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The Big Birmingham Bowl Preview - USF vs. Texas Tech

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It’s the last game for Quinton Flowers and the core of possibly USF’s best recruiting class ever. What can we expect out of the Bulls and Red Raiders on Saturday?

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the deplorable Craig James/Adam James/Mike Leach/Spieth Communications incident following the 2009 season, the Red Raiders have tried to keep the spirit of the program Leach created alive in Lubbock. It’s certainly a good idea. Texas Tech has been using the Air Raid for the last 17 years. It’s their calling card, as much a part of the college football tradition as Barry Switzer’s wishbone or Steve Spurrier’s Fun and Gun.

Unfortunately the Red Raiders haven’t had the same run of success in this decade. Tommy Tuberville was a strange fit to say the least, and after three middling years a lot of Texas Tech fans were not too sad to see him pull up stakes for Cincinnati.

Tech followed that up by hiring one of Leach’s former quarterbacks, Kliff Kingsbury. After a short NFL career, the... shall we say dapper Kingsbury started up the coaching ranks, parlaying his role as offensive coordinator for Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman Trophy season at Texas A&M into his first head coaching job, at his alma mater.

The hire certainly excited the fan base, but the results haven’t much improved. Texas Tech has bounced around .500 for the past five seasons. Kingsbury probably saved his job with a fourth-quarter rally to beat Texas 27-23 in the regular-season finale. That got the Red Raiders to 6-6 and into the Birmingham Bowl.

Texas Tech’s profile for a long time has been good-to-great offense and horrible defense. Let’s see if the numbers back that up.

Overview

Team S&P+ (Overall) S&P+ (USF O vs. Tech D) S&P+ (Tech O vs. USF D) S&P+ (ST)
USF 15 31 27 74
Texas Tech 57 27 82 111

This year Texas Tech is a little bit more balanced. The offense isn’t as prolific, but the defense isn’t as shambolic. There really weren’t any surprises in their season. They beat the teams they should beat, and lost to the teams you would expect them to lose to. Maybe the only unexpected result was their 42-35 loss at home to Kansas State, when the Wildcats erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter with their QB3.

When Texas Tech Runs...

Team Rushing S&P Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
Tech Offense 17 46 84 67
USF Defense 33 7 89 3

Like most Air Raid teams, Texas Tech mainly runs the ball as a change of pace. They ran only 42.6% of the time this season, but that’s actually an increase over past seasons. Maybe they should think about running it even more, because they grind out consistent if not spectacular gains. It will be interesting to see if USF’s excellent run defense can take those away, or if the ever-present passing threat makes it tougher to focus on the run.

Leading rusher Justin Stockton is going to try to play, but he is still feeling the lingering effects of a concussion and may be limited.

When Texas Tech Passes...

Team Passing S&P+ Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
Tech Offense 41 31 47
USF Defense 14 6 42

Nic Shimonek was left some gigantic shoes to fill when he took over the starting job from Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 9703 yards and 77 TDs in his two seasons starting in Lubbock. Shimonek has played well (3547 yards, 30 TD passes), and he’s taken better care of the football than Air Raid passers sometimes do. Understandably, he hasn’t had the sheer explosiveness that Mahomes and his rocket launcher arm brought to the table, and as a result Tech has had to “grind out” drives more frequently this year.

There’s a bevy of good receiving options, led by speedy Keke Coutee and big Dylan Cantrell. Watch out for 6’6” T.J. Vasher, who has been a bit of a deep threat.

When USF Runs...

Team Rushing S&P Rushing Success Rate Run Explosiveness Stuff Rate
USF Offense 107 75 22 93
Tech Defense 56 67 35 111

It would be a travesty if #HBDive featured prominently in Quinton Flowers’ last game at USF. Even though Texas Tech can be leaned on in the running game based on their low Stuff Rate, the Bulls should let Flowers cook like he’s never cooked before. Let him call the shots all day. Go out in a blaze of glory.

One note of caution: We all know the turf in Legion Field is absolute trash. They haven’t done anything to improve it since last year’s game, and it’s going to rain all afternoon. USF needs to choose their cleats carefully or there will be a lot of slipping and sliding and plays ending early.

When USF Passes...

Team Passing S&P+ Passing Success Rate Pass Explosiveness
USF Offense 108 94 7
Tech Defense 76 110 27

Obviously USF figured out how to get a tune out of the passing game against C., leading to Flowers breaking the school single-game passing record by 94 yards. The Red Raiders are pretty easy to throw the ball against, but they don’t get burned for too many big plays. This might be a game to put away some of the deep shots that haven’t worked very much anyway, and focus on moving the sticks with the screen game and shorter passes.

Summary and Prediction:

Last year I hedged on my bowl prediction because it was hard to tell which team would have the edge in enthusiasm and continuity. This year Texas Tech likely has the enthusiasm advantage. They missed out on a bowl in 2016, and finished the 2017 season on a relative high by beating Texas to become bowl eligible. On the other hand, USF lost their one-game season in heartbreaking fashion and failed their only mission. They’re playing in the same bowl they played in last year, in the same boring town, doing the same boring bowl events.

I don’t think this is going to be a wild game with 90 or 100 points scored, and whoever has the ball last wins. (If these two teams had played last year, the game would have been guaranteed to end in a basketball score.) Both teams should get at least a few stops defensively. Once again the game probably comes down to how Sterlin Gilbert wants to play it. If he unleashes the full arsenal like the Bulls did against C., they shouldn’t have too much trouble. If he doesn’t, Texas Tech can win. Let’s be optimistic and say he lets Flowers, D’Ernest Johnson, Darius Tice, and the rest of USF’s senior class go out doing what they’ve done so well for the last three years.

USF 38, Texas Tech 28