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September 15, 2011

Roundtable: Will trend continue?

RRS publisher Chris Level, managing editor Aaron Dickens, associate editor Michael Graham and staff writer Will McKay weigh in on three Texas Tech football questions in this installment of The Roundtable.

1.) WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST THING YOU TOOK AWAY FROM THE BIG 12 LAST WEEKEND?

Dickens: "There is a clear and sizeable gap between Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M and the rest of the league. Teams like Missouri and Texas, who were picked fourth and fifth in the Big 12's preseason poll, have clear issues that will prevent them from challenging for a conference title.

"Texas, surprise, still has a mess at quarterback. The Longhorns' offensive coordinator and scheme may have changed, but Garrett Gilbert is still the same player that he was in 2010. Mack Brown's squad still boasts an upper tier defense, but we all saw last year that UT's defense couldn't carry it to a bowl game.

"Missouri's defense -- thought to be a strength at one point -- is a mess. James Franklin could turn out to be a great quarterback, but he's not there yet and it's probably not helping that he's being overused in the running game.

"Plus, it doesn't help that Texas and Missouri each only have one home game against the top three."


Graham: "I took a trip to Phoenix this past weekend and caught Missouri at Arizona State in person at Sun Devil Stadium.

"I walked away completely disappointed with the Tigers offensively and coaching wise. They're not the team I picked to finish in the upper tier of the conference. If Missouri plays like it did against Arizona State against Texas Tech, the Red Raiders are going to break that Columbia, Mo., curse.

"Where to start?

"Mizzou hasn't been very lucky with injuries, but nevertheless it was the kind of game that could stick with a coaching staff for a long time. Head coach Gary Pinkel iced his kicker on the game-winning field goal attempt -- twice!

"Pinkel's thought process was Arizona State's middle linebacker was timing the snap and Pinkel thought he could get that backer to jump offside and gain five more yards on the kick on an already somewhat makeable field goal attempt.

"So, Pinkel had his kicker think about the kick for about two and a half extra minutes on a rowdy Friday night in Tempe.

"Guess what? Wide left. Arizona State goes on to win in overtime.

"The more consistent problem was Mizzou's offensive coordinator David Yost who called zone read after zone read after zone read. He made it painfully obvious too. Anytime a running play was starting up, the running back would be called to motion from the slot receiver position in a five wide set.

"Surprise! It's going to be a run play.

"I like quarterback James Franklin but he has a lot to learn. He's like a younger Robert Griffin. He prefers to run and sometimes he makes a big play. But because of that he usually hinders Mizzou's offense to a one or two yard gain because Franklin will scramble at the first sign of the pocket collapsing.

"At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Mizzou's dual-threat quarterback was capable of gaining a yard by falling forward on a run or a scramble.

"But on first and goal from the one-yard line midway through the second half and trailing 10-3, Yost called a play in the five wide set. So you're thinking Yost wants to spread the field so Franklin can run up the middle for the score.

"Wrong.

"Instead Mizzou tried to pass the ball and it fell incomplete. So they come back with a zone read trotting Jared Culver over and then Franklin ran the ball for negative two yards. A pass on third down fell incomplete but Arizona State bailed Mizzou out with a pass interference penalty.

"So, I submit to you a team where the hot seat switch might be set to flip on after this game and a disappointing win against Miami of Ohio."


Level: "Missouri and Texas are shaky. At this point right now, I don't think Missouri and Texas are quite as good as we thought they were, especially Missouri. Defensively, I'm just not seeing it. I think we thought they would be a lot better. And Texas' quarterback situation is just a flat-out mess. Just a mess. Everyone's got their guy and they're going to go with a combination of guys, it's just one of those deals -- if you've got three quarterbacks, it means you don't have one. Maybe David Ash ends up being the guy, maybe Case McCoy ends up being the guy, but I'm telling you that neither one of them is going to get enough time without the other one stepping in and getting in the way.

"I think the flip side is that Oklahoma State is a lot better than we thought they would be."


McKay: "The Big 12 may end up being a worse league than many expected.

"Oklahoma State's offense took care of business against Arizona, but the Cowboys' defensive line is very young and lacks depth, and Arizona looks like its headed for a nosedive this year after losing a lot of talent on both sides of the trenches. When Oklahoma State plays a team with a good offense -- which is almost every week in the Big 12 -- the Cowboys may have their hands full.

"Missouri lost to what looks to be a fairly good team in Arizona State, but the Tigers' defense looked very suspect despite being considered a strength heading into the season. Offensive coordinator Harry Dunne... uh, I mean David Yost, makes some head scratching play calls.

"Texas is still an enigma on offense as Bryan Harsin spins a wheel each series to determine who will play quarterback, Baylor's and Iowa State's defenses stink, Oklahoma and Texas A&M have yet to be tested, Kansas and Kansas State look bad and Tech is still somewhat unpredictable with all the youth on the team. We'll see where things go, but don't be surprised if the Sooners end up being the class of the Big 12 by a good margin this fall."

