After going 8-5 in his first season, things didn’t exactly go as planned for Kliff Kingsbury in his second year at Texas Tech. Behind inconsistent QB play and a defense that gave up more than 41 points per game, it was a year Red Raider fans would rather forget.
Tech is looking to rebound in 2015, and even though there isn’t a lot to take from last season, the one thing you can say is that the Red Raiders beat the teams they should have by knocking off Central Arkansas, UTEP, Kansas, and Iowa State. No, those teams aren’t world beaters, but it’s a sign that the team didn’t give up, and it gives them something to build on.
There’s pressure on Kingsbury to perform this year, so just what should we expect from the Red Raiders in 2015? I spoke with Seth C. (@ ) from Staking The Plains to find out, and he was kind enough to give us some in-depth insight on what we should expect from the Red Raiders this season. Be sure to head over STP for more coverage on Texas Tech!
Patrick Mahomes looks to have the starting QB role locked up, but it might be too early to count out Davis Webb. Webb is recovering from surgery, and was held out of the spring game, but can you tell us about how Mahomes performed in the scrimmage, and what dynamic each quarterback brings to the offense.
The first thing to keep in mind about the scrimmage is that it the scrimmage was about halfway through the spring practices. Jones AT&T Stadium was/is undergoing some renovations to the seats and getting a facelift. Some new paint, new seats, etc. So, with that being said, we really didn’t get to see a finished product in terms of the offense overall and a finished product in Patrick Mahomes. I should also mention that Mahomes was splitting time with the baseball and football teams this spring and he carried a 4.0 GPA (or something like that). With all of that out of the way, I thought he looked as good as he looked at the end of the season. He’s got that terrific arm and escapability. The biggest thing that Mahomes has to work on is that mid-range game where teams will start to crowd the middle of the field with all sorts of linebackers and defensive backs and not throwing interceptions. He had a couple of close calls during the spring game, but I think we’ll see an improved Mahomes in 2015. And I think that you’re right in that Webb isn’t just going to walk away and not be a part of this thing. Most teams know that you have to have two quarterbacks to compete at a high level in the Big 12 and I don’t think he’ll walk away quietly. That’s a good thing, competition.
Outside of the quarterback competition, what other positions are paying attention to?
I could probably point to every position because this team isn’t good enough to think that one position is set, although at running back, DeAndre Washington was great last year, and I don’t expect much, if any, competition to supplant him. Just about every position group on defense is set to have a high level bit of competition because no job is safe. A ton of freshmen saw action last year in the secondary and the hope is that experience helps Texas Tech moving forward, while Texas Tech is set to have Mike Mitchell, the former Ohio State commit and 5-star linebacker, be a part of the defense and a very veteran defensive line. There’s a handful of seniors that are included in the defensive line, Rika Levi, Keland McElrath and Branden Jackson are all seniors and should start.
The Red Raiders return more starters than just about anyone in the Big 12 with nine coming back on the offensive side of the ball, and eight returning on defense. How does that experience and depth help, and are there any younger guys we might not know who could make an immediate impact?
On offense, I think that inside receiver Ian Sadler is set to make a really nice impact. He’s a fantastic athlete that started to really catch on later in the year ending the year with the 4th most receiving yards on the team. Also, the offensive line is a veteran group, but the one young addition is Justin Murphy at right tackle, who takes over for Reshod Fortenberry. On defense, the secondary returns two young corners in Nigel Bethel, II and Tevin Madison at the cornerback spots. They both got burned more times than not last year, so the hope is that the experience means better play in the secondary.
Last season Texas Tech ranked 122nd in total defense. So… not great. How is new defensive coordinator David Gibbs looking to turn things around, and what differences in scheme will we see from last year?
Yeah, not so great is an understatement. I don’t know that you’ll see much, if any notable differences. Gibbs runs a 4-3, but it is essentially the same thing that Texas Tech ran last year where you had three down linemen and Pete Robertson as that outside linebacker / defensive end type of player that rushes the quarterback. I think schematically, you might see a secondary that is more sound. Gibbs is a former NFL defensive backs coach and I think he takes a ton of pride in making sure that unit performs well. During the spring game, we saw a unit that really attacked the receivers. Gibbs also focuses quite heavily on turnovers. He knows that defenses today really have a tough time stopping much of anyone, but his defenses in Houston forced turnovers at a very high rate.
Early rankings have been all over the place for the Red Raiders. I see Tech jumping up in that second tier fighting for 4th-5th place in the conference, but some have projected them to finish much lower. Am I crazy, or is Tech being underrated? What’s your prediction for 2015? What would be a great year, what would be a disaster?
A disaster would be a repeat of last year, 4-8. With a veteran team, it should be better, theoretically. The tough thing for Texas Tech fans, at least at Staking the Plains, is that they just don’t see where the 6th or 7th win comes from. The schedule is tough and after being beaten up last year, fans just aren’t confident about getting wins against the top-end teams and the middle of the road teams. A dose of reality if you will. The difference, I think, will be the offense not turning the ball over as much as it did last year, way too many interceptions and not enough turnovers. Texas Tech was -13 in turnover margin last year, turning the ball over 28 times and only gaining 15 turnovers. That’s not good enough.
Lastly, it’s no secret that Kliff Kingsbury’s seat is getting warm in Lubbock. Is it fair to say this is a make a break season for him? How many wins does he need to keep his job, or is it secure for at least one more season?
Well, I think that most fans are taking a long-term approach on Kingsbury. Comparing him to Mike Gundy may not be the worst comparison, it’s just that Gundy and Kingsbury essentially have their first and second seasons flipped. If Texas Tech gets to 7 or 8 wins, I don’t think it’s a problem and I think that most fans really want to give him enough time to be great. Despite the image, he does work hard and he gets to work at 5 in the morning and stays late. He doesn’t have a wife or anything else to distract him. And maybe the most underrated move of the season came when he named Mike Jinks the associate head coach. This probably seems like a minor move to most, but Jinks was the head coach of one of the best football programs in Texas, Cibolo Steele, and I think that given his experience being the head coach, the only one on the staff that has done that, is significant. Kingsbury is willing to share the responsibility of preparing for a game. Having Gibbs on defense, a guy that’s coached exclusive defense and has been very good at it, should maybe help reduce the load.