By the numbers, part one: Dynamic Tech offense no easy feat for Cougars
The University of Houston is preparing for its game against Texas Tech after delivering a 38-3 walloping against the Rice Owls in the Cougars’ first game at TDECU Stadium last Saturday.
The Cougars will be looking to improve their season record to 3-0, but first, let’s measure up the personnel on the Red Raiders’ offensive and defensive units.
Senior QB getting the start
Last year, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the nation’s top gunslinger, averaging 421 passing yards per game while also ranking second in completions and touchdowns thrown per game. The 6-foot-3-inch junior completed 65.7 percent of his passes and ranked in the top 20 in interceptions thrown per attempt, while also posing a running threat with 12 rushing scores in as many games.
This season, after backing up the dynamic Mahomes for two years, 6-foot-3-inch senior Nic Shimonek finally gets his shot as the prime signal-caller for the Raider offense.
Make no mistake —the Mildred native won’t shrink under the pressure of filling the shoes of Mahomes, at least not as a passer. The senior has completed a whopping 78.8 percent of his passes to lead the nation in passing yards and touchdowns thrown per game this season. Shimonek already attempted 80 passes and has yet to throw an interception.
Shimonek makes brilliant use of the Raider offensive weaponry at wide receiver and dictates the rhythm with the poise of a veteran starter.
Last season, the Texas Tech passing attack ranked as the nation’s clear-cut number one offense in receiving yards and scores per game. This year, the Raiders haven’t skipped a beat despite losing Mahomes and top receiver, Jonathan Giles, who transferred to LSU.
A lot of it is because of returning playmakers Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson. The trio combined for 173 catches, over 2,200 yards and 23 scores last season, with each of them ranking in the top 100 among the nation’s receivers on a per-game basis.
So far this season, 5-foot-11-inch Keke Coutee proves to be the primary target. The junior hauled in 17 catches for 285 yards and three scores, which ranks him in the top 10 among most productive receivers in college football.
Meanwhile, fifth-year senior Dylan Cantrell plays second fiddle with 12 receptions, 195 yards, two scores and a rushing TD. The most quiet so far has been senior Cameron Batson with 12 catches for 112 yards and a score.
Flying under the radar is senior Derrick Willies. After not quite making the impact of the aforementioned trio last year, the California native has already accumulated 182 yards and two scores on just eight catches this season. It places him among the nation’s top 40 most efficient receivers.
Timid running game
Considering the pass-heavy Raider offense, it’s no surprise to see underwhelming output from Tech’s running game — the team leader in rushing attempts and scores last season for Texas Tech was the quarterback.
Senior Justin Stockton is set to pick up the slack. He managed to produce two rushing scores in as many games this season, despite gaining just 4.7 yards per carry. On the other hand, the senior places in the top 25 among all college football running backs with three receptions and 28.5 yards per game.
The second option in the Raider backfield is junior Desmond Nisby. The San Francisco native ranks in the league’s top 50 among running backs, averaging 6.8 yards over 15 carries.
Difference-makers on defense
Texas Tech doesn’t take pride in defense as illustrated by the vast majority of their score lines. Look no further than last week’s 52-45 shootout with Arizona State. Nevertheless, some players on the Raider defense are worth mentioning.
Highlighting the defensive unit is defensive back Jah’Shawn Johnson. The junior offered staggering versatility last year, including a team-best two interceptions, three forced fumbles, 76 tackles and six passes defended. Johnson already leads the way in 2017 with 14 solo tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.
Linebacker Jordyn Brooks is another returning playmaker for the Raider defense. The Houston native is coming off a spectacular freshman campaign, which included a team-best 85 tackles and a forced fumble. Brooks has already accumulated 20 total tackles in 2017 over just two games.
Among other faces in the Raider secondary, both junior Tony Jones and sophomore Willie Sykes came down with one interception against Eastern Washington.
Kickoff at TDECU Stadium is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday.