For probably the first time in Mike Leach's Texas Tech tenure, the defense
out-performed the offense. Not that the Air Raid was a complete dud, mark you.
The Red Raiders have the No. 9 scoring offense in the nation, the No. 2 passing
offense, and are ranked No. 7 in total offense. Still, this was boom-and-bust
offense. It produced marvelous outcomes against Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas and
Kansas State, but foundered against Houston, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
The Red Raider defense, on the other hand, was steady as a rock all season long
with the exception of the Texas A&M game. Under Ruffin McNeill, Texas Tech's
defense has turned the corner and is now one of the best units in the Big 12.
Special teams, too, saw dramatic improvement in 2009 under the direction of new
coordinator Eric Russell. He's transformed a liability into an asset. In 2010 he just
might turn an asset into a weapon.
Now for an assessment of each position group on the Red Raider football team.
QUARTERBACK: It was without question the most tumultuous season in many a year
for Tech's quarterbacks. Initial starter Taylor Potts was inconsistent before
being knocked out of the lineup in the second quarter of the New Mexico game. He
was inconsistent after he returned, too. In the meantime, Steven Sheffield was a
tremendous sparkplug during his brief stint as the starter before he too
suffered serious injury. Seth Doege was largely ineffective in an even briefer
stint. Obviously, consistency will be the watchword for Tech's quarterbacks in
RUNNING BACK: The trio of Baron Batch,
Eric Stephens and Harrison Jeffers certainly had its moments, but was not the overwhelming force many
expected it to be. Batch, returning from a sickening elbow injury, started the
season fairly slowly, but has blossomed into a very effective player. Stephens,
too, has picked up the pace and shows tremendous promise when given a
significant number of carries. Jeffers, after showing tremendous flashes early,
has largely disappeared. His role was never clearly defined. Jeffers could be a
superstar at Tech. Or he could be the next Shaud Williams.
WIDE RECEIVER: In short, this unit simply dropped far too
many passes to receive (so to speak) a high grade. Virtually ever wideout on the
roster, and Edward Britton and Detron Lewis in particular, mishandled passes at an
alarming rate. These drops were sugar in the Air Raid's gas tank. On the plus
side, Alexander Torres shows every indication of being a special player, and
Austin Zouzalik, another freshman, could be his near equal. Lyle Leong also had many
OFFENSIVE LINE: Like the quarterbacks, this unit was beset
by injury and performance suffered tremendously as a result. The 2009 line
surrendered 30 sacks, roughly three times the number allowed by last year's
unit. Run blocking was generally quite good. Generally speaking, the line
improved significantly during the final third of the season when health and
stability finally put in appearances.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The performance of this group was simply
unbelievable given the losses of McKinner Dixon, Brandon Sesay and Brandon
Williams, as well as the appearance of an injury plague early in the season.
Against all odds, however, Brandon Sharpe, Daniel Howard and
proved even better than Dixon, Sesay and Williams. Tech's 40 sacks were second
best in the nation. Tackles Colby Whitlock, Richard Jones and
Victor Hunter were
also very good. With a bit more interior depth this would have been the best
defensive line in the nation.
LINEBACKER: If any group played exactly as the pundits
predicted it was Tech's linebackers. This unit will not garner much in the way
of post-season hardware, but it was instrumental to the improvement of Tech's
defense. Brian Duncan was a rock all season, while Marlon Williams proved
something of a big-play performer. Backup Sam Fehoko looked good in the first
significant snaps of his collegiate career, while Bront Bird's leadership and
versatility proved invaluable.
SECONDARY: The youngest unit on Tech's defense held its own
quite well indeed. The Red Raiders surrendered a fair amount of passing yardage,
but rarely succumbed to the long ball. Corners Jamar Wall and LaRon Moore
developed into superb tacklers, while youthful safeties Franklin Mitchem and
Cody Davis were a bit inconsistent in this area. Still, many feared disaster
from the incredibly raw Red Raider safeties and that never remotely
SPECIAL TEAMS: Red Raider fans no longer need cringe when
Tech's special teams units take the field. Tech now holds an advantage over the
vast majority of opponents in this area. The Red Raider kick coverage unit was a
phalanx of Hellfire missiles aimed at opposing returners. Eric Stephens broke
Tech's single season record for kick return yardage. Field goal kicker
Matthew Williams proved deadly from 43 yards in. Ryan Erxleben solidified the punting
position. And Donnie Carona's kickoffs were some of the best in the Big 12.
What's more, these groups just got better as the season went along.