Arizona Football: 5 Questions for the Texas Tech experts

It’s week three of the young, Arizona Football season, and we wanted to reach out to site experts at Wreck ‘Em Red to talk Texas Tech Football.

For those that don’t know or didn’t know, Arizona Football and Texas Tech have a pretty interesting history, and one that dates all the way back to 1932 when they first squared off. What you may not know, is that both schools actually shared membership in the Border Conference from 1932-56.

Overall, the programs have met 32 times, with this being a rather, one-sided affair, with the Red Raiders winning the last match-up by a 24-14 final back in 1989. Finally, old rivals will meet on the gridiron this Saturday!

Now I got to admit, I don’t know enough about Texas Tech or their football team, so I felt what better way to find out more, than by asking the experts over at Wreck ‘Em Red.  So I decided to reach out to Matthew Conner, the site expert for Wreck ‘Em Red, to give us some insight into this week’s match-up.

As a little background, Conner is a graduate of Texas Tech University and is an avid fan of Red Raiders athletics, so he certainly has great insight and perspective on their team!

ZZ: It’s early into the season, but two games in, what is your overall assessment of the team (maybe biggest surprises) thus far, and what grade would you give the team?

MC: “Thus far, this team has show some surprising discipline and cohesion which is unusual in the first two games of a new coaching staff.  It’s been a pleasant surprise to see the Red Raiders flagged only four times per game after spending that last two decades among the most penalized teams in the nation.  It’s also been surprising how well the large number of grad transfers have made immediate impacts. 

Tech has as many as five grad transfers playing key roles including at RB, where former Utah Ute Armand Shyne leads the team in rushing and at defensive back we have two grad transfers, Zech McPhearson from Penn State and Ja’Marcus Ingram from Utah State, are already being leaned on heavily. 

Additionally, another former Pac-12 player, Evan Rambo from Cal, is also starting at outside linebacker. With all the new faces in the mix, it’s been encouraging to see how well this team has played together on both sides of the ball. That’s likely due in large part to the fact that Matt Wells brought the majority of his staff from Utah State with him to Lubbock.

As for a grade, I’m tempted to give the team an “I” for incomplete because we just don’t know much given the weakness of the opponents in the first two weeks. However, I’ll give the Red Raiders an “A-“ right now because they’ve accomplished their major goals and done what so many teams in the country haven’t done this year and dominated teams they should.”

ZZ: What concerns do you have, if any of Texas Tech so far, that might make this game a difficult one for the Red Raiders?

MC: The huge concern is Khalil Tate and the Wildcat offense. More specifically, the Wildcat passing attack. Montana State and UTEP combined to attempt just 53 passes against the Red Raiders in the first two weeks of the season so we do not know if a secondary that’s been significantly overhauled, is ready to stand up to a team that throws the ball in a way that is reminiscent of the 21st century game. 

Arizona will be the first, true spread team Tech will see and Tate is the first dual-threat passer this defense will face. I’ve seen Tate have some electric performances and the thought of him going off against an untested defense playing a completely new scheme makes me extremely nervous.  Tech’s defense has yet to force a turnover this year and has only two sacks despite both being areas of great focus and importance in this new scheme.  That’s a bit troublesome as well.

It is also concerning anytime a team goes on the road for the first time under a new coaching staff, because that leads to new routines and procedures that may take some of the focus away from the actual game.  Having this game in Tucson rather than Lubbock is less than ideal in year-one of the Matt Wells era.

ZZ: There is no doubt Texas Tech’s defense has looked pretty good so far, albeit it being against inferior competition. In your opinion, how much better do you think the Red Raiders’ are this year defensively, and how big of a difference will it be going into this game?

MC: The difference in the defense this year is in its aggressiveness. The new 3-3-5 scheme puts a priority on pressure, both at the line of scrimmage and in the secondary. So far, that’s resulted in a No. 9 national ranking in total defense, but that will certainly drop this week as the Red Raiders finally play a team that knows how to not only spell the word “touchdowns”, but also score plenty of them. 

So the key will be whether Tate, who was the best QB in the PAC-12 last year when throwing under pressure (according to Pro Football Focus), can read this defense and execute against a pass rush that will be coming from all over the formation and at odd and somewhat random times. 

