Texas Tech Football Looks Forward to 1998 Season|
April 30, 1998
LUBBOCK, Texas - Stability. Quality. Attitude. Those are just three of the attributes that describe the 1998 Texas Tech football team.
When popular Head Coach Spike Dykes steps on the field against Texas-El Paso to open his 12th season at the helm of the Red Raider program, he will set a new school standard for the longest tenure for a Texas Tech football coach. And, after signing a two-year extension to his contract, he is assured of a spot at the Red Raider head coach through the end of the century. That is a sure sign of stability.
"I love Texas Tech," says Dykes. "I've always loved Texas Tech. I feel like we have done some special things during my career here in Lubbock and I think we can continue to keep our program on the rise. I have always said that I have the best job in America and I mean it. Texas Tech has a special place in my heart."
Now let's talk about quality. The Red Raiders lose 11 starters from last year's team. Those 11 starters played in three-straight bowl games and had experienced as much success as any group of Red Raiders in the history of the program. However, don't expect any drop-off in talent. At every position waits an experienced, talented replacement that has seen a lot of action for the Red Raiders and has the ability to lead the team to victory.
"We've got a great group of guys returning," said Dykes. "I would rate most of the starters that are back as high as any players in the Big 12. And, the younger guys that will be replacing the starters we've lost are some really, really great players. I'm excited about the talent level on this football team."
A good, strong and positive attitude is something that is hard to develop. But, the Red Raider coaching staff has instilled a winning attitude and a work ethic in the players that is readily noticeable. Go to any practice on any day and it is obvious that the players are excited to be there. They enjoy practice and stay well afterwards to hone their skills and abilities to help lead the team to a championship.
"Our guys expect to win," said defensive coordinator John Goodner. "The wonderful thing is that they want to be great. They have a certain amount of pride and heart that you just can't coach. I'm proud of the attitude that our players have."
Texas Tech's offensive philosophy may have varied slightly over the years to adjust to changes in personnel. However, one aspect of offensive coordinator Rick Dykes' objective has not changed: To get the ball into the hands of the most productive players in a position that gives them a chance to have success.
"We always want to have the ball in the hands of our best players," said Dykes. "We look at the matchups on the field and which positions we feel like we have strengths against our opponent's defensive schemes and taylor our plan to give ourselves the best chance to have success. Some years we have a great running back like Byron Hanspard so we probably run the ball a little more. Other years, we have a receiver like Lloyd Hill and a quarterback like Robert Hall so we tried to take advantage of those matchups."
With six starters returning from last season, including both starting running backs, an All-America candidate receiver and two tackles with as much potential as anybody in the Big 12, the fortunes of the Red Raider offense will hinge on balance between the run and the pass.
"This year we are fortunate to have an excellent receiver and a good young running back so we will probably be a little more balanced than we have in the last few years," said Dykes. "We will continue to emphasize our turnover ratio. We have done a good job of not turning the ball over the last few years and I expect that to continue. You have to give yourself a chance to put the ball into the end zone."
Replacing four-year starting quarterback Zebbie Lethridge will be a big task for the Red Raider offense. The Lubbock native finished his career at the top of almost every school passing chart. In addition, the offense will look to replace all three of the interior line positions in center Jay Pugh and guards Chris Whitney and Jayson Hansen.
"Zebbie was a great competitor and played a lot of football for us throughout his career," said Dykes. "His experience and level of competitiveness will be a tough thing to replace. There wasn't anything that he hadn't seen before. That experience is something that you can't replace quickly.
Making adjustments is something the Red Raider coaches have gotten used to over the years. The return of two outstanding receivers will help in the offensive production inside the 20-yard-line. The return of former offensive coordinator Dick Winder will aid in the development of the young receiver corps. With the blend of returning experience and the number of young players that received valuable experience last season, the Texas Tech offense should be in a position to put points on the scoreboard.
