Quarterback Seth Doege leads a senior-laden Red Raiders squad into Manhattan — a squad armed with a new attitude, a new defense and the chance to head back to Lubbock as the top team in the Big 12. (Even at this point, considering how I thought this season was going to go for Tech, I still can’t type that without amazement.)
That new swagger isn’t limited to the team itself. In talking with Wreckem247.com editor Landon Wright, fans and media also believe in this group’s chances to finish what it started… including getting a win against the Wildcats on K-State’s homecoming.
1) What’s the feel with this Red Raiders team? Is it as legit as the numbers appear to be, or was that more a product of the competition faced so far?
At the beginning of the year, an argument could have been made regarding the level of competition. However, after a 6-1, 3-1 Big 12 start, and two straight wins over ranked opponents, I have to say they’re legit. This is a hungry team, full of senior leadership, that is out to prove something. Before the season started, many people outside of Lubbock picked them to finish eighth or ninth in the Big 12, and here they are in week eight playing for a share of the Big 12 lead.
2) How surprising is this season in Lubbock? It wasn’t even a year ago that folks were asking for Tommy Tuberville to be replaced, right?
It depends on who you ask. Many Tech fans were ready to throw the season away after Tech lost to Oklahoma earlier this year; now many of the same fans think Tech will go into Manhattan and win. Personally, before this season started, I read into some of the preseason predictions and laughed because, even then, I believed this was a team that could win 10 or 11 games.
What many people don’t realize about Tech’s 5-7 record last year was the impact injuries had on this team. Running back Eric Stephens was the focal point of the offense before a season-ending cheap shot to the knee against Texas A&M. They also lost No. 2 running back DeAndre Washington, and wide receivers Alex Torres and Austin Zouzalik, all of whom had a major role in the offense last year. Even then they were just one big play away from beating Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Missouri, with virtually no defense.
This year is a whole different story. This is a team led by fifth-year senior Seth Doege, who missed all of his junior and senior seasons in high school with knee injuries, but Tech still kept a spot for him because of his confidence and leadership. This is a team that has gone through four defensive coordinators in four years, the Mike Leach situation, their worst season since 1992, and all of the added criticism and adversity that each of these situations brought. This team is hungry and they have found a rhythm.
3) Same players, new defense. What’s been the biggest difference? Scheme? Attitude?
An army is only as strong as their general. The past two seasons Tommy Tuberville gave two separate men (James Willis and Chad Glasgow) their first chance at being a defensive coordinator and neither of them worked out too well, with last year being especially bad. This year Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman who has 10 years Division 1 experience as a defensive coordinator. This defense is more disciplined and mature than any I’ve seen at Tech in over a decade, with only 2008′s defense being mentioned in that conversation. The scheme is different too — Kaufman believes in gap control. One man has one gap, another man has another gap. If someone blows an assignment, there is no pointing fingers. He keeps it simple and relies on the speed and athleticism of his defense.
Another big thing is senior leadership and experience. With a healthy Cornelius Douglas, the entire starting secondary are seniors. The rest of the starting front seven are underclassmen, but many of them started last year too.
4) Do fans/media feel like Tech is going to win in Manhattan?
After embarrassing then No. 5 West Virginia in Lubbock and last week’s triple overtime thriller at TCU, the fan base is pretty confident in their Red Raiders. A few think Kansas State will win big, a few think Tech will win big, but the consensus is that it will be a very close game. Tech fans always pick their Red Raiders to win the close game.
5) What is the Tech view on K-State? Do people there think the Wildcats are legit?
Most Tech fans don’t know too much about K-State, outside of Collin Klein and Bill Snyder. Most Tech fans are aware of Snyder returning to K-State and making them instantly credible again, with not the most sought after athletes.
This year most Tech fans think K-State is for real, but they also think the Red Raiders are for real. The typical Red Raider fan’s thought process goes something like this:
“K-State beat Oklahoma, who beat Tech. They beat West Virginia worse than we did. Oh crap.”
Although, Tech’s win over West Virginia looks less impressive after K-State thumped them again, there is more to a football game than looking at past stats. Most Tech fans think K-State is worthy of their ranking, but they are also confident their Red Raiders will shock the world this weekend, but don’t be surprised if they change their mind in the second or third quarter if things don’t go so well.
6) How about injuries to the wideouts? I heard Tommy this week reference he lost four in one game? How has that affected the offense?
Well sort of. Javon Bell got hurt a few days before Tech played West Virginia and is done for the year. Bradley Marquez, Alex Torres, and Jace Amaro all got hurt during the game. Torres and Amaro returned to the game. Marquez is done for the year. Torres is 100 percent now and Amaro is likely to play this weekend but could be a game-time decision.
Javon Bell is the fastest player on Tech’s roster, and Marquez, a professional baseball player for the Mets, is arguably the best all around athlete on the team, so those two will be missed. However, this is the deepest receiving corps in the nation. 18 Red Raiders have caught a pass this year, 13 of them being wide receivers. If Tech can afford to lose a player at any position then it is certainly wide receiver.
Amaro is an obvious mismatch, at 6-foot-5, 257-pounds. Most people see his size and take for granted the fact that he has legitimate wide receiver speed. His presence or absence will make this a different football game on Saturday. With Tech’s top two wideouts Eric Ward and Darrin Moore healthy, and guys like Torres — who had a huge game last week – Zouzalik, Tyson Williams, Marcus Kennard, and Jakeem Grant, Tech will be fine at wide receiver.
Look out for Jakeem Grant, at 5-foot-6, he is easy to miss, and likewise when he gets the ball… he’s easy to miss.
7) Your prediction for Saturday?
This isn’t to take anything away from the Kansas State Wildcats because they have been very impressive all year and they definitely have a good thing going right now, but the Red Raiders couldn’t travel to Manhattan at a better time than right now. The senior leadership, the coaching, the adversity they’ve overcome, the confidence of this team….. Tech wins 35-31.
Landon asked me about K-State, and you can find that conversation here.