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Friday, October 20, 2017

Football

By the numbers, part two: Raiders’ team identity


Quarterback Nic Shimonek comes into Saturday’s game with a rocket arm and a team with the best offense in the nation. | Photo courtesy of The Daily Toreador.

The match up between the Cougars and the Red Raiders this Saturday at TDECU Stadium will be a tough one for both teams.

They both come into the game with a 2-0 record but the teams could not be more different approaching Saturday’s contest. Tech will come in with the best offense in the country, already having 1,241 total yards in just two games. The Cougars did well on offense last week but still have a long way to go to match up to Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense approach.

I have already outlined the main protagonists on the Cougars’ upcoming opponent, Texas Tech. Today I will address the tendencies of the Red Raiders team.

High-octane passing offense

Most teams tend to establish their running game to set up passing plays down the stretch, but the Red Raiders are rebels in that regard. Last year, they were atop the nation, averaging 54.4 passing plays, 463 yards and four touchdowns per game.

Despite the switch at the signal-caller position, this year is not much different. Senior Nic Schimonek may not be as mobile a quarterback as Patrick Mahomes was, but he makes up for it in accuracy.

After their first two games of the season, the Raiders are once again the nation’s best offense with nearly 500 yards and five scores per game through the air. The Raiders manage to execute 42.5 passing plays a game — 12th in the NCAA —  while keeping a zero in the interception column.

Needless to say, the running game is not prioritized in the Raiders’ playbook, with them having ranked in the bottom half of the NCAA in most rushing categories. Most of their designated running backs stand out solely when catching the ball out of the backfield.

Team defense bends and breaks

Despite running an astounding 88 plays per game last season, the Raiders’ fast-paced offense didn’t exactly chew up the clock. The Texas Tech defense placed in the nation’s bottom 10, enduring 78 snaps per night and safely ranking in the last three across most categories.

This season, the Raiders’ defense has only faced one ranked opponent in their two games and currently dwells in the middle of the ladder with two forced turnovers and 397 yards given up per game.

They still stay on the field for 78-plus snaps, giving up 3.5 touchdowns and 27.5 points per game. The Texas Tech passing defense allowed the opponent’s QB’s to complete 65 percent of their passes for an average of 273 yards and two scores a game, putting them with the nation’s worst.

The Raider rushing defense, on the other hand, was able to limit opponent’s running game to 125 yards a game and force 2 fumbles so far, placing them into Top-50 for both stats.

Raiders’ first two games of 2017

Due to having the second week of the 2017 season off, Raiders have faced just two opponents so far: Eastern Washington and Arizona State, with the former being from a non-major conference.

In both games, the Texas Tech offense was off to a slow start, getting a three-and-out on their first possession and not scoring until late in the first quarter. This was all despite facing below-average defenses. In particular, Arizona State currently ranks outside the top-100 in all defensive categories, giving up 38 points, 505 yards and 4.6 scores a game, while averaging eight penalties on top of that.

On the other hand, the Sun Devils’ offense is a solid and disciplined unit, scoring 34 points and 4.3 touchdowns per game. Their passing game — top 25 in yards, completion percentage and turnovers — was able to exploit the weak Raider defense for 45 points and fell just short of out-gunning the infamous Raider air attack.

Texas Tech 2016

The Cougars may want to see which teams caused the Raiders the most problems last year, given that most of wide receiver personnel is returning, and Shimonek serves as an extension of Raider passing philosophy from last year.

Among the eleven major-conference teams Texas Tech faced in 2016, they were able to come out on top only four times, with three of those wins being against the pass-inclined offenses of Louisiana Tech, Kansas and Texas Christian.

This goes to show how tough it is to actually out-gun the Raider offense.​ On the other hand, Texas Tech went 1-4 against top 30 teams in total rushing offense. Three of those losses came at home, with the only win against Baylor at a neutral site.

An interesting aspect about the Raider performances last year is their ability to show up for big games, but they occasionally lack motivation against weaker opposition. They mustered a 3-2 record against the five best teams on their schedule ranking-wise, while going 1-3 against the worst four.

Texas Tech doesn’t show a tendency to shrink under pressure of playing on the road, either.

Outside of a 17-48 home loss to West Virginia, all Raider games against opponents with at least five wins in 2016 were tightly contested irrespective of the playing site.

In short, Texas Tech will play an in-state rival in a hostile environment with nothing to lose. These are the same circumstances under which they were able to put up big points last season.

Houston should expect to give up a few long completions by that high-octane passing offense, but if the Cougar offense controls the clock and keeps the defense fresh, then a 3-0 record should simply be a question of execution.

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