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Is Kliff Kingsbury’s Momentum at Texas Tech Legit?

Photo: Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire

Texas Tech is a mixed bag of tricks right now.

The Red Raiders have some great things going for them, on the offensive side of the ball, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. But still, despite a solid 7-5 regular season record and a dynamic offensive attack, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has some tough work ahead of him if he wants to keep this momentum going into next season and beyond.

Tech is heading to a bowl for the first time since Kingsbury took over as head coach in 2013, and that’s thanks to an explosive offense ranked third in the nation with 47 points per game. Here’s the bad news for the Red Raiders: Conversely, this is the same team that allows 43 points per contest—ranking in the bottom five in the nation—proving that it stings to play in a conference with two teams — Oklahoma and Baylor — that rank just as high on the offensive spectrum.

Both of those prolific squads hung 63 points on the Red Raiders this season, so it is clear that Kingsbury still has some work to do before his team becomes a true contender.

Using an adjusted Bill James’ Pythagorean expectation formula better suited for football, the Red Raiders performance this season is about as expected. The formula credits them with 6.6 wins this season in contrast to their seven actual wins this year.

Obviously Kingsbury has a distinct advantage offensively over pretty much any team outside of the Big 12. But there are still some caveats to that momentum heading forward.

Texas Tech had an extremely experienced roster this season. Starting with the anchor of the offensive line, Le’Raven Clark, who is one of four seniors up front. Heading into next season, junior right tackle, Baylen Brown, will be the most experienced man in the trench after Clark and Alfredo Morales graduate. Quarterback Pat Mahomes has the wheels to evade pressure, but losing one of the top blindside blockers in the nation could be a blow to this offense. Almost as devastating (if not more), the Red Raiders will also lose all-time leading receiver, Jakeem Grant, and DeAndre Washington in the backfield as well — two of the most versatile playmakers in program history.

But looking forward, Kingsbury has already worked on replacing these impending losses, and that’s the importance of recruiting.

It’s a strange situation, seeing how downtrodden this program has been, but with a unique mindset, the young coach has attracted the third-ranked recruiting class in the conference by signing a slew of high-ceiling 3-star recruits. According to 247Sports, Texas Tech has the No. 34-ranked 2016 recruiting class.

Even in the 2015 recruiting class, Kingsbury and Tech had brought in a similarly talented class with players such as tackle Conner Dyer (4-star) and receiver Tony Brown (4-star) who could eventually grow into Clark and Grant-esque roles. Kingsbury has shown an ability to fine tune player’s roles to fit his scheme, and he can continue that trend to continue building Tech’s Air Raid system with some of these players.

Of course, this brings us back to square one, though. The real problem with Tech right now is not the Air Raid. It’s the other side of the ball.

The defense looks like a troubling group of players that will be losing five of its seven starters in the box. Even with their experience, they struggled to make any true impact in David Gibbs’ new defensive scheme. Looking forward, having inexperienced players jump into Gibbs’ complex system doesn’t seem to be any more promising for the ensuing season. As they grow into the system that lacks any true base formation, though, things could start looking up. But that’s assuming Gibbs isn’t ousted from the program as his predecessors were. And if he is, more change could mean more issues for the Red Raiders on that side of the ball.

Per the Dallas News, co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mike Smith and defensive backs coach Kevin Curtis will not be returning next season. That may be enough of a shakeup in the program to save Gibbs’ vision of a defense, that can mirror the offense’ unique structure. As this season has proven, though, theory does not always translate into success. But moving away from the innovation Gibbs promised would set back the program even further, as it would be seeking its fourth coordinator in the Kingsbury era.

Bottom line, with a talented quarterback like Mahomes and an exciting new class of recruits, the future looks bright for Texas Tech. But even with that, Kingsbury will be left at a standstill until his defense can help limit the even higher-reaching offenses.

It seems that won’t be coming any time soon, though.

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