Texas Tech Loss To WVU Falls At Feet Of Kingsbury

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Texas Tech dropped a disheartening 46-35 game to West Virginia Saturday in Morgantown.  Though there is plenty of blame to be shared, the person most responsible for the loss is head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Anytime a team blows a 35-17 3rd quarter lead to lose by 11 points, the list of goats is long and easy to compile.  After Saturday’s loss at West Virginia that saw Tech go scoreless for the final quarter and a half of the game, many will be trying to figure out how things fell apart so rapidly.

While it is fair to point out the shortcomings of place kicker Michael Barden or quarterback Nic Shimonek, the first person upon whom the blame must fall is Kliff Kingsbury.  His mishandling of crucial in-game decisions and ineffective play-calling were at the heart of the Red raider’s collapse.

Kingsbury’s biggest mistake Saturday was in his insistence on turning to Barden for field goal attempts despite the junior’s poor performance this season. In fairness, the injury to preseason all-Big 12 kicker Clayton Hatfield has made the act of choosing a kicker something akin to Russian roulette.  However, there is nothing in the rule book that says teams must attempt field goals at all.

Early in the game it became apparent that Texas Tech and West Virginia were headed towards a shootout.  After the first four possessions of the game, there were already 24 points on the board.

Field goals don’t win Big 12 shootouts.  Touchdowns do, and Kingsbury should not have coached this game by the book.

In fact, statistics suggest that the smarter decision was to let the offense take a shot on 4th down.  While Hatfield is now just 50% on the season (4 of 8), the Texas Tech offense is converting on 40% of its 3rd or 4th down conversion attempts.

If Barden were hitting 75% of his field goal attempts, settling for 3 points might make sense.  However, in a shootout, Kingsbury would have been better served to let his offense stay on the field.  The likelihood of a conversion was not much less than that of a made field goal and the potential reward, seven points instead of just three, is significant.

The most egregious misjudgment by Kingsbury came in the at the end of the third quarter.  On 4th-and-7 from the WVU 19, Kingsbury let Barden attempt his third field goal of the day.

Of course, the 37-yard attempt was missed allowing West Virginia to continue to build momentum.  After two horrible misses earlier in the game by Barden (including one at the end of the second quarter from just 23 yards) Kingsbury had nothing to lose by going for it inside the WVU red zone.

There wasn’t a person in the stadium that didn’t know Barden’s confidence was shaken, especially Kingsbury.  Thus, his decision to throw his rattled kicker back out there for a tough field goal in front of a hostile road crowd was puzzling to say the least.

Kingsbury’s reputation has been built on his prowess as an offensive guru but when the game was starting to slip away, he took the game out of his offense’s hands and placed it on the foot of an awful kicker.

While Kingsbury erred in trusting Barden repeatedly, he also faltered as a play-caller.  Kingsbury has admitted in the past that he sometimes over-thinks simple decisions and that was certainly the case Saturday.

After a brilliant first half by Shimonek and the offense, Kingsbury made a call at the end of the 1st half that was the beginning of his team’s demise.  With sixteen seconds to play, Kingsbury called for a jet sweep to Cam Batson from the WVU 6-yard-line.

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All afternoon, Tech had little success attacking the perimeter of the Mountaineer defense, which features quick linebackers and physical defensive backs, with outside runs or bubble screens.  Meanwhile, Texas Tech wide receivers Dylan Cantrell and T.J. Vasher had torched the WVU secondary all game long to that point and both had significant size advantages that could have been exploited rather than running a sweep.

Kingsbury also failed to put his quarterback in advantageous situations late in the game.  WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson altered his defensive approach by brining constant blitzes at Shimonek in the second half.

The easiest way to beat blitzes is with quick passes to slot receivers.  However, Kingsbury seemed to fall in love with the idea of hitting long passes to his wide receivers.  This required Shimonek to stay in the pocket longer, something he has shown he doesn’t like to do unless there is virtually no pressure.

Consequently, Shimonek often bailed from the pocket and tried to make plays on the move, a skill at which he is truly awful.  Asking a rattled quarterback to win a road game with difficult passes like deep outs and vertical routes is not a recipe for success.

On the three drives to start the 4th quarter, when Tech desperately needed its offense to step up and stem the tide, Tech targeted neither Keke Coutee nor Cam Batson.  That’s once fewer than Kingsbury threw to running back Justin Stockton during that span.

Kingsbury had to find a way to get the ball to Coutee when his offense was sputtering but he was unable to do so.  He also had to put his quarterback in a better position to succeed by playing to his strengths.  Instead, he asked Shimonek to roll out of the pocket on a critical third-and-7 with 8:03 to go and Tech down 39-35.

Shimonek is truly atrocious when having to throw on the move so it made no sense to ask him to do what he does worst at the most critical time of the game.  The result of the play was a sack. WVU then scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to put the game out of reach.

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For much of 2017, the Texas Tech football team has shown improvements in a number of areas as has Kliff Kingsbury.  However, Saturday was a reminder that like his team, Kingsbury is far from a finished product.