Stopping air show a puzzler

The Texas Tech offense averages more than 520 yards passing.
Thursday, October 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some questions might never be answered.

How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How does a defense stop the Texas Tech offense?

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn’t concerned about candy or poultry, but the latter question is at the top of his list this week.

Pinkel said if there is a solution to stopping the Red Raiders’ offense, nobody has found it.

“I don’t know,” Pinkel said. “If I had the answer to that, I’d probably be sitting in a high-rise in New York City and anybody who’s playing them would call me.”

Examining Texas Tech's offense

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach uses a variety of sets for his high-powered passing attack. Leach’s offense is averaging 47.1 points and 524.4 passing yards.

Quarterback B.J. Symons makes the system go, leading the nation with 3,506 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes. Symons is well on his way to breaking both season marks of 5,188 and 54.

The offense is based on spread formations and motion. On most plays, the Red Raiders use four receivers with a running back lined up in front of Symons, who is in the shotgun a majority of the time.

Taurean Henderson is the Texas Tech tailback, though he is almost always used as a fifth receiver out of the backfield. With five options at his disposal, Symons spreads the ball around. Six receivers have at least 20 catches, with Wes Welker leading with 50.

“They’re going to throw everything at you,” Missouri cornerback Michael Harden said. “Four-wide, five-wide, and sometimes it even looks like six- or seven-wide.”

A four-receiver shotgun set with Henderson in the backfield, three receivers split right and one to the left is the Red Raiders’ most common set.

Symons’ first read on most plays is a quick slant to the slot receiver. In most cases, Symons throws to his first read, making it difficult for the defense to pressure him.

Getting first downs, Red Raider style

Symons doesn’t throw deep often because the offense isn’t based on getting big yardage on every play.

“We’re just trying to get first downs,” Leach said. “We hope to get a whole bunch of them at the right time.”

The Red Raiders lead the nation in first downs, averaging 33.3, which puts them on pace for 400 in 12 games.

The offense isn’t all short passes, though. In the most common formation, Leach sends two of the receivers split right on crossing patterns to the middle of the field, isolating Carlos Francis or Jarrett Hicks in man coverage against the cornerback. Hicks leads the team in yards per catch with 17.1, and Francis is close behind at 16.7.

When Texas Tech runs the ball, it is usually on a sort of end-around to one of the receivers or a delayed handoff to Henderson. The receiver goes in motion and Symons hands off to him as he comes across the field.

Texas Tech rarely runs, but when it does the result is generally good. Henderson leads the team with 53 carries on the season, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Johnnie Mack averages 7.6 yards as Henderson’s quicker complement.

Texas Tech's offensive line troubling many

Some of the success might be because the offensive line never tips off a running play. The linemen are in pass-blocking stance on every play.

Leach said the offense’s success starts with the line, though Symons and the receivers often get the credit.

“The most important thing with what we do is the offensive line,” Leach said. “You need a great offensive line. Then, distribution, I think you want to distribute the ball to all the skill positions. Then, have a great quarterback doing it.”

The Red Raiders run two more not-so-basic formations. In one set, they line up with six linemen, three receivers split right and one split left. This formation gives Symons more protection and time to throw. Against Oklahoma State, Symons threw mostly deep outs and longer passes out of this set.

Texas Tech also uses a two-back, three-receiver formation. Leach has the option of leaving the running backs in to block or running them out of the backfield as receivers.

Opposing teams have tried in vain to slow down the Red Raiders’ prolific offense. Only North Carolina State has kept it to fewer than 42 points, beating Texas Tech 49-21. The Red Raiders’ lowest offensive output was 437 yards against Southern Methodist.

“I’ve seen everybody try to do everything to these guys,” Pinkel said. “All these press conferences every Monday are the same. Everybody’s talking to the opposing coach saying, ‘How do you stop these guys?’ Well, I haven’t seen anything work.”

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