It’s double the answers this week as both Jay from our sister site Viva the Matadors and Noted Friend of the Blog Hunter “Haunter Booke” Cooke join me to break down Saturday’s match up in Morgantown.
Matt: Tech is off to a quick start, 4-1 and in the top 25. What's been the biggest difference this year from last year's disappointing squad?
Jay: We have a semblance of a defense for the first time in 5 years, which is a welcome surprise. This group is pulling in turnovers, limiting the big plays, and can play a little run defense. It couldn't come at a better time either, because Tech fans were growing weary of the defense finding ways to set new standards for rock bottom. The other key difference this year is emphasis on the run game, and a commitment to be more balanced on offense. You'll see a rotation of three running backs, and occasionally a fullback plus a tight end. Overall, Tech fans have been happy with the results and it's great to see Kingsbury evolve as a head coach.
Hunter: I think the biggest difference is that everything seems to be working together, at the same time. Texas Tech has been a streaky team under Kliff Kingsbury, the offense works brilliantly for three drives then stalls for five, the defense starts the game off with a three and out but gives up 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. This is the first time I’ve seen Texas Tech be consistent at something since 2013.
Like, when you look at the names from last year’s squad and this year’s one, a lot of them are similar, minus Dakota Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and maybe Mych Thomas. It’s the same players who are just in better shape and play together better.
Matt: Outside of Shimonek and Coutee, who are some players that WVU fans should be looking out for when Tech has the ball?
Jay: Justin Stockton isn't necessarily our best player, but if he's rolling then the offense tends to perform significantly better.The other guy to watch is Dylan Cantrell, he's a big target on the outside with super-glue hands. He's been relatively quiet since the Arizona State game, but is an extremely reliable 3rd down target. We'll need both of these guys to step up if we want to have a chance in this game.
Hunter: Dylan Cantrell is going to catch a highlight reel catch because that is what he does. He’s a veteran, dependable outside wideout. The other one, my personal favorite, is Lubbock’s large adult son Desmond Nisby. There are pepperoni rolls in your end zone, and he is coming for them on 3rd and short.
Matt: West Virginia is going to move the ball and is going to score, but the biggest way they've shot themselves in the foot is turnovers. How good is Tech's defense at making big plays and who should we be watching out for?
Jay: Thus far, our specialty has been turning teams over, so it will be an interesting storyline to follow Saturday. Eli Howard appears to be getting better every week, and is extremely disruptive. This past week he deflected four passes at the line of scrimmage, which is insane. The other key players to track are Dakota Allen, and Jordyn Brooks. They're both outstanding linebackers and have been nothing short of spectacular this year. If the defensive line can keep your guys off them, they should match Justin Crawford all day (key word: if).
Hunter: Making turnovers happen is the story of this Texas Tech defense as opposed to the god awful ones. The Red Raiders still give up a ton of yards, but they’re doing a much better job forcing quarterbacks into unwise or dangerous throws, as opposed to sitting back and hoping the quarterbacks make a mistake. I’d say it’s one of the better defenses in the conference at creating turnovers, and I would highlight Dakota Allen as potentially the best pass coverage linebacker in the conference so far.
Matt: Has your quick start gotten Kliff off the hot seat entirely or could a downslide get him back on the 10 Hottest Offensive Bachelors list?
Jay: The wins against ASU, and Houston were great. Also, the loss to Oklahoma State was respectable, and we took care of business against Kansas. But, he still needs to make a bowl, and preferably win seven games if we wants to have the full faith of the fanbase back. Should this team win only five games, I have no doubt in my mind that he'll be fired.
Hunter: Kliff’s off the hot seat if he continues this trend and Tech ends up with seven to eight wins. I think anything less than that would mean that the firing talks come back. They’ve subsided with the 4-1 start, but rest assured, if Texas Tech loses five out of their last seven games, heads could easily roll.
He’s definitely gone if Texas Tech doesn’t make a bowl game. I don’t think that will happen, but I’ve been wrong about this mercurial, bombastic, strange football team before.
