Jakeem Grant is key to the Texas Tech Air Raid

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The quarterback has long thought to be the key to the Texas Tech Air Raid offense. However, by looking at the stats from the first ten games of the 2015 season it appears that at least for this year’s version of the prolific passing offense, another player, Jakeem Grant is the key cog that runs the machine. That was never more apparent than in Saturday’s loss to West Virginia when he caught 8 passes for a meager total of just 8 yards as Texas Tech scored its fewest points of the season.

The senior inside receiver from Mesquite, Texas is having a stellar senior season with 74 catches for 960 yards and 6 touchdowns. By the time 2015 is over, it is likely that Grant will be the most prolific receiver in the history of Texas Tech.

His big play ability has thrilled fans for the past four years but more importantly, when Grant is able to take a modest gain and turn it into a huge play it makes the Texas Tech offense unstoppable. But when Grant is held in check, the Texas Tech offense often struggles.

Since Mike Leach brought the Air Raid to Texas Tech in 2000, there has never been an offense more dependent on one receiver than the 2015 offense depends on Grant. Even the 2007 and 2008 offenses featuring wide receiver Michael Crabtree could depend on players like Detron Lewis, Ed Britton and former inside receiver turned offensive assistant coach Eric Morris for production.

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But Grant has been the only real game-breaker for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense this season. While other players like Reginald Davis or Devin Lauderdale may make the occasional big play, neither have had games this season in which he dominates the opponent for four quarters.

In Texas Tech’s five victories, Grant has 35 catches. In Texas Tech’s five losses he has 39 grabs. But the difference lies in the yards he compiles in each game.

Grant has totaled 524 yards in the five Texas Tech wins while accumulating only 436 in the team’s five losses. The difference comes to 104.8 yards per game in the wins and 87.2 in the losses.

While that might not seem like a significant difference, consider what an extra 17.6 yards could mean in one game. Perhaps those 17 yards keep two or three extra drives alive. Or, what if that extra 17.6 yards comes on the end of a touchdown that would not have otherwise been scored?

And there is an even more stark correlation between Grant’s production and the Texas Tech offensive output. Simply put, Texas Tech is not disciplined enough to consistently sustain scoring drives of 7-15 plays.

Somewhere along the way, a penalty, a dropped pass or a missed assignment is likely to stall the drive. Therefore, Texas Tech needs someone to break off huge chunks of yards and Grant has been the only player on the team to do that week after week.

In the seven games in which Jakeem Grant has averaged over 10 yards per catch, Texas Tech has scored an average of 52 points. In the three games that saw him held under the 10 yards per catch mark, Tech is scoring only 38 points per game.

Texas Tech is currently in the midst of a 3-game conference losing streak an in two of those games (Oklahoma and West Virginia) Grant has been shut down. There seems to be a formula for stopping, or at least containing the diminutive pass-catcher.

Grant is seeing far less man-to-man coverage than he did early in the season. Rather, teams have been playing off Grant enticing quarterback Pat Mahomes to throw the ball to him short. But as soon as he has the ball, Grant is swarmed by defenders like safeties or linebackers whose job it is to help in coverage on Grant.

This is why the other inside receiver, Ian Sadler has been open more often in recent games. Defenses are rolling their coverage to Grant’s side. Even when Grant finds himself in man coverage, it is not 100% man-on-man defense because linebackers and safeties are constantly bracketing him.

This means that the other players on the field have not been picking up the slack. Grant is the only Texas Tech receiver opposing defenses must fear.

Defensive coordinators have seen that Texas Tech’s outside receivers do not consistently beat press coverage and that no other player on the roster is as explosive as is Grant. (Wreck ‘Em Red co-editor Eric Garza detailed the shortcomings of the teams outside receivers in this recent article.)

Therefore, as Texas Tech heads into this week’s matchup with Kansas State, the offensive coaches must find new ways to get the ball to Grant. At times this year he has lined up in the backfield as if he were a running back and at other times he’s run the fly sweep making it easy to put the ball in his hands at full stride.

Kliff Kingsbury is quickly losing his reputation as an offensive mastermind as the public continues to see his team struggle against the likes of Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

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Though Kingsbury could not care less about what fans or the media say about him, he does need to be more innovative with his offense where Grant is concerned. The man who was the understudy to great offensive minds like Mike Leach, Tom Brady, Art Brlies and Kevin Sumlin must know by know that his best weapon is being neutralized and he must come up with new ways to get Grant open in space.

If Texas Tech is able to put Jakeem Grant in positions to shake lose against Kansas State, it stands a great chance of picking up win number six on the season and playing in a bowl. But the Kansas State coaching staff is one of the best so the boy genius, Kingsbury will have to find new ways to unleash the best weapon he has.