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Kicking the Tires: Texas Tech Red Raiders

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After a stunning home loss to West Virginia, K-State looks to regroup. Next up is a trip to Lubbock.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

I guess that’s what I get for being optimistic. Last week, I predicted K-State would roll over a West Virginia team that has looked hapless all season and was non-competitive in a 38-17 loss to Texas Tech the week before arriving in Manhattan.

Shows you what I know.

Off that stunning home loss, K-State needs to regroup quickly. Two winnable games remain, but K-State can’t show up against anyone with a C+ effort and expect to win. This week brings a matchup with a Texas Tech team that, like WVU last week, has no margin for error if it wants to achieve bowl eligibility.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Skylar Thompson, 148-243-3, 1,888 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 10 TDs, 188.0 yards/game

Rushing: James Gilbert, 113 carries, 618 yards, 5.5 yards/carry, 6 TDs, 77.3 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 32 receptions, 541 yards, 16.9 yards/reception, 4 TDs, 54.1 yards/game

Texas Tech

Passing: Jett Duffey, 165-260-3, 2,107 yards, 8.1 yards/attempt, 14 TDs, 263.4 yards/game

Rushing: SaRodorick Thompson, 123 carries, 595 yards, 4.8 yards/carry, 10 TDs, 59.5 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Rigdon, 34 receptions, 486 yards, 14.3 yards/reception, 5 TDs, 48.6 yards/game

For a quarterback who’s received basically zero buzz around the Big 12, Jett Duffey is having a pretty nice season in Lubbock. YPA is top 350 nationally, only three interceptions, and a respectable touchdown total. He also spreads the ball around well, with four receivers topping 30 receptions on the year.

For the first time in what feels like forever, Tech sports a defense that isn’t merely a suggestion. The Red Raiders aren’t suddenly a stone wall or anything, but they’re not bad. Senior linebacker Jordyn Brooks leads the way with 102 tackles, including an impressive 18.0 tackles for loss. Defensive lineman Eli Howard chips in 4.5 sacks, and Brooks is right behind with 3.0. Keep an eye on cornerback Douglas Coleman III, who leads the country with eight interceptions on the season.

Advanced Stats

I’m going to try and consolidate my verbiage in this part and use a format for Success Rates similar to baseball’s “triple slash.” The format will be overall/passing/rushing success rates.

K-State’s offense maintains respectable Success Rate numbers (39th/29th/51st), but as we’ve seen, a lot of teams have been able to rein in the ground game by putting eight in the box. While K-State’s passing success rate is its best individual total, it’s difficult to sustain those longs drives and K-State has tended to bog down in scoring territory.*

*For “scoring territory,” I’m using Connelly’s metric, which is trips inside the opponent’s 40. Toward that end, I was furious when K-State punted from WVU’s 35 last week.

For its part, Texas Tech (64th/83rd/43rd) is best against the run. Tech very much profiles as a bend-don’t-break defense, giving up 8.0 yards per passing attempt (124th nationally) and 4.9 yards per carry (73rd nationally), but is 19th nationally at preventing touchdowns in the red zone. That doesn’t bode especially well for a K-State offense that has not been strong finishing drives in the last few games.

Tech is somewhat prone to giving up big plays at 102nd nationally, which breaks with their bend-don’t-break profile. K-State will probably need to generate a few big scoring plays in this one.

Reflecting new coach Matt Wells’ preferences, Tech’s offense is now at least competent across the board (43rd/32nd/59th), rather than the pass-first/pass-last outfits of the last 20 years. K-State’s defensive numbers are headed the wrong way (49th/33rd/71st) but are still respectable. The Wildcats are great on third down, but getting opponent’s into third-down situations has been difficult.

Tech isn’t very explosive (93rd) but K-State is susceptible to giving up big plays (119th). As with K-State’s offense above, this game could well turn on a big play here or there. If K-State can force Tech to drive the length of the field, the Wildcats are pretty good (31st) at preventing red-zone touchdowns.

Conclusion

This K-State team has been difficult for me to get a bead on this year. At the exact points where I started gaining confidence — after Mississippi State, after OU and TCU and KU — things fell apart suddenly. Connelly projects Texas Tech to win by the narrowest possible margin, 30-29. The Vegas line started at the same point, but has moved in K-State’s direction since (currently Wildcats -2.5).

In other words, it’s yet another tossup game that will likely come down to the wire. I don’t have a great feeling here.

Red Raiders 34, Wildcats 31