March 11, 2008

A few offensive off-season questions

After yet another year of staggering productivity, it would seem as though the [tm]Texas Tech[/tm] offense has answered all questions and answered them in the affirmative. The Red Raider shock troops finished the season #2 in total offense, #1 in passing offense, and #7 in scoring offense. And that against a tough schedule in the rugged Big 12 conference. What more could you ask for?

Still, so long as perfection is not attained, there is always room for improvement. And if the Tech offense can find answers to the following questions they could be perfect in 2008.

Can Tech Develop a Running Game? This is the perennial question and perhaps it will always be so as long as Mike Leach is running the show in Lubbock. Based solely upon last season's output, the answer must be no. Tech finished the season dead last among 119 teams nationally in rushing offense with 59 yards per contest.

There are a few reasons for this. First, and most obviously, the Red Raiders throw the ball for a living. The passing game is their steak and taters and running the ball will always play second fiddle. Second, given how much Tech airs it out, they will suffer a considerable number of sacks which eats into whatever ground numbers the Red Raider backs accrue. And third, one can argue that Tech still does not have a home run hitter at the running back position. Shannon Woods is unreliable at best; Aaron Crawford is a freshman still learning the ropes, and Kobey Lewis is a situation back.

The addition of redshirt Baron Batch and freshman Harrison Jeffers will change the talent quotient, but whether or not their presence will be enough to compel Leach and Graham Harrell to commit more strongly to the run remains to be seen. And maybe the better question given Tech's success throwing the ball is whether or not they are rendering the running game superfluous.

Is Michael Crabtree Heisman Material? There's no doubt in my mind that the answer to this one is yes. And there must be quite a few people who agree with me insofar as Crabtree pulled in the AT&T National Player of the Year Award for 2007 as selected by college football fans.

Certainly his numbers stacked up well against Heisman winner Tim Tebow's.

I expect Crabtree to go into the 2008 season as a co-favorite with Tebow to take home the most prestigious individual award in all of sports. To emerge victorious in the contest with Tebow, however, Crabtree must duplicate or improve upon his staggering 2007 numbers, reduce the drops (and no muffing game winning TDs a la' Oklahoma State), and the Red Raiders will have to live up to their billing as BCS contenders. The acquisition of another major receiving threat to take some of the heat off Crabtree, incidentally, would aid immeasurably in Crabtree's Heisman campaign.

Can the Red Raiders Improve Their Red Zone Conversions? Mike Leach's offense averaged a gaudy 41 points per contest, but could have averaged much more. Surprising though it may seem, Tech tied the University of Wyoming for #57 in the nation in Red Zone conversions. Certainly field goal kicking was not the problem inasmuch as Tech only attempted 20 field goals in 63 Red Zone incursions. Rather, there were too many instances where Tech just came away empty-handed altogether. A more efficient Red Zone attack would make the Air Raid even more nightmarish to deal with. I expect this will be a point of emphasis during spring and summer workouts.

Can Detron Lewis Replace Danny Amendola? Sophomore to be Detron Lewis has moved to the Y receiver position in the hope that he can fill the void left by Danny Amendola. It won't be easy. Amendola finished the 2007 season with 109 catches. Only Crabtree, Kansas State's Jordy Nelson and North Texas' Casey Fitzgerald caught more passes. Lewis certainly has the skills to do the job. He's a smooth route runner, is larger than Amendola, and has excellent hands. In order to match Amendola's productivity, however, he must learn to find creases in zone defenses, play well on a consistent basis, and develop the mental and physical toughness of Amendola. Catching triple-digit passes in the middle of the field is taxing to say the very least. Graham Harrell and the Tech offense needs Lewis to come through, however. A serious drop-off at the position would be very harmful.

Will Right Tackle Solidify? The Tech offensive line was absolutely superlative in 2007. Despite playing with four new starters, the line surrendered only 18 sacks on the season despite throwing the ball 763 times. That is one sack every 42.4 attempts, and that is a number the Red Raiders can live with. Still, the right tackle position was shaky at times. Jake Johnson was the starter early but was ultimately replaced by Marlon Winn in the starting lineup. Winn, too, experienced some difficulties. It will be interesting to see how the junior from Waxahachie develops over the spring and summer. Likewise, the progress of talented redshirt freshmen Lonnie Edwards and Mickey Okafor will be worth keeping an eye on.

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