2.) IN WHAT AREA DO YOU EXPECT THE RED RAIDERS TO IMPROVE THE MOST FROM THE TEXAS STATE GAME TO THIS WEEKEND?

Dickens: "Run defense is the obvious answer. If New Mexico tallies 250-plus rushing yards against Tech and averages over five yards per attempt -- the Lobos have rushed for 200 or more yards just twice in Mike Locksley's tenure as head coach, both were wins -- the Red Raiders' season outlook will dim considerably in my eyes.

"Beyond that, I'm looking for Tech to assert itself earlier against UNM than it did against Texas State. The Red Raiders are the better team in this matchup and everybody knows it, but that doesn't mean they can sleepwalk through a half against an inferior opponent and always get away with it.

"My guess is that the bye has sharpened Tech's excitement about playing this weekend and we'll see the results of that on Saturday."


Graham: "Texas Tech should hit its stride earlier.

"This happened last season at New Mexico when Taylor Potts connected with receiver Austin Zouzalik on the first play from scrimmage for a long touchdown.

"Against New Mexico's secondary, it wouldn't surprise me to see a few plays like that again this season.

"There's a necessity to getting the offense going earlier. Everyone knows a start like the Red Raiders had against Texas State would put Tech in a big hole early against the better Big 12 opponents.

"Against Texas State, things really started to open up once quarterback Seth Doege learned he could count on receiver Darrin Moore in a live game situation. Once that happened, Tech took the top off of Texas State's defense and Tech's running backs exploited the Bobcats adjustments to the pass.

"Look for Doege to try to connect with Moore early against New Mexico."


Level: "Tackling. I think they'll be better at tackling in general. They didn't do a whole lot of that in August. I also don't think you'll see them put the ball on the ground as much. The Red Raiders only lost one fumble, but the ball was on the ground four times. "


McKay: "I think you will see an improvement in Tech's rushing defense this week.

"The Red Raiders had to play a Texas State team with an option attack offense that they had no film on, and it didn't help that Chad Glasgow's young defense had been practicing against a spread offense exclusively for seven months.

"The Lobos ran for 150 against Colorado State, which is respectable, but were limited to 95 yards once they rolled down to Fayetteville. After two games, 88 of those total rushing yards came from quarterback Tarean Austin, and starting running back James Wright has been limited to 89 rushing yards.

"The Red Raider pass defense is still a mystery after going mostly untested in week one, but look for Tech to limit New Mexico to less than 150 yards on the ground."

3.) NEW MEXICO HAS PLAYED TECH TOUGHER THAN THE FINAL SCORE HAS INDICATED IN RECENT SEASONS. DO YOU EXPECT THAT TREND TO CONTINUE THIS WEEKEND?

Dickens: "I've gone back and forth with this question over the last several days. On the one hand, the Lobos are improved from a year ago and the Red Raiders had a puzzling first half against Texas State. On the other hand, Tommy Tuberville -- not one for undeserved praise -- praised his team yesterday for how they've practice this week and how hungry they are to play.

"I think the Red Raiders will break the trend on Saturday in front of an uninspired UNM crowd."

Graham: "I do expect New Mexico to continue the trend of giving Tech a challenge through the first quarter and a half.

"Every time I see a game on TV and it shows New Mexico's game score update I wonder why they can't win but one game a season under head coach Mike Locksley. Supposedly, New Mexico is better this season as Locksley continues to recruit nationally.

"Let's be honest. New Mexico hates Tech. The Red Raiders take guys like Ronnie Daniels away from their home state. All the Red Raiders would have had to do was offer to get Brian Urlacher, a childhood Tech fan.

"Tech also is one of very few BCS conference programs to visit Albuquerque thus making the Red Raiders one of the more talented teams for New Mexico to potentially upset.

"Needless to say, their crowds get into Tech games and I think that helps the New Mexico players out.

"I do, however, expect Tech to lead by 10 to 14 points at the end of the half and to start running away with the game in the third rather than the fourth quarter."

Level: "I think it will be interesting for a quarter or two. It could go into halftime, just like the opener did for Tech. This game means a lot more to New Mexico than it does to Tech, having lost two in a row, starting off the season 0-3 is obviously not ideal. I think they'll hang around for a little bit, but I think at some point Tech will pull away and talent will take over."

McKay: "I think Tech is in prime position to roll the Lobos, but the Red Raiders' youth may cause them to sputter early on.

"New Mexico is a better team than they've been in the past, but they're still a bad team. On offense, they've scored one touchdown after two games, and gave up a ton of sacks to Colorado State. The Rams also had five forced fumbles against New Mexico.

"On defense, UNM gave up over 380 yards through the air and 259 on the ground to Arkansas last week.

"Tech's offense should run roughshod over the Lobo defense and the defense should have no problem containing the New Mexico offense, but the Red Raiders' first road test could prove tougher than it should. In other words, the only thing that can get in Tech's way is Tech."



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