Matt: A shiny new ranking and a big road test for you guys in Morgantown. How does this one shake out?
Jay: The analytics call for a great game, and it'll come down to Tony Gibson's defense. Should he continue to exert dominance over our offense, then we won't have a chance in this game. But, if we move the ball, and put it in the end zone, I'm starting to come around to the idea that our defense will do their part. I'm calling for a Texas Tech win, 35-31.
Hunter: Man, I’m going to have to type a novel here.
I don’t think that Texas Tech’s secondary has been tested by a guy quite like David Sills. He and James Washington (who Tech already played) are easily the best deep threats in the conference in terms of being wide open over the top. Sills is a unique challenge because he’s just so damn tall, and he runs good routes. Combine that with the rest of your fast wide receivers, and it’s a struggle. I like the run game from WVU as well, I think Justin Crawford might be the most underrated player in the Big 12.
Here’s the thing, my X-Factor for the WVU offense is Will Grier, because at times he’s missed a couple wide open deep routes. From what I’ve seen of WVU, they absolutely feast on those, and it opens up a lot of stuff in the run game and underneath. It all depends on whether Will Grier hits those undefendable deep passes consistently or not, and if he does, when they come in the game. Hit them all too early and Texas Tech has a chance to climb back in a game, hit them consistently and you have a juggernaut throughout. So yeah, Will Grier’s deep ball. Don’t get me wrong, the stats and recent history indicate that this is a concept that WVU has used to be consistent, they *are* in every sense of the word, consistent. I just think their consistency is predicated on how well they perform a historically wildly inconsistent play.
I think Texas Tech can hurt WVU in the pass rush and in the flats, though. Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen are the strength of this defense, and they can…actually…tackle…It’s still strange to type that. I also think Mych Thomas at defensive tackle is a guy that pass rushes better than people think.
Now comes the real rub — the WVU 3-3-5 agains the Texas Tech Air Raid, which is dramatically overhauled from the past two year’s offense, which was a message in a bottle that read “SAVE ME PATRICK”. Those days are done, the offensive line has improved, so Nic Shimonek hasn’t had to run from room to room like a Scooby Doo cartoon for the most part. Keke Coutee is the obvious pick for a guy that’ll have an impact here, and I already talked a lot about Desmond Nisby and everyone else, but the real difference in this Texas Tech Air Raid is that I think the coaching staff had to figure out how best to use everyone after Pat couldn’t do it for them anymore. Pat threw people open consistently and hit unhittable routes, not having him in the drivers’ seat causes others to shine. I talked about it a little on y’all’s podcast, Texas Tech is just using guys better.
I’ve watched a little bit of the WVU defense, but admittedly not as much as I’d like to make an informed decision. I’m covering all of the Big 12 these days, and I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’m going to take a leap of faith here and assume Kyzir White is who we all think he is, and the Mountaineers once again have a solid linebacking corps.
I think this Texas Tech offense, that isn’t predicated on one man’s ability to do it all, is a better way to attack the 3-3-5, which seems almost tailored to stop schoolyard bullshit. I think that it’s going to be an extremely similar game to y’all’s against TCU, but with a couple more scores involved.
35-31 Texas Tech, I think that the Red Raider defense capitalizes on a few misthrows from Grier and makes just enough stops to win. West Virginia harasses Shimonek, but not enough, and big Desmond Nisby rolls into the end zone for two touchdowns.
Matt: What's the best thing on TV right now and why is it the DuckTales reboot?
Jay: I'm not watching a ton of live TV these days, but I shamelessly started watching Friends all the way through. That's kept me plenty occupied when I'm not watching football.
Hunter: Yooooo the best thing on TV right now is “American Vandal”. What an extremely clever, funny, well-written show. By TV I mean that it’s on Netflix. I don’t have cable, because I chose to do this for a living, which means I am poor. I’ll have to watch the DuckTales reboot though, sounds great.
Thanks agains to Jay and Hunter for helping us get a glimpse into the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and welcome to all Tech fans making the trek up!