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Texas Tech’s 2015 Formula for Success: Defense + Run Game

College football is finally back. The excitement and passion are right around the corner. Every team’s hopes of having a competitive and rewarding season are still very high. For Texas Tech, September 5th can’t get here soon enough.

The 2014 season was a forgettable one for the Red Raiders. They finished with an abysmal 4-8 record. They ended up 4 games below .500 for the first time since 1983 and the fewest overall victories since 1990. Most concerning was their conference win total, with just two wins; their fewest Big 12 wins since the inception of conference in 1996. There’s no way around it, the Red Raiders had one of their worst seasons in school history.

Coaches and players will have you believe that last year was an aberration, a blip on the radar. They felt like last year was a young team going through some growing pains. In a quote from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, wide receiver Devin Lauderdale echoed those exact sentiments. “I’m not saying it was an excuse to lose,” Lauderdale said, “but we had a lot of young people last year. It was sophomores and juniors last year.” Many people from Tech have said they want to use the pain and embarrassment from last year as motivation to return to winning form in 2015.

The Red Raiders have recruited talented players for this upcoming season. They’ve also brought in some different pieces to the coaching staff in order to have that 180 degree turn around head coach Kliff Kingsbury so desperately wants. Most importantly being defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who has developed an impressive resume the past couple of seasons at the University of Houston. He hopes to bring the same success to Lubbock that he brought to the Cougars, where he completely altered their historically bad defense. His schemes and philosophy can have a huge impact this upcoming season, with a chance to vastly improve one of the conferences’ worst defenses. Tech is hoping to create more turnovers which in turn will keep the defense fresh and off the field.

Those turnovers will be one of the keys to the season and it will put Tech’s high powered offense in favorable positions to put points on the board. However in my opinion, the key factor to a successful 2015 season is the running game. The Red Raiders have a plethora of talented running backs. They run four deep with each back bringing something different to the table. Lead back DeAndre Washington should pick up right where he left off when he rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. Spelling him will be the very capable and talented Justin Stockton, Quinton White, and Demarcus Felton. Kingsbury has intimated that the Red Raiders would like to look to run more often and might not throw as much as typical air-raid offenses in the past have.  “If we can run it, we’re going run it,” Kingsbury said. “If we’re not running well, we’ll try to throw it. But we’re going to run it first.”  I love this approach and I think Tech should definitely take a page out of the Dallas Cowboys play book. Granted they don’t have the same offensive line, but they do return 4 starters, including three juniors.

If Tech can find the same, if not better, rushing success on the field in 2015 they can do wonders for the whole team. Not only will it protect the revamped defense, but they will be able to win the time of possession battle and keep the potent offenses of the Big 12 off the field. The Red Raiders also need to cut down on the amount of turnovers and penalties they committed in 2014. They finished close to the bottom in both categories last year. Tech’s 28 giveaways landed them in a tie for 117th in the nation and their penalty yards per game (89.2) were dead last in the FBS. If the Red Raiders can take less risks, have better ball security, and become more disciplined on the field the team can become immensely better in all categories across the board.

The last question mark that Tech needs to figure out is the most important position on the field, quarterback. They currently have not named a starter and the competition has been tight between last year’s starters Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes. I think that Mahomes gives this team the best chance to compete every Saturday. He has the mobility to get out of sticky situations and the play making ability to get the ball down field. Webb is the more experienced player and has done good things in the past. However, Mahomes is the more talented quarterback with a much higher ceiling. He showed glimpses of being a good and reliable starter for this Red Raider team last year. With more development I think he can lead the Tech offense the furthest, but if Webb won the job the team would still be in good hands. Tech has two starters on their roster that many teammates say can play just about anywhere.

The Texas Tech football team has a lot of good things going for them and a lot of things to clean up for the upcoming season. They have all the tools to improve and have a resurgent year from the previous season. With three out of the first five games coming against stout opponents and College Football Playoff candidates, the Red Raiders definitely have their work cut out for them. If Tech can navigate through that tough stretch against Arkansas, TCU, and Baylor in consecutive weeks this year could be a special season. Early season success could create momentum and vault the Red Raiders into conference contention, similar to what TCU did in 2014. Tech will be flying under the radar this year and has a chance to really sneak up on people. I think with another year under Kingsbury’s belt and the young team in general, Tech has a shot to double its win total. September 5th is where the long journey will begin. Only time will tell if this team can take that bitter taste out of their mouths from 2014 and put together a successful 2015 campaign. Here’s to college football and it’s unpredictability being back.

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