Five Questions: Texas Tech
Can the Red Raiders bounce back in 2012? DCTF's Greg Tepper asks the big questions.
This is the sixth of 12 installments of the Five Questions series, in which the DCTF staff picks the most pressing questions facing each of the FBS programs in the state.
Today’s team: the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Rare is the season to forget that features a moment to remember, but the Texas Tech Red Raiders had both last season. After the thrill of an upset win over Oklahoma, the Red Raiders went into a total tailspin, losing their last five games and missing a bowl for the first time since the turn of the century. Now, Tommy Tuberville and company are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild, and while there's ample reason for optimism about a bounceback season in 2012, major questions still remain in Lubbock.
1) The defense has to improve…right?
If you were to list the top three reasons why the 2011 Texas Tech season was largely disappointing, they would be, in order, an atrocious defense, a previously unheard-of proliferation of injuries, and an atrocious defense. Yes, I listed the defense twice; it was that bad. The Red Raiders allowed 499.6 yards per game against FBS opponents, ranking 116th out of 120 in that metric. The biggest culprit to the total defensive ineptitude: the nation’s worst rushing defense, allowing 258.8 yards per game on the ground alone. To put that in perspective, consider that national champion Alabama allowed just 183.6 total yards per game. The good news is that 10 of the 11 starters from last year’s team – all except starting nose tackle Donald Langley – are back for the 2012 campaign, a credit to the youth of the defense last season. But there are no ifs, ands or buts about it: the Red Raiders defense has to be the first, second, third and fourth priorities if they’re going to return from also-ran status and start a new bowl streak, and it starts with the rushing defense. If the defensive line – folks like Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush and Leon Mackey – can make strides in the offseason, and the linebacking corps led by Daniel Cobb can improve, the 5-7 season will appear to be more of a blip on the radar screen than a true reason for concern.
2) What can Seth Doege do for an encore?
Perhaps you didn’t notice it because, well, the Red Raiders went 5-7 last season because their defense often looked more suited for Arena Football, but first-year starting QB Seth Doege was really quite good. He finished the season with 4,004 passing yards (tied for fifth in the nation) and 333.7 passing yards per game (fifth in the nation). He passed for over 300 yards in nine games, threw 28 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions and completed 68.5% of his passes, which is on par with the best seasons by Graham Harrell. He was just about as good as you could’ve asked from a first-year starting quarterback (and a guy who hadn’t started a football game since his sophomore year of high school). So…what does Doege do for his senior year? The good news for Red Raiders fans: the last five Tech QBs to start more than one season – Taylor Potts, Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury – have all made strides in their senior season, especially improving their accuracy and game management (and, usually, their numbers). That’s probably the next frontier for Doege: getting that completion percentage above 70% and cutting those 10 interceptions in about half. If he does that, considering the relative dearth of outstanding QBs in the Big XII (with all due respect to Casey Pachall and Landry Jones), Doege has a chance to become one of the conference’s premier signal-callers.
3) Will spring drills have a positive impact on the injury-ravaged Raiders?
DCTF managing editor Travis Stewart mentioned this in our post-Signing Day podcast, but it bears repeating: the Red Raiders are just in desperate need of bodies. After injuries reduced the Texas Tech to essentially a skeleton crew by the end of the season – and I’m afraid to even call it a skeleton crew for fear that another bone will be broken – the Red Raiders just needed time to get healthy. And more importantly, they’re in need of fresh players – be they incoming freshmen or junior college transfers or anything – just to instill some life into the program. It’s important for some of the players lost to injury last season – guys like RB Eric Stephens and WR Darrin Moore – to get their feet back under them, and for the team to gain a sense of continuity during spring drills.
4) Can the running game get any sort of traction?
Now, we knew that the extreme pass-happy offense of Mike Leach would be phased out – or at least reduced – with the hiring of Tommy Tuberville two years ago. And it’s true: Texas Tech has become less pass-dependent, as just 64% of the plays last season were passes as compared to 67% pass during Mike Leach’s final season in 2009. But that still seems too high, especially with talented running backs like Eric Stephens (who played just five games before going down with injury) and DeAndre Washington (who stepped up in Washington’s absence). And with All-Big XII offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle and guard Deveric Gallington returning, there’s no reason why the Red Raiders offense can’t become more balanced in 2012. But A) will Tuberville and company commit to that increased running game, and B) can the operative players – the offensive linemen and the running backs – stay healthy enough to make it work?
5) How severe is Tommy Tuberville’s sense of urgency?
In two seasons in Lubbock, Tommy Tuberville is a perfectly average 13-12. He’s presided over one of the program’s biggest wins in the last decade – a stunning 41-38 win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman – and watched his squad lose their last five games and snap the nation’s longest bowl streak. Now, in talking with Texas Tech boosters and alumni in the offseason, I’ve sensed a growing impatience among the Red Raider faithful. That’s not to say that another bad season would be the end of Tuberville’s reign in Lubbock, but I think there has to be a sense of urgency in 2012. Another season without a trip to a bowl would make the wringing of hands in Lubbock even more pronounced, and while I doubt he would get the ax, it could be the beginning of the end for Tuberville. On the other hand, a bounceback season – something like 8-4 or 9-3 – would prove once in for all that last year’s sub-.500 season was an exception as opposed to the rule. In any case, 2012 is huge for Tommy Tuberville.
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.