June 7, 2006

Wildcats' pass defense must make strides

Following the watershed year of 2003 in which B.J. Symons and a host of combustible receivers shattered all sorts of records en route to averaging 475 passing yards per game, a trend of productive decline has descended upon the Texas Tech passing offense. In the Sonny Cumbie year of 2004, the Red Raiders plummeted from that 475-yard mark to 399 passing yards per game. Last year saw further slippage to 388 yards per game. Not bad, mind you. In fact 388 passing yards per game is superb by any reasonable standard. But when ballistic physicist, Mike Leach is your coach, the reasonable and the rational are no longer the baselines; the remotely feasible and the hitherto unthinkable are.

For this reason, a certain amount of uneasiness and consternation has appeared among Red Raider faithful. Some observers are wondering whether the two-year passing recession signals a long-term trough, or whether it is an aberration that can be arrested and reversed. And it is those questions, which underscore the topic of this installation of Over/Under: will the 2006 Red Raiders pass for more or less than 400 yards per game?

If the 87-yard-per-game drop can be attributed almost exclusively to a similar decline in the talent of offensive personnel, then Tech could certainly be due for a rebound in 2006. The Red Raider receiving corps of Danny Amendola, Jarrett Hicks, Joel Filani and Robert Johnson is already being compared favorably to the magnificent quartet of Wes Welker, Carlos Francis, Mickey Peters and Nehemiah Glover. And for good reason.

Amendola is a hands guy who will convert every catchable ball into passing yardage, and with a return to complete health, shows a renewed ability to run with the rock, which should generate even more yardage. Hicks is probably a better pure deep-ball threat than Francis was, even though he does his very extensive damage with strength and size rather than raw speed. Filani may actually exceed Welker's talent level, although it is doubtful any player in Tech's near future will equal his penchant for the monumental and his flair for the dramatic. But be that as it may, Filani, who combines fullback strength with running back speed and receivers' hands, could surpass Welker's receiving yardage totals. His skills and his mental approach are that good. And Johnson could top them all in terms of productivity. He runs with the ball every bit as well as Amendola and Filani, his hands are as good as Hicks', and his ability to make plays in the air is the best of the bunch. In short, if the Red Raiders do not rack up at least 400 yards of passing yardage per game, it won't be because of lack of ability among the wideouts.

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