Is Texas Tech’s biggest rival? It’s beginning to look more and more like that is the case. With football, baseball, and basketball all playing tight contests annually and plenty of vitriol between these two fan bases, the hatred has certainly grown. And that’s just how we want it.
So, here we are, with one team trying to get to bowl eligibility and another positioning themselves for a chance to play for a Big 12 title, and Lubbock standing in the way. We spoke with Jay Burroughs of Viva the Matadors to get the Red Raiders’ view on how Saturday will go down, how important this rivalry is, and if Kliff is long for the plains.
Frogs O’ War: Replacing a generational talent like Patrick Mahomes is never an easy task, and TCU fans can certainly relate post-Boykin. But Nic Shimonek has filled in admirably, and in fact, he has already matched the win total from Mahomes' senior year. All that being said, there is quite a bit of grumbling around the Red Raiders' fanbase regarding their QB. What are your thoughts on Shimonek this season, and how do you expect him to play Saturday against one of the top defenses in the conference?
Jay Burrous: It takes a certain level of "gun-slinger" mentality to truly thrive within the Air Raid, and it seems like Shimonek lacks that characteristic. He's extremely cautious and rarely forces the issue if it's not wide open. Equally, his pocket presence is a bit lacking, and he'll bail out too early. Kingsbury also appears to lack a ton of confidence in his ability, because you saw Shimonek kneel with 42 seconds left in the K-State game (and we had a chance to win). This has been really disappointing for fans because we're accustomed to Kingsbury shaping/molding quarterbacks into the strength of the offense.
Now, given all that, he is accurate and has the arm talent to make any/all throws. His straight line speed isn't terrible, and he's made a few plays with his feet when it's there. It's apparent that Shimonek won't be the guy to win you the game, but it's not his prerogative to lose the game either.
Against TCU, I don't see him eclipsing 300 yards passing, and he'll likely settle around 250. Should he exceed those numbers, I'll feel significantly better about our chances.
FOW: Speaking of offense, KeKe Coutee has to be one of the most under-appreciated players in the conference, if not the country. How does Tech utilize his skillset so well, and what about him makes him so dangerous?
JB: He understands open-space better than almost any receiver we've had at Texas Tech. Where Jakeem Grant was pure speed/electricity, Coutee is more fluid and fast. Their favorite usage of him is on a quick 5-yard out that he'll generally turn into 10-12 yards, the quick slant, and then about once a game they'll send him up the seem. Should Coutee get one step on literally anyone, he's 100% gone and will score a touchdown. Nobody has really stopped him either. Oklahoma State injured him, hence the numbers there - and Baylor insisted on giving a 12-yard cushion to our outside receivers. TCU would be smart to take Coutee away and force Shimonek to beat the Frogs on the outside.
FOW: On the other side of the ball, the Texas Tech defense looked really good early, and continues to be a notch above what they have been in recent years. What has the difference been in 2017 and what is the prognosis for the near future in that regard?
JB: We've got some depth, and generally will play 17-19 players on defense. In the past, those numbers were likely more around 12-15 players getting regular playing time. Past that, turnovers have come in droves this year, and we've got likely the most underrated linebacker duo in the Big 12. David Gibbs is in year three, and has finally started to get some ROI on the solid recruiting classes that he put together. In fact, outside of Jah'Shawn Johnson, I think every player that gets legitimate playing time is a Gibbs recruit. We're all excited about what 2018 can be on this side of the ball.
FOW: To dig a little deeper, the TCU offense has looked really bad over the last month or so, but was able to eek out wins until they faced Iowa State and Oklahoma. How do you expect David Gibbs to game plan against Kenny Hill, especially with leading rusher Darius Anderson out? Where have teams been successful against the Tech defense and do you think the Frogs will be able to exploit those weaknesses?
JB: We're insistent on running soft zone coverage in the secondary, so I'm sure that Hill will have the 8-10 yard outs/slants/hitches wide open. Gibbs is stubborn to a fault about not giving up plays over the top, so we'll go out of our way to keep the ball in front of us. Should Hill be patient and take what we give him - I'm sure he'll have his best game in over a month. Now, if he decides to force the ball down the field, or bails out the pocket a bunch, it could look a lot like last year. Kyle Hicks is also really good, so I'm sure he'll get plenty of run.
FOW: The Red Raiders need to beat TCU and/or Texas to get back to bowl eligibility, which is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Will that be enough to get the heat off of Kliff's seat, or do you think that ship has sailed? Do you feel it's time to move on, or should he get more time in Lubbock?
JB: I wrote after the K-State game that Kingsbury lost his job. Should he win against both TCU/UT, I'm sure he'll keep his job, and might even get a contract extension. But, no Tech fan worth their salt actually believes that he'll do that. There's no reason we shouldn't be 7-3 right now other than Kingsbury's questionable coaching. None of us want him to go per say, but you can't have three losing seasons
FOW: Gives us a couple names to watch on the offensive and defensive side of the ball on Saturday.
JB: Mych Thomas will need to have an excellent game against the run, and he's been a rock all year. Should one of our defensive backs make life hard on the outside with a few key breakups that will also prove monumental. Specifically, a guy like Desmond Smith could really alter the outcome in this one. Offensively, Tre King needs to find a way to get to 100 yards. Past him, I think TJ Vasher's performance is likely THE most important. Should he abuse the smaller defensive backs, and take the top off the Frog defense a few times, Shimonek will have some space to work with. Texas Tech will have to play their best game to win this one.
FOW: Many TCU fans are starting to consider Texas Tech our most bitter rival, as the hatred seems to flow across all three major sports (football, basketball, and baseball) with game after game seeming to end in or be surrounded by controversy. What is the feeling around the Red Raider community about TCU in general, and as a rival?
JB: The worst kept secret in the world is that Texas Tech and TCU are rivals. We compete for recruits year in and year out, both schools hate losing to the other, and there's tons of emotions tied to the outcomes. Outside of the 82 spot the Frogs hung on us (lest we forget, Tech put 70 on TCU in Lubbock), the games never disappoint. I'll personally attend this game, and 99% of the reason I'm going is because I'd hate to miss us beat TCU. I also hate that Red Raider fans keep claiming Texas as a rival (it's so lopsided), and clearly Texas A&M isn't coming back. Equally, does TCU really care about beating Baylor (editor’s note: yes, yes we do) and SMU? Texas Tech is a significantly more interesting school to compete against across all of the major sports. If things progress accordingly over the next 5-10 years, I think you'll see both schools start to take ownership that this is a "thing."
Editor’s note: welcome back, Saddle Trophy
FOW: What is your prediction for the game? How can the Red Raiders beat the Horned Frogs Saturday morning?
JB: I hate picking against the Red Raiders, but I don't see us busting 20 points against the Frog defense. TCU wins 31-14. For what it's worth, I think it'll be plenty close until the end, and the final scores by TCU will be on short fields because we're going for it on 4th down. Should we find a way to win, it'll be because we turn TCU over 3+ times, and we find creative ways to score 35+ points. I have trouble believing that we can do that though.
Thanks to Jay for taking the time to answer our questions, and be sure to head over to Viva the Matadors to see our Q&A with them!