Know Your Opponent: Texas Tech’s speed, size a threat

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Then-freshman receivers Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks celebrate a touchdown against Texas Tech at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas on Nov. 23, 2019. The Wildcats defeated the Raiders with a final score of 30-27. (File Photo by Emily Lenk | Collegian Media Group)

Last week, the football team upset Oklahoma and now looks toward a visit from the 1-1 Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday.

Texas Tech is one of four Big 12 Conference teams who hired a new head coach before the 2019 season, along with Kansas State, Kansas and West Virginia. The Red Raiders snatched Utah State head coach Matt Wells.

A former quarterback himself, Wells spent most of his time at Utah State as an assistant coach for quarterbacks or wide receivers before being promoted to offensive coordinator and later head coach. His all-time record as a head coach is 49-43 and he’s 5-9 at Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders barely beat a bad FCS team in Houston Baptist out of the Southland in week one and then forced overtime against the Top-10 Texas team.

Texas Tech’s offense boasts talented sophomore running back SaRodorick Thompson. Thompson ran for more than 100 yards in both games this season with four total touchdowns this year.

Sophomore quarterback Alan Bowman improved from last season, but still struggles with decision-making. In the Texas game, he completed just shy of 60 percent of his passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions to the Longhorn defense.

Bowman has some large targets, led by 6-foot-6-inches, 215-pound senior TJ Vasher, who recorded a pair of touchdowns last week against Texas. Sophomore Erik Ezukanma is a 6-foot-3-inches, 220 pound big-play threat at the wide receiver position.

In terms of scheme, Texas Tech is a fairly vanilla hurry-up spread team. They put their big, speedy receivers out wide and try to create lateral space in the middle of the field by forcing defenses to commit resources to the boundaries.

They are a pass heavy team, but not in the way they were under previous leadership. They definitely pass to set up spaces for Thompson to run the ball through and like to throw short to the edges to both receivers and backs.

On defense, they run a 3-3-5, which is becoming more popular in the Big 12 to try to stop high-tempo passing attacks. It features three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties and what they call the “SPUR” which is a linebacker-safety hybrid.

The Wildcats struggled to run block against 3-3 fronts last season and have continued to do so this year.

Senior linebacker Riko Jeffers holds down the strong side of the offense. He’s a four year contributor on the defense and has already recorded 19 tackles on the year, including 10 against Texas.

KEYS TO THE GAME

Short corner

K-State’s secondary has been an interesting unit to follow this season. They got eaten alive by Arkansas State and their target Jonathan Adams Jr., but turned around and held their own against potentially the most talented wide receivers corps in the conference against Oklahoma.

The Wildcat secondary needs to find a way to keep Vasher and Ezukanma at bay, especially in the endzone and short yardage jump-ball situations. The cornerbacks and safeties need to find a way to make up for their size disadvantage on the edges.

If K-State can pressure Bowman with just the front four, they could force him into some major mistakes.

Stay explosive

The Wildcat offense is built around possessing the ball and keeping the opponent’s defense on the field. They want to have long sustained drives that end in touchdowns and keep the hands out of the more potent offenses in the league.

Against Oklahoma, though, K-State found a new explosiveness the offense has not shown the past few years. They had seven “BIG” plays — or plays of 15 yards or more — against Oklahoma. Those plays helped spark the Wildcat’s furious comeback.

Methodical, conservative offense is a good way to beat fast-paced Big 12 teams, but if the Wildcats can continue to mix long strikes into the offense and spread the defense vertically, they will be much more difficult to defend.

Ground and Pound

The K-State offensive line was a major topic coming into the season. They recently graduated five seniors and it was clear from the start they were going need some work.

They were hampered by injuries in the opener, but, according to senior center Noah Johnson, they really came together in the second half of the Oklahoma game. K-State still struggled to move the ball on the ground, but they were not in many running situations for the much of the third and fourth quarters.

K-State’s offensive line will have to do a better job opening up running lanes for the running backs this week to be in control of this game.

PREDICTION

K-State’s offense comes out flat, but the defense keeps them in it until the running game gets going. A big special teams play and some heavy pressure on Bowman down the stretch give K-State the edge, 35-24.

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Hi! I'm Nathan Enserro, a graduate student from Olathe, Kansas, working on a Masters in Mass Communication. I graduated in spring 2020 with a Bachelor's of Science in strategic communications from K-State. This is my fourth year covering K-State sports for the Collegian.