Texas Tech football: We had better get used to seeing wide receiver screens

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19: Quarterback Jett Duffey #7 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the second half of the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones on October 19, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19: Quarterback Jett Duffey #7 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the second half of the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones on October 19, 2019 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

After seeing the Texas Tech football team beat the wide receiver screen pass to death against Iowa State, it is apparent that this is a staple of the offense that Red Raider fans had better get used to seeing.

Every play-caller has his own philosophy born of his experiences and the influences he’s had along the way.   The Texas Tech football team’s offensive coordinator David Yost is no exception.

Despite the fact that he’s considered inside football circles as an innovator and a QB guru for his time working with such NFL QBs as Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert, and Brad Smith as well as future NFL QB Justin Herbert at Oregon, Yost has yet to impress a large number of Red Raider fans.  And following Saturday’s whimper of an offensive showing from Yost’s side of the ball in a 34-24 home loss to Iowa State, the complaints about his game plan and philosophy are louder than they have been all season.

What has drawn the ire of most fans was Tech’s heavy reliance on the wide receiver screen game against the Cyclones.  Of the 52 Jett Duffey pass attempts,16 were wide receiver screens of some variety with the most simply being a hitch to the outside where the receiver found himself using other receivers as lead blockers.

This tactic did not lead to the type of production that Red Raider fans would like to see.  Duffey threw for only 239 yards on the day with just a single touchdown pass, which came late in the 4th quarter after the game had been decided.

It was especially difficult for the Lubbock faithful to see such a pedestrian passing performance on a day when Iowa State’s QB, Brock Purdy, threw for 378 yards and three scores.  What’s more, Purdy threw for 290 yards on his first four drives of the game, surpassing what Duffey would for the entire contest.

Yost and his offense essentially played right into the hands of the ISU cloud defense, which invites teams to complete short passes because it typically has eight men in the intermediate to deep coverage zones ready to swarm to the ball and limit yards after the catch.

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But to loosen up that defense, teams must threaten the Cyclones deep.  However, Tech only attempted four passes that traveled 15 or more yards from the line of scrimmage in the air.

While that ratio is way too far out of balance, Red Raider fans had better come to accept one truth; as long as Yost is in charge of this offense, the wide receiver screen pass is going to be a staple of Texas Tech football, especially with Jett Duffey at QB.

Yost believes in the wide receiver screen the way former Texas head coach Darrell Royal believed in the wishbone and legendary Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne believed in the triple-option attack.  It is what Yost believes will make his offense work and it isn’t going to go away.

Though Red Raider fans might not want to hear it after the loss to Iowa State, it’s a sound plan.

"“The goal is to get four yards or a first down,” Yost said this summer at the San Angelo coaching clinic."

In fact, according to Zach Barnett of FootballScoop.com, Yost spent the majority of his hour-plus on stage that day talking about this aspect of his offense.  Again, it is what he believes in and what he is going to turn to.

What’s more, against Iowa State Tech averaged 5.1 yards per play on the wide receiver screens.  That included three gains of 10 or more yards.  Had Tech simply handed the ball to a running back 16 times and averaged 5.1 yards on those carries, would the fan base have been so vociferous in its criticism of Yost’s strategy?  It’s doubtful.

The fact is that we have become spoiled at Tech.  Not only do we insist that our football team throw the ball early and often, we now apparently are not going to be pleased unless the majority of those throws come over the top of the defense or travel at least 15 yards in the air.

Never mind that the only healthy scholarship QB Yost has to work with is not especially adept at picking apart defenses in the middle of the field.  Of the four deep passes Duffey attempted yesterday, only one was completed (a 25-yard strike to Erik Ezukanma) while two were baldy overthrown and the other should have been intercepted.

If Duffey had been asked to pick apart the ISU defense yesterday by attacking the intermediate and deep middle of the field, the reality is that the final score would have been even uglier for Tech fans. After all, we saw Alan Bowman attempt to do just that last year in Ames and he was picked off three times while completing just 57% of his passes on his way to 323 yards.

Is there really a huge difference between a 323-yard passing day with three picks or a 239-yard day with no picks?  Last year, Tech lost to Iowa State by nine points while trying things Kliff Kingsbury’s way and this year it lost by 10 trying to attack Yost’s way.  Why all the consternation?

What’s more, head coach Matt Wells seemed to suggest that Yost called a few more deep shots but that for whatever reason, they did not come to fruition.

"“When I say take more shots,” Wells said in refernece to an earlier admission that the offense did not stretch the field vertically, “don’t read into that that [Yost] didn’t call enough shots…Probably, internally we’ll look at a handful that maybe you could have called a little bit more but you also can’t put yourself in [second and third-and-long]…”  He then went on to reiterate that he felt like his receivers didn’t block very well on the perimeter."

Perhaps that’s one of the bigger flaws in Yost’s wide receiver screen philosophy, relying on receivers to be lead blockers.

"“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’,” Yost said in San Angelo in June."

But how many times has an offensive coordinator said that his wide receivers are the best blockers they’ve seen?  Thus, that tenant of Yost’s thinking seems somewhat flawed.  Perhaps he intends for his wide receivers to make defenders miss but that’s not what the Tech wideouts are capable of this year.

Still, the problem wasn’t the fact that Tech threw so many wide receiver screens against Iowa State.  We will all take five yards per play.  The problem was that it seemed like that was all the offense did.

Where was the double move from a receiver off of the screen action?  That type of creativity could have broken some bigger plays (assuming that Duffey would have been able to deliver the ball accurately) and might have caused the defense to think twice before attacking the screens as soon as they diagnosed the route.

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That’s something that we will hopefully see moving forward.  And given that we will not see another defense this season that utilizes the cloud zone to the extreme that Iowa State does, we likely won’t see 16 wide receiver screens in a game the rest of the year.  But make no mistake, just like cotton in the fall, thunderstorms in the late spring, and tortilla tossing in the fall, as long as David Yost is calling plays, the wide receiver screen game is going to be a staple of life in west Texas.