Sophomore wide receiver Dylan Cantrell made two eye-catching plays Thursday in his first career start for Texas Tech. He had a 33-yard gain making a one-handed catch while falling backward and a 17-yard gain to convert a second-and-17.
Those were his only receptions, though.
Now he just needs to be a more frequent threat.
Each of Texas Tech’s last two opponents has found an area to exploit in the defense and kept hammering away at it.
Arkansas kept running the football to beat the Red Raiders. Oklahoma State kept throwing it deep. The Cowboys hit six pass plays of 30-plus yards, and two more longer than 20, in Thursday’s 45-35 victory.
Most were on deep throws as opposed to short passes that receivers turned into big gains.
Last week, Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris bemoaned a lack of blocking from his outside receivers. They were much better at that Saturday at UTEP, he said.
The down side is the Red Raiders got zero catches from split ends D.J. Polite-Bray and Devin Lauderdale.
“They (the Miners) played press man a large majority of the game,” Morris said. “We’ve got to win on some of those deep balls.
The key player in Texas Tech’s game-ending stand Saturday to hold off UTEP had to be defensive end Branden Jackson. A long kickoff return with a facemask penalty thrown in gave the Miners possession at the Tech 33-yard line with 2:23 left, and Jackson showed up on three of the next four plays as the Red Raiders held on to win 30-26.
With Texas Tech’s noseguard 1-2 of Jackson Richards (ankle) and Rika Levi (knee) both missing Saturday’s game, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt allocated their snaps to junior-college transfers Keland McElarth and Marcus Smith and sophomore Anthony Smith.
The results were mixed: UTEP rushed for 277 yards, but McElrath showed some playmaking and agility while getting credit for eight tackles and a quarterback pressure.
More than just the opponents have given Texas Tech trouble in the first two games of the season. The Red Raiders have also had issues with their own sideline organization.
In a 42-35 win against Central Arkansas, Tech twice had to spend timeouts on defense to get the right personnel in the game. Then in Saturday’s 30-26 victory at Texas-El Paso the Red Raiders were penalized on back-to-back plays: once for having two players in the game with the same number and then for sideline interference.
Texas Tech was penalized Saturday for having two players in the game simultaneously wearing the same jersey number, so the Red Raiders have changed several players’ numbers this week to limit the chance of it happening again.
Those switching are linebacker Andre Ross from No. 2 to No. 36, receiver Cameron Batson from No. 13 to No. 80, cornerback Jah’Shawn Johnson from No. 14 to No. 29 and linebacker Sam Atoe from No. 21 to No. 25.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury made it clear from the start of his tenure that he won’t make a big to-do over whether his team gets its yards passing or rushing.
Good thing, because the rushing numbers might have driven him nuts last season.
Only once in 2013 did Tech have an individual rusher reach 80 yards — when DeAndre Washington, Sadale Foster and Kenny Williams ran for 88, 87 and 80 yards, respectively, against Iowa State.
Texas Tech defensive lineman Bennett Ofor is focusing on academics and not currently practicing with the team, defensive line coach John Scott Jr.
Ofor is not listed on the Red Raiders' roster at the moment, but Tech spokesman Blayne Beal said he could return.
The senior from Friendswood Clear Brook played in nine games last season, mostly as a noseguard in pass-rush packages. He underwent surgery after the season for a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and hasn’t been on the field since.
Texas Tech expected to feel the loss of Eric Ward this season. Not only did he catch more than 80 passes three years in a row, but he played a rough, physical style when a teammate had the football.
The Red Raiders felt his absence right away Saturday.