July 27, 2010
Part of the Doc's Big 12 Week.
Even with the season fast approaching, fans of the familiar, wide-open "Air Raid" scheme that defined Texas Tech for the last decade under ousted coach Mike Leach still have no good idea what to expect from the Raider offense this fall. In almost every way, new coach Tommy Tuberville is the Anti-Leach, and his signals about the direction of the attack have been decidedly mixed: One day, he vows to "air it out" and hires the nation's youngest coordinator, 29-year-old Neal Brown, to recreate his prolific debut season as a spread-based play caller at Troy. The next, Tubs is preaching balance, praising his running backs and promising to run more often – you know, for the quarterbacks' sake.
A little less than seven months into the job, Tuberville wasn't much more illuminating today in his first appearance in front of the assembled Big 12 media, where he continued to extoll the virtues of "balance" even while promising to "throw it as many as we can":
You know, one thing I want to do, I want to help the quarterbacks out. I think we can win games throwing the ball almost every down this year at Tech with the receivers and quarterbacks that we have. You know, when you do that, you set your quarterbacks up for a tough deal. When they come up there and that other team knows that you're throwing the ball every down, they're going to get hit every snap. That's what you don't look at. There's not a stat in the game where a quarterback throws it 70 times and completes 35 and four touchdown passes.
We look at the stat of how many times did he have to pick himself up off the ground after he completed a pass? Because it is a long year, and last year [Steven] Sheffield got hurt, [Taylor] Potts had concussions. We want to protect the quarterback. So we want to slow down the defensive line. We want to take away and protect the blitz. We don't want him to be a target in the backfield.
Me being a defensive coach, I love lining up on guys saying they're not going to run. So somebody's getting ready to get hit. We want him hit every time he throws it, you know, legally. We want to see how many he can take. We want to get away from that. We want to ... protect the quarterback and run the ball.
Tuberville has made essentially the same argument – we may be really good as a passing team, but we want to keep it in check to protect the quarterback – before, and this time last year, he might have been laughed out of the room. Mike Leach never lost a quarterback to injury over his first nine years at Tech, not even for a game, and his most recent star prior to '09, Graham Harrell, had been one of the most well-protected men in America his senior year.
But Tech struggled throughout last season with concussions (Potts) and bum shoulders (Sheffield) that sidelined one member of the duo or the other in seven different games; the most memorable play of the Raiders' season was the ferocious hit by Sergio Kindle on Potts that led to a fumble and a crucial Texas touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 34-24 loss in Austin. They obviously took a beating.
Helpfully, Tuberville invoked a specific ratio today to keep pass rushers on their heels: "60-40 pass to runs, maybe 65-35, depending on how the defenses play." That's a perfect mirror image of the philosophy his offense consistently employed at Auburn:
To date, Tuberville's idea of "airing it out" is something like 25 passes per game. Under Leach, Texas Tech put up about twice as many, on 75 to 80 percent of its snaps, accounting for a little more than 80 percent of the yards. Tuberville's teams always specialized in bleeding the clock dry, especially in big games; Leach, always gung ho for the end zone, tried to maximized plays and possessions. Their respective philosophies over the course of their careers couldn't be much further apart if Tuberville was looking to install the triple option.
That isn't necessarily true anymore. One bit of optimism for spread fans is that Tuberville seems to have genuinely embraced the notion of making Auburn a more pass-happy offense amid diminishing returns of coordinator Al Borges' West Coast grab-bag at the end of the 2007 season. The bad news, of course, is that he called on the services of Brown's predecessor at Troy, spread guru Tony Franklin, who promptly got himself fired a few weeks into the '08 season as his "system" ground the offense to a complete halt. Tuberville was gone by the end of the year.
After an initial encounter like that, a little post-spread stress disorder would be understandable. Based on his 60-40 estimate, though, Tubs seems to be operating under much the same assumptions that he held about what the offense would look like going into that fateful season on the Plains. But we might not know until the passes start flying in real time if the flashbacks start telling him to rein it in a little.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.