Game Week #3: TCU at Texas Tech, Previewing the Red Raiders

Baker Mayfield is the unlikely focal point of Texas Tech's offense. - Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

TCU is heading into the unfriendly confined of Lubbock to take on a young, unproven, yet dangerous team. Will the Horned Frogs come out of the desert unscathed? We will all find out Thursday night on ESPN.

Tardy? Perhaps. I blame technical difficulties, and a dead wireless adapter. But fear not: here's a sneak peek at the Red Raiders. In less than 24 hours they line up against a real defense for the first time this year.

Kliff Kingsbury may have found another protege with which to carve his name again into the annals of college football. At least, so hope the Texas Tech faithful who have wandered adrift in the sea Mediocre since they made their Pirate Captain walk the plank a few years ago. That coach took with him the identity of the program, and since Tommy "Eat n' Run" Tubberville left the Red Raiders holding the bag, it had been all Kliff, all the time.

It looks like Kliff got his first big break when would-be starting quarterback Michael Brewer injured his back shortly before the season opener, and backup (walk-on) true freshman Baker Mayfield assumed the starting role.

Mayfield first made his mark a month after enrolling by dancing the Dougie at a team karaoke night. "I'm just going to be honest, I'd never seen a white kid do the Dougie. Like, at all," linebacker Pete Robertson said. "When he did the Dougie, I'm just like, ‘Is he really doing this right now?' He killed it."

Hardly another month later, the freshman was the first walkon to start an opener at quarterback in the Big 12, according to Fox Sports. That probably also makes him the first walk-on to make the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in an opener, as well, after going 43 for 60 for 413 yards, 4 touchdowns (plus another on the ground) against SMU in Dallas. Mayfield is still listed as co-starter on the two deep.

Kingsbury tried not to sound surprised at how well Mayfield played in the opener. "He had practiced like a senior for the last week and I expected him to play really well. I couldn't be more impressed with the way he's handled the operation, handling his teammates and happy he got to play as well as I thought he would," Kingsbury said. "He didn't look like a true freshman that got there in the second summer session and hadn't had a spring ball yet."

Eric Ward concurs. "Baker is a different type of player," receiver Eric Ward said. "He's always confident. You should see him in practice. He's not your average walk-on. I know the media refers to him as a walk-on, but to us, he's not a walk-on. He's a scholarship guy. He goes out there and tears the defense up. I'm excited how he handled the game and handled the pressure."

Kliff does point out that his freshman gunslinger does occasionally act like a freshman where it hurts most: "He was reckless with the ball; [it] touched the ground a bunch, he had some balls that could have been picked off, he stared things in, and footwork is a constant battle with the young kids. When they get in the game, it kind of reverts back to what they've always done, so the footwork that fits our system. There is lots of room for improvement. But when big plays were there, he made them. That was exciting to see."

In the huddle Mayfield is relaxed. Center Jared Kaster reported, "He breaks the ice. . . The first drive, he's out there looking at us and cracking jokes. . . He knows how to get us calm, and that's surprising for a kid like that."

Against 2-A Stephen F. Austin, Mayfield put up gaudy numbers again (367 yards, 3 TDs) than he did against SMU.

Who does Mayfield throw to? After two games, seven Red Raiders have double-digit targets: Eric Ward (22), J Grant (16), Jace Amaro (15), Bradley Marquez (12), Reg Davis (11), and Dylan Cantrell (11). Cantrell, Ward, and Amaro make the catch most often; Grant and Marquez are not bad. Reginald Davis has the lowest catch rate on the team.

Mayfield and his receivers are the Texas Tech offense. Mayfield leads the team in rushes (21) and rushing yards (41 per game). Junior Kenny Williams (5-9, 225) and Sophomore Deandre Washington (5-8, 190) line up in the backfield, but are almost as likely to be targeted with a pass as handed the ball. They each average about half as many yards per game on the ground as their quarterback.

Quick passes de-emphasize the offensive line, which is an odd group. The only all-conference performer is left tackle sophomore LaRaven Clark; the left guard is sophomore Alfredo Morales. Each of these players weighs 320 pounds, and has almost 50 pounds on the other three starters, center Jared Kaster (sophomore, 6-3, 275), right guard Beau Carpenter (junior, 6-6, 285) and right tackle Rashad Fortenberry (senior, 6-5, 285). They line up in wide splits, and pass block, pass block, pass block, all day, every day.

The defense wants to improve its turnovers gained to best in the conference. In 2012 the Red Raiders were worst in the conference, and were 118th nationally. They call it "worst to first."

They're trying this transition while replacing four seniors in the secondary. The elder statesman is free safety Tre' Porter, who is second on the team in tackles to date with 13. J. J. Gaines is the other starting safety. Corners Bruce Jones and Olaoluwa Falemi are both new starters. Falemi has two pass breakups.

Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstadt (who schemed against TCU while at Air Force a few years ago) utilizes a 3-4, and leans on its linebackers heavily. Six of the team's top eight tacklers are linebackers. The starting four are Pete Robertson, Will Smith, Sam Eguavoen, and Terrance Bullitt. Bullitt is the seasoned starter, but all are new in Wallerstadt's system. None have faced a dynamic offense in that system yet. (It is unclear whether they will face one Thursday night).

Up front the star is end Kerry Hyder; Dennell Wesley plugs the middle and Brandon Jackson plays the other end.

So how does the crew rate in the Big 12 to date in turnover margin? Seventh. "Worst to seventh" doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

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