For the first month of the season, Texas Tech didn’t do much to convince anyone the Red Raiders could run the football effectively.
West Virginia apparently did believe, however, at least by the way the Mountaineers’ defense played. They bought run fakes all afternoon Saturday, and play-action passing surfaced as an intriguing dimension of the Tech offense. Of Davis Webb’s 462 passing yards, more than 100 came off well-executed run fakes.
“I think Davis is good at it, and we rep it quite a bit,” Tech co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said. “And Davis is a student of the game. He prepares well and watches himself a lot on film for things to improve on, so we’ve been successful with some of the play-action stuff. Our running game has picked up in the last couple of weeks, so that helps.”
During Tech’s 37-27 victory Saturday, Webb looked, at times, like a throwback to 1980s and 1990s Red Raider quarterbacks. Then-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dick Winder was a stickler for his QBs precisely faking handoffs to set up the pass, and play-action was a regular facet of Tech offenses.
That element largely fell by the wayside over the last decade with the Red Raiders’ switch to a four-receiver, spread passing game.
New Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, however, is working a good bit of two-back sets into game plans, from which the Raiders are running — and now faking runs to help receivers get open.
Running back DeAndre Washington said West Virginia seemed especially vulnerable.
“We saw some things going into that game, and we used it to our advantage,” said Washington, who caught six passes for 67 yards. “We used it a little bit more last week than we did this whole season, but it was a game-plan thing.”
Webb completed four passes to flanker Bradley Marquez off play-action — one for 30 yards positioning the Red Raiders for their first touchdown and ones for 12 and 16 yards on Tech’s go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Webb completed a couple of play-action passes to running back Kenny Williams and another to Sadale Foster.
“The (West Virginia) defense is real aggressive,” Washington said. “Once they read run, their corners — really, their whole secondary — came down hard. So we felt like with the play-action, doing some screens, doing some things to slow them down, would work. We were able to have some success with it.”
It has the potential to be used more often, however. Tech ran for 183 yards at West Virginia and for 251 the week before against Iowa State. So the Red Raiders have a legitimate run game to sell, and Webb seems to have down the fundamentals for selling it.
Did the play-action passing success stem more from Webb’s feel for it or because Kingsbury drilled the fundamentals of it?
“I think it’s a mixture of both,” tight end Jace Amaro said. “I think Davis does a great job selling the run, and then coach Kingsbury really sets up those plays very well. It helps us out a lot because our running game is really picking up and the play-action pass has opened the field up for us — not just for me, but for Bradley (Marquez) and Eric (Ward).”
Most of the successful play-action passes came on first down, but the biggest gainer came on third-and-1 from the Tech 35. Webb faked a handoff, turned his back to the defense, then pivoted and softly flipped to Williams, who was wide open coming out of the backfield.
He ran for 41 yards before the Mountaineers pulled him down.
“We faked the dive. We knew they’d crash in,” Williams said. “I just have to set it up good, make sure I fake the block really good. I got out and it happened for us.”
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