Entering the 2020 Texas Tech football season, many were concerned about the offensive line. Now, after five games, it is clear that those worries were justified as the Tech o-line has been this team’s biggest weakness.
That position group was exposed again this past weekend by a good Kansas State defense. Tech averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, a number that is consistent with what this team has put up all season.
That brings the season average against FBS teams to just 2.9 yards per rush. That’s rather disconcerting given that the running backs were thought to be one of the strengths of the offense entering the season.
However, due in large part to the offensive line’s inefficiency, both Tahj Brooks and SaRodorick Thompson are struggling to live up to their potential. Neither player has come close to having a 100-yard game against an FBS team this year and neither has yet to crack the 230-yard mark this season. That puts them on pace for just 1,032 yards between them for the season.
That’s essentially the same pace that the two put up last year, which is a disappointment given that so much more was expected of them in 2022. However, running backs are only as good as their offensive lines and thus far, neither Brooks nor Thompson has been able to have a breakout performance because the running lanes simply aren’t there.
Rather, the yards they are picking up are hard yards. In their careers, both players have shown the ability to break off huge runs as Thompson had a 75-yard scamper in 2020 and Brooks had a 67-yard run last season. But so far this year, the longest run in a game against teams from the FBS from either of those players has been just 23 yards. That falls at the feet of the offensive line for not opening up holes that allow the running backs to get to the second level of the defense without being contacted and with a full head of steam.
Of course, any discussion of Tech’s struggles in the run game is incomplete without talking about the sacks that this team has allowed this year. That’s because those plays, while technically part of the passing game, count against the team’s rushing numbers.
Unfortunately, for as bad as Tech’s offensive line has been in the run-blocking department, it has been even worse when it comes to protecting the QB. In fact, the Red Raiders are arguably the worst pass-protecting team among all Power 5 programs thus far.
Giving up an average of 3.8 sacks per game, Tech ranks dead last in the Big 12 and No. 125 in the nation in sacks allowed. The only other Power 5 team to be that bad in that department is Kentucky, which is tied with Tech at No. 125 out of 130 teams.
Coming off a game that saw Kansas State sack Donovan Smith six times and pressure him on four more occasions, Tech has now has allowed 18 sacks and 12 more QB hurries in four games against FBS opponents. In addition, in those games, the team has given up 33.5 tackles for loss…yikes!
Now, some of those numbers are due to Smith’s propensity for holding onto the football too long. The sophomore’s lack of pocket awareness has led to a number of sacks and negative plays this year. But still, this line is responsible for the majority of Tech’s negative plays.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much that the coaching staff can do to fix this problem. There is no help on the way in the form of a player returning from injury for instance. In fact, the only injured player who could help, transfer Cole Spencer, who was believed by the coaching staff to be this team’s best offensive lineman, is out for the year with a knee injury sustained at the end of last season.
The Red Raiders could try to shuffle the lineup and try to put struggling left tackle Caleb Rogers at right tackle, where he has played for most of his career. However, there’s nothing to suggest that current right tackle Monroe Mills could man the left tackle spot. What’s more, there are no viable replacements at tackle on the roster.
Thus, the onus likely falls on offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to find a way to scheme around his line. Perhaps he will have to use tight end Henry Teeter as an extra pass protector or maybe he will have to change the type of routes that he asks his receivers to run so that the ball can get out of Smith’s hands quickly. But either of those options limits what the offense can do and takes away a huge component of Kittley’s scheme, the deep pass.
This offseason, Tech brought in six offensive line transfers. That was a clear sign that this coaching staff was more than a bit concerned about this program’s o-line.
So far, those concerns have proven to be warranted as even with those additions, the line continues to be the weakness of this team. Now, it is far to wonder whether that position group will keep the Red Raiders from reaching postseason play.