Texas Tech turning heads, making believers in Kingsbury era

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Success deserves to be validated. So Texas Tech receiver Bradley Marquez raced to his iPhone when he learned the Red Raiders had landed at No. 25 in this week’s Associated Press college football rankings.

Sure enough, Marquez discovered he was a key contributor on Team Siri.

“I asked Siri … who her favorite team was. And she said, ‘Texas Tech,’ so that was pretty fun,” Marquez said. “We’re excited.”

He should be. In fact, all of Red Raider Nation should be celebrating the 3-0 start by a football team picked to finish eighth among the league’s 10 teams in multiple Big 12 preseason projections.

With a huge assist from first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, Marquez and his mates are making such August assessments look foolish. And here’s a piece of advice for Tech fans:

Be sure and ask Siri, the automated voice assistant for the iPhone, about the identity of her favorite college football team this week. Because she’ll be dumping the Red Raiders after Saturday’s matchup against Texas State (2-0) in Lubbock (6 p.m., FSSW).

Siri is programmed to favor the No. 25 team in the AP poll, citing an affinity for underdogs. But the Red Raiders should be climbing above that perch Sunday. Tech appears to be on a collision course with a 6-0 start to the Kingsbury regime, with the Red Raiders’ bowl destination determined during a back-loaded stretch that starts Oct. 19 at West Virginia (2-1).

Understandably, Kingsbury does not want to dwell on anything beyond Saturday. His projected starting quarterback, sophomore Michael Brewer, has yet to take the field this season because of a back injury. And Tech’s freshmen replacements, if they were baseball pitchers, would have the following records: starter Baker Mayfield (2-0); closer Davis Webb (1-0).

Mayfield, a walk-on, has stared all three games. But Webb rallied the troops in last week’s 20-10 upset of then-No. 24 TCU, replacing an injured Mayfield in a 10-10 game and providing the fourth-quarter spark that sealed the victory.

Tech has thrived under Kingsbury despite ranking last among Big 12 teams in two key areas: turnover margin (minus-3) and penalty yards (91.7 yards per game). Kingsbury, 34, said he has “harped on” both since taking over the program in December and knows improvement must occur for September success to morph into November title contention.

In terms of penalties, Kingsbury said: “If we can cut those in half, we’ll have a chance the rest of the way. But we have to improve on that.”

As things stand, the Red Raiders have been strong on special teams and make timely stops on defense. The offense has averaged 400 passing yards and 40.7 points per game. Perhaps most important, Kingsbury has proven to be a calming sideline influence for a young team, constantly pushing the right emotional buttons with players in key moments.

Case in point: Instead of getting red-faced angry, he uplifted running back DeAndre Washington after replays showed Washington dropped the ball at the 1-yard line before crossing the goal line against TCU. The move negated an apparent, go-ahead score in a 10-10 game.

“I think less is more at that point,” Kingsbury said. “He knew he made a mistake. Now, let’s get him fired back up to go score again.”

Thus far, Tech fans have been fired up about most decisions Kingsbury has made in his brief coaching tenure in Lubbock. But the toughest call is coming. Kingsbury admits he may have a quarterback dilemma on his hand next week, when Brewer is expected to return to practice in preparation for an Oct. 5 game at Kansas.

“We’ll cross that bridge whenever he is fully cleared,” said Kingsbury, adding that Tech’s bye week looks “pretty timely” in regard to gauging Brewer’s health before putting him in a game. For Saturday, Mayfield remains the man under center and Kingsbury maintains the same, simple goal he’s stressed since the start of fall drills.

“We just attack each week and try to get better that week and try to win that game,” Kingsbury said. “I expect them to come out and play with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion.”

Is Kingsbury stoked about the first Top 25 ranking of his coaching career?

“I don’t even pay attention to it,” he said.

But his players do. Asked about being in the polls, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder said: “It will feel better at the end of the season. We’re happy with the ranking, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

As an added bonus, Siri loves these Red Raiders. At least for this week.

Spotlight

Daniel Sams, Kansas State QB

Fans looking for the Big 12’s next breakout performer should focus Saturday on Kansas State backup quarterback Daniel Sams. The speedy sophomore has averaged 7.5 yards per carry in spot duty this season (21 carries, 157 yards, three touchdowns) and will be facing a Texas defense that has been gouged by running quarterbacks from Brigham Young and Ole Miss the past two weeks.

It would not surprise Texas coaches if Sams starts Saturday’s game (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8) or gets most of the snaps in relief of Jake Waters, a traditional pocket passer. The matchup against Texas, which ranks No. 121 nationally in run defense (308.7 yards per game), is so enticing that K-State coach Bill Snyder could not hide his excitement during Tuesday’s news conference.

“Daniel will play this week. I think that is quite obvious,” said Snyder, normally among the most guarded of coaches in regard to game plans or injuries. Texas coach Mack Brown said he anticipates heavy doses of option because the Longhorns have not shown they can stop it.

Sams said: “Playing in front of 100,000-plus, that is the situation I thrive in, to be in that type of environment. I am just ready for whatever happens. I cannot wait.”

Storylines

QBs in large quantity: Because of injuries or ineffectiveness, a total of 21 Big 12 quarterbacks have taken snaps in the first three weeks of the season. Five of 10 league teams have started QBs who did not start the opener. Only Iowa State has had a single QB take every snap this season.

Getting defense: It is early, but two teams with major defensive questions in August rank among the nation’s top five in scoring defense. Baylor (8.0 avg.) is second. Oklahoma (9.0 avg.) is tied for fourth.

Bulletin board material: Texas players have vowed to draw inspiration Saturday from the words of Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker, who offered this observation about last year’s 42-24 Wildcats’ victory at Big 12 media days: “They kind of laid down a little bit … That’s just what they do.” Walker attempted to soften his summer comments during Tuesday’s news conference in Manahattan, Kan., but Texas players stressed that they plan to use his July comment as emotional fuel in Saturday’s matchup.

Burch’s picks

Kansas State at Texas (Saturday, 7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8) Wildcats continue their dominance in this series, win their sixth consecutive meeting. K-State 34, Texas 23.

No. 25 Texas Tech 45, Texas State 20 (Saturday, 6 p.m., Fox Sports SW) Red Raiders back up their Top 25 ranking their fourth straight double-digit win.

No. 20 Baylor 52, Louisiana-Monroe 21 (Saturday, 3 p.m., FS1) High-scoring offense remains in full throttle to cap Bears’ sweep of non-conference opponents.

Kansas 30, Louisiana Tech 28 (Saturday, 11 a.m., FS1) Jayhawks squeeze out a close one to secure a winning record in non-conference play.

Maryland 36, West Virginia 31 (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., ESPNU) Continuing a theme from last season, Mountaineers’ defense falls short in a shootout.

Last week: 7-1

Season: 20-5

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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