Kingsbury trying to take Red Raiders to new heights

Big 12: Texas Tech logo

BETSY BLANEY,Associated Press

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Kliff Kingsbury’s hiring did more than just reunite a Texas Tech fan base still riled by the firing of the school’s winningest coach.

The youngest coach in any BCS-automatic qualifying conference also upped Red Raiders fans’ enthusiasm to levels not seen since Graham Harrell hit Michael Crabtree for a game-winning score to topple No. 1 Texas in 2008. Ticket sales are reaching record levels.

Kingsbury’s was the first in a long line of record-setting quarterbacks under Mike Leach, who the university fired in 2009 after he won 84 games in 10 seasons. The former Texas A&M offensive coordinator who helped guide Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel last season, Kingsbury steps in for Tommy Tuberville, who left to coach at Cincinnati.

The Red Raiders finished last year at 8-5, losing four of their final six games. At 34, Kingsbury doesn’t see his age as a detriment. But there’s more going for him (and five other recent former Red Raiders on the coaching staff) than being able to relate to players who aren’t that much younger.

“Being in a place that I played and wasn’t too far removed from, I think that helps,” he said. “It’s easy to sell a product when you lived it and you loved it and you’re telling the parents and telling the kids. Hopefully, they see that passion.”

The Red Raiders open their season Aug. 31 at SMU.

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Five things to watch this season at Texas Tech:

1. QUARTERBACK COMPETITION: Kingsbury says it’s a dead heat between two players vying to replace Seth Doege as Texas Tech’s starting quarterback: Michael Brewer, a redshirt sophomore who has good mobility, and incoming freshman Davis Webb. “We’re big on having a QB that can extend plays. It doesn’t have to mean rushing yards always,” Kingsbury said. “We definitely want a guy who can move and escape the pocket.” Brewer’s got experience going for him after throwing for four touchdowns and 375 yards with no interceptions as Doege’s backup last season. Webb threw for 23 TDS and 2,658 yards as a high school senior last year.

2. HIGH-TEMPO PLAY: Kingsbury was part of some of college football’s most prolific offenses as a quarterback at Texas Tech under coach Mike Leach from 2000-2002 and as a coach with Texas A&M and Houston. Last season, the Red Raiders averaged about 76 plays a game, while the Aggies averaged about 79. Alabama coach Nick Saban and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema are among those who’ve suggested the NCAA consider tweaking the rules to limit how quickly offenses can run plays and allow defenses more time to substitute players. Kingsbury responded that teams should stop recruiting “beasts up front” and maybe he wouldn’t run as many plays. “There will be times where we’re going superfast, and times not as fast,” he said. “But it’s all going to be trying to keep constant pressure on the defense.”

3. ANOTHER NEW DEFENSE: A defense that forced just 11 turnovers in 13 games last season to rank near the bottom nationally is without veteran defensive backs D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis. Kingsbury has brought in Matt Wallerstedt from Texas A&M (he’s the fifth defensive coordinator in five years at Texas Tech) to get the Red Raiders to bring more pressure in the Big 12. “With this many great offenses, you’ve got to be able to take a few away and slow them down in the red zone,” Kingsbury said. Kerry Hyder, who led Big 12 defensive tackles in sacks and tackles for loss last season, will lead a front seven that could be a strength this season. Senior Tre’ Porter and sophomore J.J. Gaines are expected to step into the vacancies left by Johnson and Davis.

4. OFFENSIVE LINE: The most glaring question mark for the Red Raiders is the offensive line, which will rely heavily on sophomores and freshman as starters. How well they hold back pass rushers or hold up physically could make or break Texas Tech’s ability to pass effectively — something the Red Raiders have done consistently well the past decade. Junior Beau Carpenter will line up beside sophomores Le’Raven Clark, Tony Morales and Jared Kaster, and redshirt freshman Trey Keenan.

5. RECEIVING CORPS: Whoever starts at quarterback will have some prime targets this season in senior Eric Ward, who had 12 touchdowns and 1,053 yards last year, and 6-foot-5 speedster Jace Amaro, who was out with an injured spleen for about half of last season. Ward says players are getting plenty of reminders of why the team lost games lost last season: all the monitors in the workout room replay last season’s games, a new wrinkle under Kingsbury.

Predicted finish in Big 12: Seventh

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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