Starting offense stymied
Texas Tech scrimmaged for 95 plays Wednesday at Jones AT&T Stadium without the first-team offense scoring a touchdown.
Tech coach Tommy Tuberville wasn’t happy about that, saying the execution has to get better. On the other hand, considering how dreadful Tech’s defense was a year ago, Tuberville is exuberant about what he’s seen lately on that side of the football.
“I’m real pleased where we’re at in terms of lining up on defense, and understanding more of what we’re doing,” Tuberville said. “We’re not really satisfied with it, but we’re much better off than I thought we’d be with a week and a half until the first game.”
The only touchdowns in the scrimmage came from backup units. Quarterback Brant Costilla threw a 22-yard scoring pass to split end Dominique Wheeler, a blue-chip signee who’s likely to redshirt. Second-string quarterback Michael Brewer flipped a 4-yard scoring pass to backup tight end Cameron Wright, a former walk-on from Cooper.
As has been in the case in all the August scrimmages, kicker Ryan Bustin got plenty of work. He made field goals from 34, 37, 28 and 33 yards and missed from 42 and 30 yards.
The left-footed kicker from Kilgore is 15 for 20 in four preseason scrimmages.
The first team was without split end Eric Ward (flulike symptoms) and flanker Darrin Moore (groin).
Stephens back, but is the burst?
With 10 days left until the 2012 season opener, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens made a run that looked remarkably similar to one in the 2011 season opener.
The difference was last year against Texas State, Stephens shot up the middle and ran untouched 46 yards for a touchdown. In an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday at Jones AT&T Stadium, he broke into the clear on an identical play, but got caught from behind after 58 yards by safety D.J. Johnson.
Stephens didn’t show the same burst as last year before his season-ending knee injury, but he’s going to be an integral part of the running game again.
“He looked good,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “He got caught from behind. I couldn’t tell from the other end (of the field) whether it was an angle or whatever.
“He has not ever been the burner that some of the guys are, but he hit that hole and looked like the old Eric Stephens when he hit it and broke into the open field. That was good to see. I think it was a good confidence builder for him.”
Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Saturday he’s committed to using all four of the team’s tailback types — Stephens, DeAndre Washington, Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster. Brown said the question in his mind is how to allocate carries.
Marquez switches spots
Bradley Marquez spent all of Wednesday’s scrimmage at split end — a position switch for the sophomore from Odessa. That could be an indication the offensive staff will go with Eric Ward and Marquez at split end and Darrin Moore and Javon Bell at flanker in trimming the outside receivers to a two-deep.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Saturday that redshirt freshman Derreck Edwards had dropped out of the mix for the time being, and head coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday that senior Marcus Kennard had slumped after a strong start to preseason camp.
With Ward coming off flu-like symptoms and not going on offense Wednesday, Marquez got a lot of work in his spot and caught four passes for 65 yards. That included perhaps the day’s most impressive play: Seth Doege threw a deep sideline route that somehow slipped through cornerback Eugene Neboh’s blanket coverage and dropped perfectly in to Marquez. He turned it into a 35-yard gain.
Kennard caught a 13-yard pass but had two others go off his hands.
With Ward out the last two days, Marquez’s move could simply be a result of that. Or it could be a way to break up a logjam at flanker, where he’d been battling Moore and Bell.
Under the heading of “Things you’ll see only in a scrimmage,” put this scenario: Eight consecutive plays run out of the wildcat formation. Texas Tech did that during Wednesday’s intrasquad with five direct snaps in a row to running back Eric Stephens, followed by three consecutive direct snaps to running back SaDale Foster.
The longest gain out of it was a 12-yard run by Foster.
Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said there were two reasons the Red Raiders practiced plays out of that formation over and over: Wednesday, they were able to run it against the first-team defense, which offers better resistance. In practices during the season, such a scenario would unfold against scout-teamers.
That, and the offense was struggling some.
“I think that was a little bit more from the coaches on offense being discouraged about how they were moving the ball,” Tuberville said. “They said, ‘Heck with it, we’re going to line up and run the ball.’
“I know a lot of us are all for that,” Tuberville said, smiling. “To see 8 (Foster) with the ball in his hands and 24 (Stephens) and 34 (Kenny Williams). That’s going to be fun to watch if we can just keep them healthy and keep the offensive line getting better.”
Mays might resurface
Cornerback Derrick Mays started five of the first 10 games last season, but fell from favor with Tech coach Tommy Tuberville saying near the end of the year that Mays lacked confidence.
Now it looks as if the junior from Killeen Shoemaker might resurface as Eugene Neboh’s backup at right cornerback.
Tuberville said he and defensive backs coach John Lovett agree Mays might have improved more than any other corner.
“He’s a lot more aggressive,” Tuberville said. “We all know he can run. He’s played a lot. He’s just been a little tentative.
“He and John Lovett spent a lot of time working and watching film and looking at what he did last year, and I think he could be a surprise for us if he can stay healthy. He’s one of those guys that tends to come down with (injured) hamstrings, but he really has practiced well the last 21/2 weeks.”
Junior-college transfer Bruce Jones still looks like the most likely backup to left cornerback Cornelius Douglas.
Wide receiver Eric Ward and inside receiver Javares McRoy figure to open the season as the team’s preferred options to return punts. Tandems for the deep men on kickoff returns will come from McRoy, Bradley Marquez, SaDale Foster and Javon Bell.
Austin Zouzalik has been a regular on punt returns the last three years, but he averaged only 6.9 yards last season with a long return of 25 yards. Coaches are curious to see if Ward and McRoy can provide more big plays.
Ward returned one punt for 7 yards last season. Ward has practiced on a non-contact basis all month as coaches have been protecting players with concussion histories.
“Eric really finished strong last year,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We’ve just got to get him out here and get him going. ... Javares has got great hands. He’s going to be fun to watch if we ever get him in the open field.
“The problem is everybody runs these spread punts and you just about have to fair catch it every time.”
Tech has to replace kickoff return man Ben McRoy, who averaged 25.0 yards on 36 returns last year but is no longer on the team. The Red Raiders like the speed available from Javares McRoy, Marquez, Foster and Bell.
“You can take any of those four and put them out there and I think they’ll pretty much look like clones,” Tuberville said.
Opener added for TV
Texas Tech’s Sept. 1 season opener against Northwestern State will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest Plus at 6 p.m., the school announced Wednesday.
Tech’s home game against New Mexico at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 will also be televised, with that contest being carried on Fox College Sports.
The Red Raiders’ non-conference road game against Texas State will be broadcast online at WATCHESPN (www.watchespn.com) at 6 p.m. Sept. 8.
Season and individual tickets are still available and can be purchased at TexasTech.com or by calling 806-742-TECH.
Compiled by Don Williams and Nick Kosmider