In the big picture, Texas Tech is doing all right offensively: Through six games under first-year coordinator Neal Brown, the Red Raiders have scored at least 35 points in four of them. But Brown's version of the spread is not the "Air Raid" that lit up the Lubbock skies for 10 years under departed spread passing guru Mike Leach, and a 1-3 start in Big 12 play has thrown the decline into sharp focus. The 24-14 loss to Texas in September was Tech's worst offensive performance in two decades, and was shortly followed by another middling effort in Saturday's 34-17 flop against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys' first win in Lubbock since 1944.
What's behind the downward trend? Is it the revamped offensive line? The increased role of a stagnant running game in a play for more "balance"? The natural breaking-in period of a new offense? God forbid, the play-calling? Or, as Brown suggested Sunday, does it have something to do with opponents faking injuries to slow down his "NASCAR" offense? From RedRaiders.com:
"The last three weeks, it seems like we've had a lot of injuries on the other teams," Brown said. "It's amazing. They fall down, then they cramp up and all of a sudden, 30 seconds later, they jog off. It seems like that's happened a lot the last three weeks."
Tech likes to go to a hurry-up, no-huddle offense at different stages of a game. The idea is to run as many plays as possible and challenge a defense's conditioning and ability to substitute.
Asked if he encountered opposing defensive players feigning injuries when he coached at Troy, Brown said, "Not really. Maybe they're coached better to do it in the Big 12. I can't say we've never seen it. I don’t think it's real ethical. … My question is, somebody's telling them to do it. I doubt the kids are smart enough to figure that out."
A devious plan indeed. And I'd hate to see the consequences if they weren't trying to slow the Raiders down. At 79.7 snaps per game, Brown's up-tempo spread is getting off more plays than any of Leach's offenses at Tech, which peaked at 77.6 snaps per game in 2007. It's also getting off more snaps than all but two other teams nationally (division rivals Oklahoma and Texas A&M) this year. In the three games in question, Brown has called a staggering 87, 95 and 81 plays, respectively. Even the warp-speed attack at Oregon (78.3 plays per game) isn't moving that fast.
I have no way of assessing the validity of opposing defenders' injuries (or lack thereof), but clearly, pace is not the problem here. Despite running more plays, Brown's up-tempo scheme is still on pace to average fewer yards per game (430) and per play (5.4) than any Tech offense since 2002, and fewer points (33.5) than any of those attacks except the 2006 unit that operated under statistically depressing clock rules.
Not that the struggles are on the offense, which, again, has been generally productive by non-Leachian standards. If Brown is going to point the finger at any defense, it should be the one on his own sideline, which ranks 102nd nationally in total D and has given up at least 34 points on more than 440 yards three weeks in a row. That's a bigger problem than the offense. But the idea that an "ethical" breach is preventing the Raiders from putting the pedal to the metal at the rate they'd like isn't going to fly.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.