Texas Tech Preview

Joe Healey, Staff Writer
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Reeling from their home loss to San Diego State, the Sun Devils will try to bounce back in the not most ideal of scenarios, on the road at Texas Tech. True, in 2016 no FBS team allowed as many points or yards per game as the Red Raiders, but thus far they seemed to be an improved program in comparison and one that is eager to avenge last year’s 68-55 defeat in Tempe. Joe Healey’s breaks down ASU’s next opponent and the key factors in this contest.

Texas Tech Offense

Now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs after being selected 10th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, sensational gunslinger Patrick Mahomes is now gone from the Red Raider lineup, with Nic Shimonek now taking snaps for Texas Tech.

A former member of the Iowa football program and initially a walk-on at Texas Tech, the senior now has control of the starting position in place of Texas Tech’s departed superstar. In two years as Mahomes’ understudy, Shimonek threw for 482 yards with six touchdowns and one interception and completed 26-of-30 passes for 384 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the season opener against Eastern Washington.

Significantly different from Mahomes is Shimonek’s limited mobility, as evidenced by his -19 net rushing yards against Eastern Washington.

Though the Red Raiders do not run a great deal, they have a stable of talented running backs including senior Justin Stockton and juniors Desmond Nisby and Demarcus Felton.

Stockton is a tenured athlete and created damage against ASU last year, while Nisby (6-1, 235) is a physical load in his first season in the program after transferring from the JUCO level. In 2016, Stockton totaled 154 rushing yards on 53 carries with one touchdown and caught 21 passes for 220 yards and two scores.

In the opener, Nisby notched 57 yards on just six carries, Stockton registered 47 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns and Felton posted six carries for 30 yards. Against ASU last year, Stockton had his most productive game with two of his three touchdowns on the year as he had 95 receiving yards on three catches including a 75-yard touchdown and added 20 rushing yards with one touchdown. In total, 10 different Raiders carried the ball at least once against Eastern Washington.

Though 1,000-yard receiver Jonathan Giles has transferred to LSU, as usual, Texas Tech features a host of talented, dynamic wide receivers in its Air Raid offense.

The starting receivers listed for Saturday are Keke Coutee, Cameron Batson, Dylan Cantrell and Derrick Willies, all of whom were major contributors last season.

With Giles gone, Coutee is the returning team leader in receiving yards (890) from 2016 and ranks third among returners in receptions (55) and second in touchdown catches (seven). His 16.2-yards per reception average was the highest on the team last year among the nine players with more than 15 receptions on the year.

Last season, Batson ranked second on the team behind Giles in receptions (60) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (eight), while placing fourth on the squad in receiving yards (644). Cantrell caught 58 passes for 675 yards and eight touchdowns last year and Willies caught 18 passes for 288 yards and two scores.

In Texas Tech’s season opener, a grand total of 13 players caught at least one pass, with Willies leading the way with 126 yards on four receptions with a touchdown, Coutee had 99 yards on five catches with a pair of scores and Batson had a team-high six catches for 53 yards.

Against Arizona State last September, Batson had nine catches for 148 yards with a touchdown, Cantrell had three catches for 25 yards with a score and Willies had a 59-yard touchdown reception. Coutee posted one eight-yard catch.

The Texas Tech offensive line features three returners in left tackle Travis Bruffy, center Paul Stawarz and right tackle Terence Steele that are joined by JUCO transfer Jacob Hines at left guard and four-star true freshman Jack Anderson at right guard.

Texas Tech Offense Summary

Texas Tech will throw the ball. Texas Tech will gain yards. Texas Tech will score points. Death, taxes and all of the aforementioned.

As last year’s game proved, winning the turnover edge and finding some occasions to limit the Red Raiders to three and not six can be the difference between the winner and loser of the game. However, Shimonek is nowhere near the caliber of athlete as is Mahomes, which alleviates at least some of the danger from the quarterback position compared to last season.

The revamped Sun Devil secondary and first-year starting cornerbacks Joey Bryant and Kobe Williams will be tested – and tested, and tested and tested – as Texas Tech is likely to spread the ball to perhaps a double-digit amount of pass-catching targets.

Texas Tech Defense

Though it has been barely over a calendar year since these two teams met, much of the defensive personnel atop the depth chart is different for Texas Tech as only two defenders that started against ASU last September are listed as first-stringers this week. Added to that, likely out of a major sense of urgency to create improvement, Texas Tech has added a horde of new, readymade defenders by way of JUCO and FBS transfers.

Up front, end Zach Barnes is joined by nose Mychealon Thomas and tackle Broderick Washington, Jr. along with rush defender Lonzell Gilmore. In the opener, Thomas and Gilmore each had three tackles.

Last year, Barnes posted 11 tackles, Washington had 10, Thomas registered eight and Gilmore four. The four players combined for three total sacks.

At linebacker, returning leading tackler Jordyn Brooks mans the Mike position with JUCO transfer Dakota Allen at Will. Against Eastern Washington, Brooks had a team-high seven tackles while Allen had six.

Last season, Brooks posted 86 tackles including 5.0 for loss as a freshman. Brooks also had a game-high 10 tackles including 2.0 for loss against ASU last year.