Wildcat fans may remember Tech DC Keith Patterson from his time as DC of Arizona State from 2014-16 when he produced two of the nation’s worst defenses before being demoted for Phil Bennett in 2017. Those Sun Devil defenses were atrocious which made many in Lubbock leery of Patterson, but thus far, his defense has been fantastic in terms of tackling in space and controlling the line of scrimmage.  This year’s Red Raider defense is better than the ones we’ve seen in recent years but it isn’t the No. 9 defense in the nation.

ZZ: Kliff Kingsbury was certainly a great offensive mind, and had plenty of high scoring teams in his time in Lubbock. How has Matt Wells looked so far in his first season, and do you think Coach Wells will able to sustain his early success against a talented Big 12, and more importantly, Arizona?

MC:  Wells has been everything we could have asked him to be thus far.  He’s been engaging in the community, the face of the program, and is a relentless recruiter. All of that is a refreshing change from the enigmatic Kingsbury, who became the West Texas version of Big Foot or the Phantom of the Opera as he shied away from his notoriety.

Time will tell if Wells will pan out, but he’s got his work cut out for him over the next four weeks.  This is his first test and then he has to travel to Oklahoma before hosting Oklahoma State and then traveling to Baylor.  That’s a nasty stretch which will put an end to his honeymoon phase. 

But he’s created a team that’s been disciplined and played with its hair on fire, especially on defense, and that’s a great sign. Still, at Tech it’s an uphill battle in the Big 12 and he’s got a long ways to go. I’d say that having a coach like Sumlin in year-two of his tenure is a bit of an advantage for the Wildcats, especially in this early-season test.

ZZ: What will be the biggest challenge(s) for Arizona (defensively) to be able to stop/ slow down Texas Techs’ talented offense? Who will be the tough match-ups for us to overcome?

MC: The offense has been a bit of a work in progress. Tech is replacing three of last year’s four starting receivers, as well as all but one running back. As long as sophomore QB Alan Bowman is at the helm, I’m not too worried.

In the five games he started and did not leave with an injury last year, he averaged over 400 yards per game in the air and this year, he’s No. 9 in the nation at 355 yards per game.   The key for Arizona will be to disrupt Tech on early downs. Once the Red Raiders pick up a first down or have a positive play, OC David Yost will run a tempo offense that will snap the ball in under 10 seconds. If Arizona can keep Tech stuck in neutral early in drives, the Cats stand a chance of keeping the Raiders from getting hot.

This is an offense with a great line that features four returners, but that has questions at most of the skill positions. I can’t wait to see who steps up now that Tech’s playing another Power 5 team. 

If there is one player I would focus on if I were Arizona, it would be wide receiver T.J. Vasher (No. 9).  He’s the only returning starter at receiver and he leads the team in yards and TDs.  The other receivers have been inconsistent, but explosive thus far.  He’s been both and at 6-foot-5, he’s a match-up nightmare. 

Also keep an eye on Shyne as he’s proven to be the best runner on the team thus far and he’s given the offense a dimension it’s been lacking.  He had a 69-yard TD in week one as part of a 125-yard day.

ZZ: Lastly, what’s your prediction for Saturday?

I expect this to be a bit more of an under control game than a wild shootout the likes of which have been occurring in southern Arizona since the days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Tech’s offense didn’t hit on all cylinders last week and it appears that the new offensive approach, which emphasizes the run far more heavily, is still not fully taken root.

The Tech defense is better than it has been which should keep the Arizona offense from going wild as it has in the first two games of the year. This is really a coin flip game to me.

Arizona being at home, where the Wildcats are a much better team historically, is a huge advantage.  But in the end, I think the differences in the two offenses (I give Zona the edge) is not as great as the difference between the two defenses (where Tech should have an edge) and I think the Red Raiders make just enough plays to squeak out a win. I’ll be a homer and pick with my heart, which always goes poorly for me, and say Tech 35-Arizona 30.

At Zona Zealots, we graciously thank Matthew in taking part in this discussion and giving us some great insight into their program! You can follow Wreck ‘Em Red on Twitter @WreckEm_Red, and you can also find Texas Tech site expert Matthew Conner on Twitter as well, @RockyMntRaider. As always, Bear Down, Arizona!