The good news for Texas Tech is the Red Raiders just came through a five-game gauntlet of ranked opponents, winning twice and staying three games above .500.
That doesn’t mean all the hard stuff’s over.
In the next two weeks, the Red Raiders face the Big 12 Conference’s top two rushers. As hopeless as Kansas might look with a 1-8 record and a 17-game conference losing streak, the Jayhawks’ James Sims has been the most reliable ground gainer in the league with a string of five straight 100-yard performances.
After him comes a test from Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle, who’s likely to be the Big 12’s first back to reach 1,000 yards.
“Those guys are pretty good running the ball,” Tech defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said. “We just want to come out and play our game. We want to be able to dominate the line of scrimmage and fit up the run. All of us will be focused on that — handling the O-linemen up front and the linebackers coming up and filling the gaps.”
You won’t find Sims in the NCAA or Big 12 season rushing stats, because he served a three-game suspension to start the year. As a result, he hasn’t played in the 75 percent of his team’s games necessary to be listed among the NCAA and Big 12 full-season leaders.
But the 6-foot, 200-pound junior from Irving MacArthur has topped 100 yards each of the last five weeks, against Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor.
“He can move pretty well,” said Hyder, who faced Sims last year when the latter carried 24 times for 85 yards. “We’re just going to try to get a body on him and gang tackle.”
Sophomore running back Tony Pierson, Kansas’ second-leading rusher with 455 yards, knows Sims better than anyone, being in the same backfield. He says Sims is an all-around back who’s confident and runs hard.
“I’d like to call James a power-slash-speed back,” Pierson said. “He’s got more power than he has speed, but he brings both to the table at the same time. He’s a nice back.”
In Big 12 games only, Sims’ average of 131.4 yards per game and Randle’s 119.8 are the two best in the league. Randle has six 100-yard performances in eight games.
He has 934 rushing yards for the season, and Sims stands at 748 in only six games.
“We’ve got some good ones coming up,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “Baylor has got a good one, Oklahoma State has got a very good one and Kansas has got a good one. So we’ve got our hands full.”
For all Sims’ success, it hasn’t translated onto the scoreboard. Kansas, with instability at quarterback and the nation’s 111th-ranked passing offense has scored more than 17 points only once in its last seven games. Kansas relies on Sims and its defense, with the latter capable of keeping the Jayhawks in games.
Kansas held TCU and Oklahoma State to 20 points and Texas to 21, unable in each case to muster enough offense to win.
“The mood around here is still good,” Pierson said. “Everything’s positive with the coaches, with the players, so we take it one day at a time and keep getting better each day.”
Pierson, a small back known for his speed, has helped Sims. When Sims was suspended early, Pierson had two 100-yard games to start the season.
“I’m looking for a hard-nosed run game,” Hyder said. “That’s what we’re preparing for.”
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Kansas’ James Sims and Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle have been the Big 12 Conference’s two leading rushers in league games. A list of their 100-yard performances this season with dates, yardage totals and opponents.
JAMES SIMS, KANSAS
JOSEPH RANDLE, OKLAHOMA STATE