Texas Tech Football 2017 Season Rewatch: Eastern Washington

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Nic Shimonek #16 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during warm up before playing against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Nic Shimonek #16 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during warm up before playing against the Houston Cougars at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) /

As we prepare for the upcoming Texas Tech football season, let’s take a moment to look back at last season game-by-game starting with the season opener against Eastern Washington.

Game Recap

As the long Texas summer drags on, the sports calendar has slowed to a crawl with only Major League Baseball and a handful of niche sports like cycling, tennis, and international soccer to tide us over until September.  So this is a perfect time to reflect on the 2017 Texas Tech football season by rewatching each game and analyzing it with the perspective we’ve gained in the months since.

The Red Raiders opened the season with a dominating 56-10 victory over an FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington, which has upset wins over Oregon and Washington State to its credit in recent years. .  In fact, many around the nation had Tech on upset watch entering the game against a high-flying EWU program that was coming off a birth in the FCS semifinals in 2016.

But after a slow start that saw Tech fail to score until the 1:51 mark of the first quarter, Nic Shimonek and the offense rolled as the senior QB completed his first 14 passes in his first collegiate start.  On the other side of the ball, the Texas Tech defense was fantastic.

Tech forced a turnover on the first play from scrimmage setting the tone for the afternoon.  Later, the Tech defense came up with a key stop on 4th-and-1 from the Red Raider 32.  Three plays later, Shimonek would hit Keke Coutee for a 68-yard TD to put Tech up 21-3 and turn the game into a route.

It was a nice start for Shimonek as he got the first-start jitters out of the way.  The game proved to be a strong statement for the Red Raider defense as well.  Tech held EWU to just ten points tossing a shutout in the second half.

But, looking back, this win was not as impressive as many initially thought.  Eastern Washington was a team in transition last season as it lost three receivers to graduation after 2016 and was breaking in a new head coach.  The Eagles managed to go just 7-4 on the season (a very disappointing season for that program) and failed to qualify for the FCS playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons.

First Drive Foreshadowed Issues To Come

Though the game eventually turned into a blowout, the offense was flat to begin the game and on the first series of the season, a few issues surfaced that would plague the team all year.

Before the first play of the year, Tech somehow managed to incur a false start penalty.  Tech would struggle with penalties all year committing eight per game and ranking 126 out of 129 teams in America with 76.62 penalty yards per game.  Against EWU, Tech committed four personal foul penalties (a fifth was offset by an EWU penalty) and four dead ball penalties.

Later in the series, Shimonek was sacked on third-down when he held on to the ball too long.  In fact, Tech’s first two drives ended on sacks that could have been avoided had Shimonek been more deliberate with the ball.

Throughout the season, Shimonek had moments of indecision in the pocket that made him look like a bewildered deer standing in the middle of a mountain road.  That indecisiveness and his lack of escapability cost him at crucial times all season.

And as if that was not bad enough, the drive ended with the first sign of the numerous special team’s problems that were a hallmark of the 2017 season.  Punter Dominic Panazzolo shanked his first punt sending it into the Tech sideline after just 21 yards setting EWU up with the ball at the Red Raider 39.

Though most people remember the 2017 field goal woes most vividly, the punting situation was less than ideal as well.  Tech had two punts blocked in 2017 and Panazzolo seemed to have a proclivity for shanking punts when kicking from deep in Texas Tech territory.

Week 1 Stars Flamed Out

One fascinating aspect of this game was the fact that many of the biggest contributors would finish the season as non-factors.  In fact, several are no longer with the program.

JUCO transfer Desmond Nisby led Texas Tech in rushing with 56 yards on just six carries.  He had explosive back-to-back first-down runs on the second drive to give the offense some life and his bruising running style had people around Lubbock throwing around the name of Bam Morris as the 235-pound Nisby brought a much-needed physical running style to the offense.

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But nagging injuries and fumble problems cost Nisby his role on the offense and following a 93-yard, 4-touchdown performance against Kansas in week-5, he would not amass more than 18 yards in a game the rest of the way.  In May, Nisby left the program prior to his senior season, a disappointing turn for a player with skills the Red Raiders have not had at their disposal for quite some time.

Another offensive leader was senior WR Derrick Willies who had a team high 126 yards receiving including a 75-yard TD. Willies was set to have a big year but lost his starting job to freshman T.J. Vasher after week 6.  He did not play in the final six games of the season and had no more than 52 yards in any game after the opener.

Receiver Quan Shorts, who was dismissed from the team in June was also a factor grabbing two passes for 30 yards and a TD.  And DB. Willie Sykes, who left the program in February, had an INT return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Turnover Tone Was Set

One encouraging sign from this game was Texas Tech’s ability to force turnovers.  Tech forced three on the afternoon which was a huge improvement for a team that registered just 13 takeaways in 2016.

Tech forced a fumble on the first play of the game, had a Willie Sykes INT for a TD in the third quarter and saw defensive end Tony Jones pick off a pass in the fourth quarter. This was a trend that continued throughout the season as the Red Raiders ended the year with 29 turnovers gained, something that defensive coordinator David Gibbs was certainly happy to see.

2018 QB Battle Began

The 2018 quarterback battle may have started in earnest in spring practice a few months ago but two of the three contenders for the starting QB job saw action against EWU.  McLane Carter was first off the bench entering the game in the third quarter.

Carter was 3 of 3 for 49 yards and TD.  Meanwhile, Jett Duffey saw action completing his only two passes for 18 yards.  Obviously, neither player did anything in this game to separate himself from the other but as the season progressed, Carter earned the backup job.

Duffey would soon suffer a shoulder injury that caused him to miss several weeks of practice and he would not see the field again in 2017.  Meanwhile, Carter started the final game of the season at Texas where he was replaced by Shimonek in the fourth quarter.

Next: The Other Kicking Problem Texas Tech Must Fix

Following the EWU game, Tech had an odd week-two open date before hosting Arizona State.  Check back with Wreck ‘Em Red for a review of that shootout with the Sun Devils.