle (Aleon Calhoun) was one of Tuberville's most highly-rated signees.

LT: LaAdrian Waddle (6'6, 322, So.)
LG: Lonnie Edwards (6'4, 322, Jr.)
C: Justin Keown (6'4, 300, Jr.)
RG: Deveric Gallington (6'3, 314, So.)
RT: Mickey Okafor (6'6, 305, Jr.)

5. This is a brand spanking new offensive line.  Granted, things aren't as dire in the experience department as they were against Texas A&M, when Brad Madison and company used and abused two true freshmen tackles, but most expected the line to struggle this season.  The numbers suggest they are not as much to blame for Tech's struggles as may have been expected (their line yardage and sack rates are both adequate, if unspectacular).

As a whole, if, as I mentioned above, Texas Tech brings their B-game to this battle, Missouri's defense could have a nice bounceback week.  This is oversimplification, but Mizzou has been burned on basically five plays all season -- five long runs (two by Ronnie Hillman, three by Roy Helu).  Yes, they have suffered occasional breakdowns in the passing game, but defending an explosive running back has been Mizzou's Achilles heel.  Well, a) Tech runs the ball as little as any team in the country, and b) Baron Batch is a strong running back, but he doesn't have Hillman/Helu speed.

The goal for the Missouri defense in this one will be quite simple: tackle, harass the quarterback with the deep stable of ends, and do not give Tech anything easy.  Make them drive the length of the field with their sporadic and sometimes inefficient offense.  It has been the formula they used to beat Tech in 2003, 2006 and 2007, and they are more well-equipped to execute that strategy than they were even in those years.  If Mizzou suffers more breakdowns (Carl Gettis has another quarter like the first last Saturday, for instance) and allows some easy points, however, they will struggle to shake the Red Raiders all game long.

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