ASU Football: A chat with Texas Tech expert previewing game

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 25: Keke Coutee /

After chatting with Wreck ‘Em Red about ASU football, we asked contributor Matthew Connor about this new-look Texas Tech squad.

Lots has happened since Arizona State and Texas Tech squared off last season.

During that 68-55 win last season, we saw virtually no defense as both teams combined for 123 points and 1,264 yards of total offense.

The shootout featured a historic performance from running back Kalen Ballage rushing for seven touchdowns tying an NCAA record for most in a single game.

Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II threw for for 540 yards and five touchdowns in a losing effort.

Mahomes has since been drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs and ASU having a new offensive and defensive coordinator.

We spoke with Wreck ‘Em Red’s Matthew Connor about the Red Raiders, what he’s seen so far and what he expects to see Saturday when the two schools square off in Lubbock.

1. Last year’s game was a shootout, but Texas Tech no longer has Patrick Mahomes II quarterbacking. How has the new quarterback adjusted to this offense and is he much different than Mahomes?

Nic Shimonek really couldn’t be much different than Patrick Mahomes. He is not the dynamic athlete that Mahomes was. Shimonek wants to stay in the pocket and run the play exactly as it is designed rather than improvise as Mahomes was so quick to do. As a result, Tech’s rebuilt and young offensive line must protect Shimonek and give him time to throw. When he does throw, he is fantastically accurate. In his first career start two weeks ago he went 26-30 including 14 consecutive completions to start the game. And two of this completions were for over 50 yards so it was not all bubble screens and dump offs. Shimonek is not a first-round NFL talent like Pat Mahomes but he has a big arm, lots of confidence and as a fifth-year senior, he knows the offense as well as anyone this side of the coaching staff.

2. The Red Raiders are known for the Air Raid offense, but Texas Tech ran the ball more than they passed versus Eastern Washington. Is the running game becoming a larger part of the offense?

Kingsbury said after the game that he would prefer to throw the ball 45 times a game and run it about 40. However, with Mahomes at QB, Tech relied too heavily on the passing game. That was because the defense was so bad that it often felt like Tech had to score 50 or more points to win and because Mahomes loved to check out of running plays. Also, the Texas Tech running backs were awful last year. This year, two new JUCO running backs, Desmond Nisby and Tre King have given Kingsbury better options in the backfield. There is no doubt that Kingsbury wants to run the ball. However, it will be interesting to see if he has the discipline to stick to that philosophy if ASU jumps ahead or the running game is ineffective.

More from Devils in Detail

3. Who are some of the offensive weapons that could hurt Arizona State defensively?

Texas Tech has perhaps the best group of wide receivers in the Big 12. There are as many as seven receivers that are legitimate threats and will see time this week. Pay close attention to inside receiver Keke Coutee. He is the fastest receiver on the roster and Shimonek’s go-to weapon. Every time he touches the ball, he is a threat to score. Outside receivers Derrick Willies and Dylan Cantrell are big and physical players that could be playing in the NFL next year. ASU fans will also appreciate the running style of Nisby. He is 6-foot-3 and 235-pounds and much like Ballage, he seeks out contact and seems to thrive off of running through defenders.

4. Similar to ASU, Texas Tech had one of the worst defenses in the nation last year. Do you think the defense is more improved this year and will ASU be able to exploit the Red Raiders the same way as last year?

That is the million dollar question and the answer will likely determine if Kingsbury keeps his job after this year. Tech has only two returning starters from the group that was embarrassed in Tempe last year still starting. As many as eleven newcomers (redshirt freshmen or JUCO transfers) will start or see significant time. What this group is capable of is still a mystery. Tech has only faced FCS Eastern Washington this year but in that game the defense dominated a team that hung 45 on Washington State last year. Tech held the Eagles to 10 points and only 301 total yards. (However, EWU was held to just 13 points last week by North Dakota State so they may not be the offensive juggernaut that they’ve been in years past.) This year’s defense is much bigger across the board than last year’s which makes them better equipped to deal with the ASU run game and Henry on the outside. Where you will notice the biggest difference is at linebacker where sophomore Jordyn Brooks and JUCO signee Dakota Allen (of “Last Chance U” fame) are the best and biggest duo Tech has had in the middle of the defense in almost two decades. The defense is improved but how much remains to be seen. This week will reveal quite a bit in that regard.

5. What is your prediction for the game?

This game is going to be intense and physical. Tech is still embarrassed by what happened last time these two teams met and ASU is angry and embarrassed after losing to San Diego State. The fact that the game is at night is a huge advantage for the Red Raiders because Jones Stadium is a far different animal after the sun sets. Phil Bennett has struggled to stop Kingsbury in his career and I think the Tech offense will be able to exploit an ASU defense that is not very deep. On the other side of the ball, expect Tech to load up in the box and make Wilkins beat them with his arm. Tech is confident enough in the new defensive backs to play more press and man coverage so ASU will have the chance to make big plays through the air. I think Tech wins the game (which is rare for me because I’m a Texas Tech pessimist) somewhere in the range of 42-35.

Next: ASU Football: 2017 Pac-12 Week Three Power Rankings

Thanks to Wreck ‘Em Red’s Matthew Connor for taking time and answering these questions. Make sure you follow both on Twitter at @WreckEm_Red and @RockyMntRaider.