Continuing our rewatch of the 2017 Texas Tech football season, we look back at a loss to Iowa State in which Kliff Kingsbury was out-coached by another young gun in the Big 12.
One of the biggest knocks against Texas Tech football head coach Kliff Kingsbury is that he in-game coaching leaves plenty to be desired. Many cite the fact that his teams have won only two games when trailing at the half as proof that he is not strong when it comes to in-game adjustments.
And in 2017’s 31-13 loss to Iowa State, Kingsbury was out-coached from the start of the game by another 30-something wonder-kid head coach. Iowa State and their 37-year-old head coach Matt Campbell came into the game with a strategy that Kingsbury and his staff never seems to adjust to as the Cyclones dictated the style of play all game long.
Campbell and defensive coordinator Joh Heacock employed an extreme zone coverage that rushed only three players and had the eight other players drop into coverage at least eight yards from the line. Content to let Tech complete short passes and then swarm to the ball, Iowa State flustered Tech’s offense all afternoon Holding the Red Raiders to just 207 yards passing.
What was most frustrating was that Kingsbury seemed unable to figure out how to beat this defense. ISU’s cloud defense was willing to give up yards on the ground and Kingsbury played right into the Cyclone’s hands as Tech thew just three passes in the first quarter.
Perhaps even more puzzling than completely abandoning the passing game was the fact that the Texas Tech offense purposely played at a slower pace than we’ve come to expect in the Kingsbury era. The Red Raiders are more effective when playing at a quick tempo but for some reason, Kingsbury had the offense slow down in the first half against Iowa State.
A run-first game plan does not mean that an offense must play at a slower pace. In fact, playing up-tempo can be even more effective when running the ball because the offense does not have to substitute receivers as often which prevents the defense from substituting and causes defenders to be worn down.
But Tech did not run its normal tempo offense and the result was a sluggish all-around performance that infected the entire team.
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And Kingsbury’s play calls in the passing game also played right into Iowa State’s hands. Tech virtually abandoned the intermediate to deep passing game as it settled for taking the short passes that the Cyclones wanted it to.
In the first quarter, Tech had just minus-three yards passing as numerous bubble screens were easily snuffed out. It was frustrating to see a coach in Kingsbury, who has the reputation for being an offensive mastermind, fail to find ways to open windows in the defense between the linebackers and the safeties. Despite gashing the Cyclones with the run, Tech used no play-action passes, which would have drawn the linebackers up to create holes in the defense.
Tech’s passing game was almost exclusively East-to-West, especially in the first half when Iowa State built a 24-6 lead. But in the second half, Nic Shimonek found some success with slant routes to Keke Coutee and deep square-ins to Dylan Cantrell but by that time, Tech was facing an up-hill battle against a defense that had surrendered the fewest second half points in the Big 12.
But Tech still had an opportunity to get back in the game. Trailing 24-13 in the third quarter, Tech drove to the ISU 8-yard-line before turning the ball over on downs. On Tech’s next drive, a Nic Shimonek pick-six would seal the game and send Tech to its third loss in four games and drop the Red Raiders to 4-3 on the season and just 1-3 in the Big 12.
Stockton Injury Limits Tech Offense
When your game plan is to run the ball, it is less the optimal to have your leading rusher and most explosive back leave the game on the first play of the second quarter. That is what happened when Justin Stockton suffered a concussion on a screen pass taking him out of the game for good.
What’s worse, on the play, Stockton fumbled as he was hit hard by JaQuan Baiely from ISU. The Cyclones would score on the ensuing drive to go up 17-6. On the next Red Raider play from scrimmage, Desmond Nisby would give the ball right back to ISU which would convert that turnover into another TD to essentially put the game away.
Without Stockton, Tech’s ground game lack a big-play ability. Tre King was very good running for 82 yards on 20 carries but he was not the home run threat that Stockton was and the big running plays that Tech had become accustomed to never developed.
As King tired, Nisby and Demarcus Felton were asked to shoulder some of the load but neither is dynamic enough to replace Stockton. Just like when Keke Coutee left the Ok. St. game with and injury leaving the receiving corps hobbled, Stockton’s absence was crippling to the game plan of running against the soft Iowa State zone.
Offensive Line Can’t Block Three Rushers
Not to be overlooked was the fact that Tech’s offensive line struggled all afternoon to block the three-man Iowa State rush. The Cyclones did not blitz nor did they hardly ever commit a fourth rusher to the line but still, they forced two sacks and spent most of the afternoon in the backfield.
And as we well know, Nic Shimonek was easily flustered when under pressure in 2017 and the fact that Tech could not protect him against only a token pass rush was disconcerting. After rewatching this game, it gives one reason to wonder if the Texas Tech offensive line is going to be as much of a strength this year as we assume.
Yes, the line returns all five starters and is the most experienced unit on the offense but that group struggled mightily at times last year despite seeing numerous defenses that sent only three rushers as ISU did. Though all three 2018 QB candidates are expected to be more mobile than Shimonek, they will still require better protection as they start for the first time in college.