In 2015 Texas Tech Football Must Fix Red Zone Woes


Most Texas Tech fans and college football media members agree that where Texas Tech has the greatest need for improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. However, the 2014 offense had numerous shortcomings, most noticeably in the red zone.

"In an article for the website, Chris Vannini points out that, “Games can be decided by a team’s ability to score touchdowns in the red zone. Settling for field goals can get you beat in the big games. Ohio State scored five touchdowns in five trips in the national championship game, while Oregon had one touchdown in four trips.”"

Vannini continues on to make the point that teams with experienced returning starting quarterbacks (which Tech did not have in 2014) are vastly superior inside the 20-yard-line. He also points out that in 2014, 22 of the top 25 most efficient red zone teams in the college football in 2014 made a bowl appearance.

When looking at the numbers from last season, Texas Tech’s red zone failures were shocking when compared to that of their opponents.  In 2014, Texas Tech reached the end zone on only 58 percent of its red zone possessions, compared to a 77 percent touchdown success rate for its opponents. In fact, Tech opponents scored on 91 percent of their red zone opportunities.

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But why was punching the ball in the end zone so difficult for the Tech offense last year? The answer is two-fold; the size of the receiving corps and the style of offense employed by head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Of the receivers that saw significant playing time for the Red Raiders last season, only one, Dylan Cantrell, is over 6-feet-tall. The other receivers lacked the size of former Red Raider go-to red zone targets like Jace Amaro (6’5”), Lyle Leong (only 6’1” but a former Texas 5A high jump state champion), Darrin Moore (6’4”), and Mickey Peters (6’3”) to name a few.

Cantrell shows signs of being a tremendous threat in the red zone, but in 2014 he was a sophomore who came into the season with only nine career receptions, meaning he couldn’t be counted on to be the main target. Having a large target to which the defense must dedicate two defenders creates more space on the rest of the field and creates 1-on-1 match-ups for other players.

The two staples of the Air Raid red zone offense are the fade route and the flag route (which asks the slot receiver, like Jakeem Grant, to catch an over-the-shoulder pass while angling towards the pylon in the back corner of the end zone). Neither play is as effective with small receivers as it is with players that are 6’3” or taller.

In the NFL, the top red zone targets are tall receivers. Chris Wesseling of compiled his list of top red zone targets heading into the 2014 season and all ten were at least 6’3”.

The staff is attempting to address this shortcoming, and appear committed as four wide receiver commits for the 2016 recruiting class are at least 6’4”. Aside from Dylan Cantrell, another red zone threat could be incoming freshman Donta Thompson from Ennis, TX who could use his 6’5” frame to become a red zone specialist in 2015.

The other reason Texas Tech struggles in the red zone is the style of offense employed by Kingsbury. In Lubbock, it is considered treason to suggest Tech abandon the Air Raid offense and I am not advocating for that drastic of a move. However, Tech must make a more concerted effort to run the ball inside the 20-yard-line.

Last season, Tech had only eight rushing touchdowns, which was ranked 123rd out of 128 teams in the NCAA. Only three of those runs were in the red zone (two in the first game against Central Arkansas, and the other a three-yard-run by QB Davis Webb against Arkansas). Let that sink in. During conference play, Texas Tech had ZERO red zone touchdown runs. That must change.

The two best units on the 2015 Red Raider football team should be the offensive line and the running backs. There is no reason that Kingsbury and co-offensive coordinator Eric Morris can’t find a way to do as the school fight song says and “push the ball across the goal” more than three times from inside the red zone.

These two improvements: bigger red zone receiving targets and more rushing touchdowns compliment one another. Additionally, Tech must make defenses fear that they can score either way in the red zone.

Last season, 14 Tech drives ended in Ryan Bustin field goal attempts, of which he made 10. That means that Texas Tech left 56 points on the field because of their inability to finish drives.

If Tech had been able to finish half of those 14 drives with touchdowns, it is likely that they would have beat West Virginia, Baylor and maybe even Oklahoma State; meaning, what was a 4-8 season could have been a 7-5 bowl season if Tech had only been more efficient inside the red zone.

For the Red Raiders to improve in 2015, this offensive shortcoming must receive as much attention from Kingsbury and Morris as the creation of turnovers it’s receiving from the defensive staff.