2017 Rewatch: Texas Tech Defense Makes Statement In Houston

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Connor Killian #40 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders intercepts the ball and runs it back against Romello Brooker #82 of the Houston Cougars in the first quarter at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 23: Connor Killian #40 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders intercepts the ball and runs it back against Romello Brooker #82 of the Houston Cougars in the first quarter at TDECU Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) /

Continuing our rewatch of the 2017 Texas Tech football season with the week-three trip to Houston in which the Defense came up big in a physical 27-24 win.

Texas Tech took to the road for the first time in 2017 when it headed to Houston for a showdown with the University of Houston Cougars. Just a month after Hurricane Harvey decimated the Houston area with record rainfall, the game was played in muggy conditions that saw the heat index climb into the mid-nineties with humidity over 85%.

This game was far from the offensive shootout that many expected with both defenses enforcing their will.  Eventually the Red Raider defense shined brightest as the Red Raiders ended two impressive streaks.  The Cougars entered the game having won 16-in-a-row at home and seven-consecutive games against Power 5 teams and snapping those streaks was certainly satisfying for Texas Tech.

While the win was by no means a shock, how it came about was certainly unexpected.  The Texas Tech defense dominated the game with physical play from the front seven while getting just enough production from the offense.

The Red Raiders forced five turnovers on the afternoon with linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen both picking off passes.  Speaking of Dakota Allen, he had the best game of his career with 12 tackles (8 solo), two QB pressures and an interception.   He dominated the game as much as any Texas Tech linebacker has since Zach Thomas and in the locker room following the game he endured full-body cramps caused by the oppressive humidity.

The rest of the defense followed Dakota Allen’s lead as they harassed Houston QB Kyle Allen (who was once the No. 1 QB recruit in the nation) relentlessly, forcing him to be pulled from the game late in the fourth quarter.

Offensively, Texas Tech was inefficient and sluggish.  The much ballyhooed Houston defensive line gave the inexperienced Red Raider offensive line fits throughout the game disrupting Nic Shimonek’s timing and making Tech play at a pace that was less than ideal for a Kingsbury offense.

But because of the style of the game, this could arguably be one of the most impressive wins of Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech.  We’ve seen Texas Tech win its fair share of shootouts in the past five years (such as in the previous game against Arizona State) but to win a slugfest on the road in a game that took on a style of play far different from what your team is known for, is a testament to the grit of the players.

Tech moved to 3-0 on the season, half-way to bowl eligibility and as we now know, that sixth win did not come until the last win of the season making this win all the more important.  But while this game was a step forward for the defense, some issues that would become commonplace in 2017 cropped up for the first time on the season.

Shimonek Rattled In The Pocket

There’s no question that Nic Shimonek’s greatest weakness was his lack of pocket presence.  Without the escapability of his predecessor Pat Mahomes and playing behind a young and inconsistent offensive line, the senior QB struggled all season when he was forced to improvise.

That was without question the Red Raiders’ biggest offensive flaw in 2017 and during the Houston game, we got a look at how shaky Shimonek was when rattled.  He completed just 29 of 45 passes (64%) a sharp drop off from the season’s first two games where he completed over 78% of his passes.

But the completion percentage does not tell the entire story.  Shimonek was frequently flustered when his first read was not available and he threw purposely threw the ball out-of-bounds on at least four occasions.

Averaging just 7.1 yards per completion, Shimonek was overly cautious failing to push the ball down field. (However, that could have been part of the Texas Tech game plan given the talent of the Houston defensive line.)

Ultimately, Shimonek made enough plays to win.  He hit Keke Coutee (who finished with 161 yards on the game) on a beautiful 77-yard TD pass and tossed a 20-yard TD to Justin Stockton on a screen pass to ice the game.

Though Shimonek was not great in this game, he did protect the ball more effectively than his counterpart Kyle Allen.  Shimonek threw one interception but was safe for the rest of the day while Allen tossed two picks and lost a fumble and that was ultimately the difference in the game.

Still, this was the first time a team rattled Shimonek and the Cougars may have provided a blueprint for frustrating the Red Raider QB.  Throughout the season, Shimonek was not effective when being asked to improvise and make plays when the script was interrupted and this was the the first time that flaw was exposed.

Penalties Galore

In 2017, Texas Tech was tied for 123rd out of 129 teams in the nation for fewest penalties per game.  Only five teams in the nation committed fewer than the eight penalties per game the Red Raiders committed.

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In this game, Tech committed 14 penalties including a critical block in the back by Eli Howard on a fumble return that took the ball from the Houston four-yard-line to the Texas Tech 32.  On the next play, Shimonek was picked off meaning that the penalty likely cost Texas Tech a touchdown.

The commentators attributed Tech’s penalties to fatigue brought on by the heat but in reality, the 2017 Red Raiders were an undisciplined team that committed far too many turnovers all season.  That is something that will hopefully improve in 2018 with more experience on the field, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Stockton Ices The Game With Two Big Plays

While the Texas Tech offense struggled for most of the day, senior running back Justin Stockton came up huge in the 4th quarter.  With Tech leading 20-10 with just over eight minutes to play and Tech backed up to its six-yard-line, Stockton ripped off an 84-yard run, the longest of his college career .

After a penalty pushed Tech back to the UH 20, Stockton took a screen pass to the house essentially putting the game out of reach. Stockton finished the game with 124 total yards and a TD, one of the most impactful performances of his career.

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This win arguably marked the high point of the 2017 season as Tech went through non-conference 3-0.  The next week brought a matchup against Oklahoma State that began a downturn for the team resulting in a 3-6 record the rest of the way.  But for at least one week, Texas Tech was 3-0 and optimism was on the rise in West Texas.