Texas Tech football: The days of trying to run on the perimeter are over

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 08: Ta'Zhawn Henry #26 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks for the end zone during the game against the Lamar Cardinals on September 08, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 77-0. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 08: Ta'Zhawn Henry #26 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks for the end zone during the game against the Lamar Cardinals on September 08, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 77-0. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

During the “Air Raid” era of Texas Tech football, the Red Raiders have attempted to attack the perimeter on the ground but it looks like those days are over.

From the time we are old enough to ponder such aspects of life, we are all concerned with our identity and what defines us.  And for the last two decades, Texas Tech football fans have taken pride in our identity as pioneers of the “Air Raid” offense.

So when Matt Wells was hired to replace Kliff Kingsbury, one of the first questions to arise was whether the Red Raiders would continue to be a high-scoring, entertaining offensive team that operated out of the spread.  While that appears to be what Wells and his offensive coordinator David Yost plan to do, one of the most identifiable aspects of the “Air Raid” looks to be on its way out in Lubbock.

For years, the Red Raiders have made it a point to attack the perimeter with the ground game.  The idea is that there are fewer defenders on the boundary than in the middle of the field and when Tech first went to the spread in 2000, most teams were still playing a traditional defense that put their biggest and best athletes in the box.

Thus, if Tech could get its athletes to the perimeter in one-on-one situations, there was a greater chance of success as opposed to trying to overpower bigger teams between the tackles.  That’s why plays like the jet sweep were such favorites of Mike Leach and his protegee Kingsbury.

When I rewatched the 2002 game against Texas A&M last week, it was hard not to notice how many jet sweeps Leach called.  Of the 14 rushing plays Leach called…yes 14…four were sweeps carried out by Wes Welker who had 41 yards on the ground.

Over the years, the jet sweep has been an essential aspect of the offense and even last year, four receivers had at least one carry.  But that play and the concept it is derived from appears to be the opposite of what Wells believes.

"“We’re not running perimeter stuff,” Wells told Dennis Dodd of CBSSPorts.com. “Very rarely do we call a quarterback read. It’s, ‘Here is goes right now with a tight end and a running back and let’s go.'”"

The QB read he is referring to is the run-pass-option, which asks the QB to read the defensive end and decide to hand the ball to the running back or pull it back and throw a quick pass or keep it himself.  That has not been as big of a part of the Tech offense because outside of Pat Mahomes, all of the Tech QB’s in the modern era have been pocket passers.

But what has been prevalent in the “Air Raid” is a desire to get the ball to the edge of the defense.  Over and over, Tech running backs have been quick to bounce the ball to the outside rather than power through the middle of the defense.  But that has caused problems in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

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It is easy to understand why he would feel that way after what he saw in 2018 when Tech lost its final five games due in large part to the offense’s inability to run the ball, especially after starting QB Alan Bowman was lost for the year.  Twice last year, versus Iowa St. and Kansas St., the Red Raiders failed to run for more than 31 yards as a team and in November, Tech averaged just 94.7 yards per game on the ground.

Now, Wells and Yost seem determined to dictate the ground game to opponents rather than trying to base the game plan on what the opponent is doing.  In other words, Tech will be looking to do what they do so well that it makes defenses adjust to them, instead of the other way around as seemed to be the case with Kingsbury.

"“As I know with coach Wells, he wanted to be able to run the football.” Yost told the Desert News when he took over the offense at Utah St. “With having two tight ends, like we do in our system…it gives you a different aspect so you can dictate running the ball on our terms as opposed to their terms.”"

But don’t expect the entire offense to take place between the tackles.  Yost still wants to attack the perimeter but in a different way.

"“We start outside-in. We’re looking to get the ball on the perimeter in our run game through screens,” Yost told Football Scoop. “I’ve sat in hundreds of recruiting meetings and I’ve never heard a coach say, ‘This corner is the best tackler I’ve ever seen.’“The whole reason we throw the football is to run the football. We throw screens to run the ball.”"

Tech will still pressure teams on the edge but will do so by getting the ball there as quickly as possible.  This is where sophomore inside receiver KeSean Carter and grad transfer McLane Mannix will be big factors.  The plan looks to be to get them the ball outside the numbers and use bigger receivers or tight ends as lead blockers on defensive backs.

Still, running the ball up the middle will be Tech’s identity.  And that could pay dividends against the new cloud zone defenses that have become en vogue in the Big 12.

Teams like Iowa State and TCU have taken to dropping as many as nine players into coverage on most plays and allowing their defenders to swarm to the ball, which is particularly effective against teams that try to go East to West.  But when defenses are backing up and spreading out, they are vulnerable in the middle of the field.

However, few Big 12 teams are built to make these extreme zone teams pay.  But Tech aims to be one of them.

"“We don’t want them to blitz us kind of mentality,” Yost said.  “We always want to attack them the best we can, not take what they’re giving us, but kind of force our will on them.”"

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This will be a significant shift in philosophy and identity for the Texas Tech football program.  But as long as it leads to an identity of winning, Red Raider fans will be happy to adjust.