In the secondary, cornerbacks Octavious Morgan and Desmon Smith are joined by safeties Vaughnte Dorsey and Jah’Shawn Johnson and nickel defensive back Douglas Coleman III. Both Morgan and Dorsey are first-year JUCO transfers.

Johnson posted seven tackles and a forced fumble against Eastern Washington, Morgan had four tackles, Dorsey had three, Smith had two had Coleman had one tackle and a fumble recovery.

In 2016, Johnson was the team’s second-leading tackler with 77 and had a team-best two interceptions. Coleman had 26 tackles including one sack and Smith had 16 total tackles.

Texas Tech Defense Summary

As explosive as Texas Tech’s offense is, its defense has grown to allow even greater outbursts by opposing offenses.

In 2016, no FBS team – that’s right, not even ASU – allowed as many points or yards per game as Texas Tech’s allowance of 43.5 points and 554.3 yards per game. Three of Texas Tech’s seven losses last year occurred despite the Red Raiders scoring at least 44 points in each of the three games – the 68-55 loss at ASU, a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma and a 45-44 loss at Oklahoma State. In total, Texas Tech allowed at least 44 points in seven games last year.

Tech also did very little on defense in terms of playmaking as the Red Raiders recorded just 14 sacks – with half of them gone from the roster – and just five interceptions, only three of which return to the 2017 roster. In theory, this bodes well for ASU, though the same was said for New Mexico State which generated about half its overall sack total from last year in one game against the Sun Devils to open the 2017 season.

The 2017 defensive personnel for the Red Raiders provides many different looks and there is some optimism that improvement is inevitable.

Texas Tech Special Teams

Tech’s special teams units feature junior kicker Clayton Hatfield and junior punter Dominic Panazzolo. Hatfield connected on 13-of-14 attempts last year including his final 11 in a row, while Panazzolo is in his first year after transferring from the JUCO level and though his name implies Italian lineage, he is a native Australian.

Keke Coutee and Cameron Batson are listed as the top kickoff returners with both also listed – but in the opposite order – as Tech’s punt returners. Both players spent limited time on kick returns last year (six returns each), while Batson averaged 9.2 yards on 17 punt returns in 2016.

Overall Summary

Like Todd Graham at ASU, head coach Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech entered 2017 with expectations to immediately improve after a losing record in 2016.

However, different from Graham and the Sun Devils, after a blowout win over an FCS program in week one and a bye in week two, Texas Tech faces this home game with nowhere near the concerns, pressure and even fear as ASU and its head coach have after a sluggish 1-1 start to begin the year.

The back-to-back NCAA champion in pass defense poorness, ASU’s secondary will be tremendously tested – a proposition that creates a great deal of anxiety for Sun Devil supporters. Thus far in 2017, ASU has been unable to establish any measure of an identity and no individual players or position groups as a whole have stood out as tremendous strengths – at least not in what has been proven on the field through the first two games.

As was shown by ASU and several other schools last year, Texas Tech can be scored upon with regularity and relative ease. Can the recently anemic Sun Devil offense find a way to rack up six or seven touchdowns to compete with the potency of the Red Raider attack?

Ideally, ASU comes out Saturday and has a generally similar performance to its all-systems-go win over Tech in Tempe last year. In the worst case scenario – which still maintains a healthy likelihood – ASU is unable to keep pace in a Lubbock track race and the 2017 season further slips out of grip.

Keys to a Sun Devil Victory

Be Tough, Have Pride: ASU’s pride has been slashed to bits as it has lost seven of the past eight games dating back to last season. Disarray is seen throughout much of the team and if the losing ways continue, matters will only regress further. This game is a perfect “line in the sand” opportunity for ASU to take a stand against the critics and move toward a more stable level of performance.

Raid the Air Raid: If ASU is unable to make life difficult for Nic Shimonek, the system is in place for Texas Tech’s offense to rattle off a downpour of touchdowns. However, if ASU can attack him, cause mistakes and turnovers and generally compromise his confidence, the Sun Devils can gain advantages.

Six Not Three, Play Mistake Free: Last season, ASU won the turnover battle 2-0 and won by two scores. Coincidence? Unlikely. In a game like this where, if like last year both offenses are operating at top speed, any possessions that do not result in points could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the game. Likewise, if either team regularly – or at all, whatsoever – has to settle for field goals and not touchdowns in the red zone, the other squad likely will chalk up a win.

Familiar Faces

· Thirteen players on the Arizona State roster attended high school in the state of Texas.

· ASU’s Ty Thomas is from Lubbock, and his uncle Zach Thomas played for Texas Tech.

· Texas Tech K John Delagarza and K Michael Ewton both attended Allen (Texas) High School, as did ASU’s Chad Adams and Christian Sam. Todd Graham was the head coach at Allen High from 1995-2000.

· Texas Tech DB John Davis, Jr. attended Euless (Texas) Trinity High School, as did ASU’s Deion Guignard.

· Texas Tech QB McLane Carter attended Tyler JC in Texas, as did ASU’s Deion Guignard.

· Texas Tech QB Jett Duffey attended Mansfield (Texas) Lake Ridge High School, as did ASU’s Loren Mondy.


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