December 29, 2010
A season in review. Today: Texas Tech's offense in transition.
By almost any standard, Texas Tech remained one of the most prolific passing attacks in the country in its first season in a decade under the watch of someone other than spread guru Mike Leach, and by some of them, you would have never known Leach was gone. As usual, the Red Raiders were back in the top 10 nationally in yards and attempts per game, and tied with high-flying Oklahoma for the Big 12 lead in touchdown passes. They went over 300 yards through the air in seven games, with at least three touchdown passes in eight. Eight different Raider receivers brought down at least 25 receptions.
In other, more significant ways, though, it was a radical departure. Tech ran 42 percent of the time, up from roughly 25 percent under Leach, and actually ran more than it passed in the Nov. 6 upset over Missouri – unheard of on Leach's watch – with roughly 50-50 splits against Oklahoma State, Colorado, Oklahoma and Weber State. Aside from a dismal effort against Texas, the ground game consistently produced, to the tune of 151 yards per game in the other eleven.
The net result was a slight backwards step on paper – from 471 total yards and 37 points per game in 2009 to 453 yards and 32 points – with largely the same personnel, but the specifics were downright ominous: The early loss to Texas was an across-the-board disaster, and Tech went five straight games in conference without topping 27 points in any of them, a streak bookended by ugly trouncings at the hands of Oklahoma State (34-17) and Oklahoma (45-7). Numbers were down in terms of both yardage and efficiency. Only once, in a 45-38 shootout over Baylor, did the offense give any hint of Leach-era fireworks against a non-cupcake, and that's probably being generous to Baylor's defense.
Not that any of the above should come as any surprise, given the transition and Tuberville's conservative track record in the SEC. Even with a spread-friendly coordinator and a core of veteran players recruited and trained specifically in the spread – the top two quarterbacks (Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield), leading rusher (Baron Batch) and top two receivers (Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis) are all seniors – the offense trended increasingly toward more balance as the season wore on. And with that core moving on after Saturday's Ticket City Bowl date with Northwestern, the death of the "Air Raid" is officially nigh:
"I like what we're doing. I couldn't have come in here and just been a running team with the type of personnel that was already here," Tuberville said Monday after his team's first bowl practice at Bishop Lynch. … "But I still believe in running the football. More than what they did in the past. That's the biggest difference. We want to be a bit more physical and be able to run the ball, which will help throwing it down the field, too."
Those trends were expected coming off the Leach years, especially after Tuberville installed more zone blocking and zone reads for the rushing attack. But Tuberville's pedigree – head coach in the SEC at Auburn, defensive coordinator at Miami – points to a much bigger makeover for his second season in Lubbock.
In other words: Less thrilla, more vanilla. Not that there's anything wrong with that, if more vanilla gets results. But for Raider fans hoping to hold on to the last vestiges of the high-flying, up-tempo philosophy that produced the most successful – and easily the most interesting – decade in the history of Texas Tech football, they should set their DVRs Saturday for posterity.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.