It is week three, but Texas Tech has only played once, coming away with a 56-10 victory against Eastern Washington before immediately going into a bye week. After a slow start, the high-flying Red Raider aerial attack chalked up 449 yards and four touchdowns against EWU, with quarterback Nic Shimonek throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. No less than ten Red Raiders contributed to a running game by committee that gained 177 yards and and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Tech showed some signs of life. The Red Raiders got two quarterback sacks, one fumble recovery, and two interceptions which included one returned for a touchdown.
Up next is the Arizona State Sun Devils, a 68-55 winner against the Red Raiders a season ago when they faced off in Tempe, Arizona.
Before the season started this matchup looked to be a tough rematch for coach Kliff Kingsbury and his Raiders, a return coaching “hot seat” showdown. After struggling with the likes of New Mexico State and losing to San Diego State, coach Todd Graham’s seat has gotten hotter and his Sun Devils don’t look nearly as dangerous as they did a few weeks ago. As we all know, nothing can ever be taken for granted, but lose this one and Kingsbury’s seat may begin to match Graham’s.
Arizona State’s offense has put up a combined 57 points in its two previous games, and it hasn’t displayed the same offensive consistency that it possessed a year ago. The Sun Devils have given up twelve sacks and produced only 123 total rushing yards so far this season. The defense has been a bit suspect as well after giving up 891 yards in its first two contests. Those numbers are a recipe for failure, regardless of who you are.
Texas Tech is looking to make some noise this season and is seemingly focused on helping their leader quell any rumors of his demise. Take advantage of the huge opportunity that beating the PAC-12’s Arizona State provides, and the Red Raiders can write their own story in 2017.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 16, 7:00 PM CT
LOCATION: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
FORECAST: Mostly cloudy, 89, wind at 10-13 mph
STREAM: Fox Sports Go
BETTING LINE: TTU -7
Assessing the Red Raiders at this point is not an easy task. We have one performance to work with against EWU, who subsequently dropped a home game last week to North Dakota State by a score of 40-13. Was Tech’s defensive performance just an aberration, or a step in the right direction? That remains to be seen.What we do know is what we usually know, Tech has offensive weapons and can score.
Texas Tech’s supporting cast showed a lot of potential in their opening game. The aforementioned, and unexpected, contribution from the running game more than helped Nic Shimonek gain his footing in the passing game. Wide receivers Derrick Willies and Keke Coutee combined for 226 receiving yards in assisting Shimonek rack up his first win as a starting quarterback. Shimonek will need his receivers to show up once again under the bright lights Saturday night in Lubbock.
Defensively, Tech posted seven tackles for loss and one sack. However, quarterback hurries were nowhere in sight. The Red Raiders will need to pressure ASU’s Manny Wilkins to minimize his effectiveness. Wilkins has thrown for 598 yards and four touchdowns this season despite not playing behind a reliable offensive line.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Keep Nic Shimonek Upright – For the Red Raiders to be successful they have to defend against Arizona State’s pass rush, one component that has been clicking for the Sun Devils. The Devils were able to sack the quarterback 4 times a week ago against SDSU. With solid pass protection, Shimonek completed his first 14 passes against EWU. If Tech can protect Shimonek properly and give him time to make a quick release, then he will be free to pick apart the ASU defense at will. Failure to do so will give the Sun Devils the opportunity to make this an uncomfortably tight game.
Run The Ball – The Sun Devils defense has been particularly generous on the ground this season. While not known for being the force of the Red Raiders, a rushing effort similar to their one against Eastern Washington will provide the necessary balance to help relieve pressure on Shimonek in order to keep ASU defenders on their heels all night.
Actually Play Defense – Defense. Defense. Defense. While this Sun Devils squad has struggled to match its offensive feats of a season ago up to this point, Tech wants to keep it that way. Tech only allowed the EWU Eagles to gain 220 passing yards. Kingsbury’s Raiders have to continue to play solid defense, make tackles, and limit ASU’s scoring opportunities. Few fans of the Red Raiders have forgotten Kalen Ballage’s eight-touchdown performance of a season ago. Ballage’s performance tied an NCAA record as he scored eight of ASU’s nine touchdowns in his 185 yard performance in their win. Allowing anyone on the ASU roster to have anything close to a repeat performance is unforgivable.
Texas Tech versus Arizona State brings thoughts of offensive fireworks to the minds of most fans, and after last year’s shootout, who can blame them? The Red Raiders are no longer blessed with the services of one Patrick Mahomes, but Nic Shimonek made the most of his first opportunity. True, it was against a FCS opponent, but it was a FCS opponent who has three FBS wins in their past five seasons. Can they continue to shine with an upgrade in competition? Arizona State seems to provide a stiffer test for Shimonek and the Red Raiders, but after their first two performances one has to wonder how much stiffer.
The Sun Devils have struggled against teams at home that don’t possess the offensive firepower of the Red Raiders. Manny Watkins is a fine quarterback for the Sun Devils, but Lubbock is a tough spot for your first road trip of the year as it’ll be plenty loud and rowdy for an already shaky offensive line. While I don’t think we’ll get a blazing sequel to last year’s offensive cavalcade, it won’t be that far off. I see a fresh Texas Tech team finally putting away a close victory late in the 4th quarter. A victory here helps keep Kingsbury’s seat much cooler while scorching Todd Graham’s.