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September 3, 2012
Northwestern State Post-Mortem
A dominant performance is not a bad way to start the season. It's been a long time since I've felt so comfortable about something good happening, or not something bad, when Texas Tech's defense is on the field. You can't look too much into the victory for season indications, but this team handled an inferior opponent appropriately. Texas State will be a much stiffer challenge.
If anything, the offense was methodical and consistent. I didn't really have any complaints on the playcalling and the depth of the Red Raiders' wide receiver corps provides a plethora of hungry alternatives. My one nitpick might be seeing more inside zone versus a string of stretch plays, but without seeing a TV replay, it's tough to say if I'm 100 percent accurate in that assessment.
I thought the biggest thing that kept this from being a 42-3 game at halftime was the play of Seth Doege. This was far from the best performance of his career. Doege was over, under, behind and in front on a lot of throws relying on the wide receivers to bail him out on some completions. A late out throw to Bradley Marquez will result in six points the other way against Quandre Diggs, Nigel Malone or Brodrick Brown after the third attempt. On the other hand, Michael Brewer looked as smooth as butter. I'm not campaigning for a quarterback controversy or anything like that, but Brewer played well.
I didn't think the running backs graded out very high in this game. There were numerous cases where the offensive line had three to five yard push set up for an eight to 12 yard gain and Tech got exactly three to five yards on the play. The Red Raiders' appeared to be getting a little happy with the circle button on the controller implementing random, inefficient spin moves that allowed pursuit to catch up to the play. I would have preferred to see Eric Stephens and Kenny Williams press creases earlier and be more aggressive about getting up the field. On a positive, it was great to see Stephens back on the field and he'll get better as he gets more reps. Williams also showed flashes of why he was highly recruited when he was able to get a head of steam.
In helping a blog colleague on a Tech season preview, I had Marquez ranked as Tech's highest NFL prospect at receiver on the roster. I still firmly believe that after this game, and if Darrin Moore and Javon Bell don't get back on the field, the Marquez train will roll right along without them. Marquez made Doege look much better than he played and had a couple of possible homerun plays that didn't find him. Marquez has football speed and was my offensive MVP.
Jace Amaro should have snagged the ball that Doege threw behind him, but it's the other things he brings to the table that impact the game just as much as his frame. I like that Neal Brown is moving him all over the field. The Red Raiders' hitch screens showed the potential to transform from the keep-them-honest nature to serious threat which defenses will have trouble emulating with their scout team personnel.
It was nice to see Marcus Kennard being effective as a red zone threat. Overall, the unit caught about everything and had no trouble getting separation.
In general, I thought they performed better than how Tech's quarterback and running backs made them look. Chris Thomsen appears to have a better handle on teaching zone blocking schemes. The Red Raiders had some guys rolling folks into dung beetle balls near the goal line and short yardage situations, which was nice to see against an overmatched opponent. I attribute much of this to the leaner, more mobile personnel that are being used on the inside with Le'Raven Clark, Alfredo Morales and Beau Carpenter. Deveric Gallington was much better with his snaps, but also seemed like the most inconsistent in his blocking duties. Better play here would have resulted in large chunks of real estate. The pass blocking was a non-issue other than a couple of plays.
Quite the debut for Art Kaufman and company. It wasn't just the final stat line that impressed, but the manner in which they got there. Tech's defense was aggressive, multiple, disciplined and displayed near flawless tackling. I didn't pick up on one busted assignment throughout the game, which is about the only way possible to limit a team to 84 yards of total offense. Phenomenal across the board and the level of confidence and enthusiasm among the players was visible from the stands. The Red Raiders' three-man front nickel package on third and long was lethally effective.
Kerry Hyder was dominant and Delvon Simmons helped facilitate by covering space in the middle. While Hyder racked up the stats, I noted Simmons on several force plays. Dennell Wesley and Leon Mackey didn't show much of a dropoff.
The bigger what-a-difference-a-year-makes factor was at defensive end. Tech played educated and disciplined, which is the primary factor in why an athlete playing quarterback didn't consistently scramble for 14 yards on 3rd and 12 situations. While they didn't rack up sack numbers, they maintained rushing lanes and were a factor in collapsing pocket versus leaving gaping running lanes in the process. This was critical as it optimized the team's inside pressure with Hyder and Simmons each scoring a sack. The Red Raiders' ability to defend option plays and the zone read looked like night and day from what they fielded last year.
I wasn't really surprised by Hyder's play and you would expect that type of effort against an FCS opponent from your three-technique. However, the guy dressed up in the Sam Eguavoen costume was my defensive MVP. It's much easier to operate as a linebacker when you're getting dominant defensive line play in front of you, but Eguavoen's decisive, correct reads and speed to gaps closed any damage-inflicting daylight in a hurry. Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt were largely effective as well, but didn't have to do much heavy lifting in this contest. They'll be tested this week against Texas State's option attack.
Like the other positions, this unit played crazy good across the board. Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh were flawless in coverage and displayed great eye discipline. Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson were making much quicker reads and taking it to the offense versus being catch tacklers. Northwestern State didn't have the personnel to test this group and they were the kind of team that makes you appreciate having a physical guy like Davis in the lineup. With the way Davis and Johnson were getting to the line, I suspect a healthy dose of playaction from the Bobcats this week, which will provide a better metric for conference play.