For all the positives that came out of Texas Tech’s season-opening victory Friday at SMU, there was this minus: 27 rushing attempts for 48 yards.
Few, if any, expected the Red Raiders to be a prolific rushing offense, but neither did many expect the run game to be so punchless. By the third and fourth quarters, Tech had all but given up on moving the ball on the ground as SMU hemmed in Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington.
“They’ve traditionally been really good at stopping the run,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think last year SMU was a top-10 defense in run defense, and we’ve always kind of struggled. That’s their deal. They’re going to make you earn it through the air.
“That being said, we had some third-and-shorts we’ve got to be able to get, and we’ve got to have better push up front. With the type of running backs we have, we’ve got to be able to create some lanes and get them onto the second level.”
Williams finished with 7 yards on nine carries, Washington with 9 yards on four attempts. Not what the Red Raiders had hoped, given Williams’ 800-yard season a year ago as a sophomore and the quickness Washington showed two years ago as a freshman.
SMU ranked No. 15 in the nation in rushing defense last season, so maybe it was just a bad first-game matchup.
On the other hand, the Tech offensive line, a question mark since the end of last season, did little to alleviate the concern.
“Anytime you can’t run the ball at will, I’m disappointed,” line coach Lee Hays said. “I think they did some things. They run kind of a seven-man front, but it’s kind of hidden. They’ll slant the 3-techniques (defensive tackles) and bring two guys off the edge, so you’ve got five on seven right there. The boss’s game plan for it did a great job. It’s tough, though, when they’re slanting and stuff like that. Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job up front.”
Tech used seven offensive linemen Friday: one senior, two juniors, three sophomores and a redshirt freshman.
Tech’s 48 rushing yards was its lowest output since the 2011 season finale against Baylor.
The most notable runs didn’t even come from running backs: an 18-yard gain by Jakeem Grant — a slot receiver who lined up in the backfield anhd took a handoff — and an 11-yard touchdown by quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Tech had eight rushing plays in both the first and second quarters, then six in the third and five in the fourth. That tilted the offensive balance to nearly 70-30 passing, which wasn’t necessarily the game plan.
“I would have hoped that it would have been 50-50,” Kingsbury said. “But once we were struggling running, I’ve said all along if we can’t run it, we’re going to throw it, and if we can run it, we’re going to run it. We just cut Baker loose.”
Center Jared Kaster said the Red Raiders will need to run the ball more effectively to help open up the passing game.
He said the fact SMU did some complicated things up front isn’t a good excuse.
“They run a couple of odd fronts at you,” he said, “but if you communicate down the line, you can pick anything up as long as you’re on the same page. ... If you just communicate, that’s the big thing about running the ball, because you’ve all got to know who you’re blocking.”
Kingsbury doesn’t seem to be fretting too much about it, though, given that his team won 41-23 and rolled up more than 400 yards through the air.
Asked if he’ll put more emphasis in the game plan on running the ball, he said, “No. However we can score the most points is what we’re going to do. That’s what we do. I would have liked to have been able to run it more and get it to those backs, but if it’s not working, we’re not going to bang our head against the wall.”
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