Texas Tech football: Hidden yards will be even more critical this season

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Punter Alex Reyes #22 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders punts the ball to the Texas Longhorns on October 22, 2005 at Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 52-17. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Punter Alex Reyes #22 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders punts the ball to the Texas Longhorns on October 22, 2005 at Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 52-17. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

With the Texas Tech football team expected to rely more heavily on its defense and running game in 2018, hidden yards will be even more important that usual.

Football coaches at virtually every program from middle school to the NFL will preach about the importance of hidden yards (those yards that do not appear on the stat sheet but which almost always make a huge difference).  In 2018, those hidden yards could be more critical to the Texas Tech football team than in any season in quite some time.

That is because the Red Raiders are expected to be a much different team this year.  With a defense that returns 10 starters and an offense replacing all but one of its starting skill position players, this year’s version of Texas Tech football is likely to be involved in close games almost every week.

That means field position and penalties are going to be huge factors.  Unfortunately, in those areas, the Red Raiders have quite a bit of work to do if they are to improve from last season.

One of the most important statistics that Texas Tech fans often overlook is starting field position.  Last year, Tech’s average starting field position was on average 0.8 yards worse per possession than its opponents.

That may not seem like a huge difference but consider that Tech ranked just 76th in the country in that category and it is easy to see that improvement in that area is needed.   One way Tech can improve its net field position ranking is to stop kicking the ball out-of-bounds on kickoffs as it did five times last year giving the ball to the receiving team at the 35-yard-line.

And speaking of kickoffs, Tech was abysmal when it came to covering kicks in 2017.  The Red Raiders finished the season ranked 125th out of 129 teams in the nation allowing an average of 25.97 yards per return.

By comparison, Tech gained on average 23.00 yards per return last year, which was good for 27th overall in the nation.  Thus, it is easy to see that Tech surrendered almost three yards per kickoff exchange meaning that a game in which each team kicks of five times could yield a deficit of 15 yards for the Red Raiders.

When punting, Texas Tech was one of the better coverage units in the country.  Tech allowed an average of 5.58 yards per return, 37th overall.  Conversely, Tech was slightly better when returning punts averaging just over 5.6 yards per return.

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However, Tech ranked just 95th overall in punt return average.  If the Red Raiders can find a dynamic punt returner this year, that could be a huge weapon in flipping the field position in close games, which could obviously make a huge difference.

There is likely to be a rotation of players given shots to return punts early in the season.  Look for inside receiver De’Quan Bowman to be one of the favorites to ultimately win that job.  He was an all-American kick returner in the JUCO ranks and is one of the only players on the roster with experience returning kicks at the collegiate level.

That leads us to perhaps the most important hidden yardage aspect of the game, punting.  Many expect Kliff Kingsbury to be more cautions in his approach this year since he has confidence in his defense.  Therefore, Texas Tech punter Dominic Panazzolo, could be busier than any punter in the Kingsbury era.

Last year, Tech averaged just 40.15 yards per punt, 95th in the nation.  Meanwhile, Tech’s opponents were significantly better when punting averaging 43.28 yards per punt.

Only 19 teams saw opponents punt the ball better against them than Tech.  Again, in games that are close as Texas Tech expects many of its games to be this year, having an advantage in the punting game could tip the balance.

The man tasked with helping the Red Raiders win the hidden yardage battle is new special teams coach Adam Scheier.  Prior to 2017, when he was a quality control assistant at Ohio State, Scheier had coordinated special teams for the previous 18 seasons at four schools; Princeton, Lehigh, Bowling Green and Wake Forest.

In 2014, Scheier’s Wake Forest special teams unit ranked fourth in the nation in net punting and in 2015 Wake ranked 8th.  In each season, Scheier’s units were the best in the ACC.

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A similar performance in 2018 would be a huge boost for Texas Tech.  If the plan is for Kingsbury’s team to rely on its defense and ground game this year, especially early while it breaks in a new quarterback, hidden yards must add up in the Red Raiders’ favor.