"I am really happy with the players and scheme we have heading into the season," said Dykes. "I think we have a good chance to be successful if we stay healthy. We have some outstanding experienced players the blend with a group of young guys that we can win football games with.
"The Big 12 Conference is a really physical league. Everyone is playing a blitzing, eight-man front-type of defense so balance is a big key to success. With the quality of players we enter the season with at the skill positions, we have a great chance to be productive."
As catchy as it sounds, SWARM is more than just a nickname for the Red Raider defense. Originated by the coaching staff to print on big play rewards, the nickname has evolved into a defensive philosophy that describes one of the nation's most productive units.
With a primary intent on stopping the run, the primary philosophy of defensive coordinator John Goodner is to direct several players aggressively to the ballcarrier to stop the run. Thus, the cornerbacks play almost exclusively man-to-man coverage and are relied upon heavily to thwart opposing pass defenses. Obviously, there are no secrets involved in Texas Tech's defensive strategies.
"If our opponent has seven guys on the line of scrimmage, we want to have eight," said Goodner. "If they've got eight, we want to have nine and so on. Our primary focus is to stop the run. Obviously that puts pressure on our corners to perform and, luckily, we've had some good players at that position that have responded very well. Our philosophy is really simple."
With just five starters returning to the Red Raider defensive squad, at first glance it may appear there will be several holes to fill. Indeed, with the loss of experienced players such as Dane Johnson, Eric Butler, Cody McGuire, Duane Price and Tony Darden, the squad loses five players that have started almost every game for the past few seasons. In addition, Stoney Garland suffered career-ending injuries in an automobile accident last fall leaving the Red Raiders with no defensive tackles with starting experience.
However, Goodner's defensive philosophy employs for a platoon-type system that provides for a number of players to see game action. Thus, each of the six starters lost from last season will be replaced with players that have earned a significant amount of game experience.
"I am really happy with the guys we have coming back this year on the defensive side of the football," said Goodner. "Everybody that is stepping into or fighting for a starting position played a lot of football last season. We will really miss a guy like Dane Johnson, for example. But, John Norman is as talented as anyone that has been here for a while. The same thing goes for middle linebacker. Eric Butler was a solid player for us. But, Kyle Shipley is a really good player that played a lot last season.
"The point is that the cupboard is certainly not bare. We lost some really great players that made a tremendous impact on our program. But, I am really pleased with our talent and depth heading into the season.
"The one thing that holds true throughout the entire process is that our kids expect to be good. They take a lot of pride in their achievements as a unit and their attitude is the most important factor in our success. They work hard and when you do that, you have a chance to be good."
In looking down the schedule, one thing is noticeable: The three top-10 teams the Red Raiders faced a year ago are gone. Texas Tech lost three games to teams that advanced to alliance bowls last season. This year, the Red Raiders trade Big 12 North Division opponents Nebraska, Kansas State and Kansas for Colorado, Missouri and Iowa State. In addition, Tennessee will be replaced by Texas-El Paso in the season opener. It appears to be a tough, but fair schedule for the Red Raiders this fall.
"I like our schedule," said Dykes. "We've got a good balance of tough Big 12 opponents and some pretty good non-conference teams. You can't take anybody lightly in Division I football. Take a look at our North Texas loss last year. We will play some people in the north division that we haven't seen before and, I think, that will be fun for our fans."
Sept. 5 Texas-El Paso 6:00 Sept. 12 at North Texas (Irving) 6:30 Sept. 19 Fresno State 6:00 Sept. 26 *at Iowa State 1:00 Oct. 3 *Baylor 6:00 Oct. 10 *Oklahoma State 6:00 Oct. 17 *at Colorado tba Oct. 24 *at Texas A&M 1:00 Oct. 31 *Missouri 1:00 Nov. 14 *Texas 1:00 Nov. 21 *at Oklahoma 1:00
all times central and subject to change
*denotes Big 12 opponent
home games in bold