Nov 5, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; University of Texas Longhorns defensive back Malik Jefferson (46) tries to block a pass from Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes (5) in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium. UT defeated Texas Tech 45-37. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — He can plant and he can move.
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes darts and weaves when protection breaks down, forming a funnel cloud of tornadic activity that demands Iowa State’s attention.
Storm warning? This guy can create lightning strikes out of nowhere, regardless of the atmospheric conditions.
“That’s the great challenge with him,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, whose team (2-8, 1-6) takes on Mahomes and the Red Raiders (4-6, 2-5) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. “You love his competitiveness number one. What’s his best trait? He’s a competitor. Really competitive. I think number two, is his ability to get rid of the football. So what do you do? Do you blitz and try to bring an extra hat? I think he’s so crafty and he’s so skilled and this is obviously a great credit to (Tech coach Kliff (Kingsbury) and what he’s done with their quarterbacks there, is he knows where his answers are before the play even develops.”
Answer number one: Jonathan Giles. The diminutive, but speedy sophomore has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark this season while catching 12 of Mahomes’ 34 touchdown passes.
Answers two through five: Four more guys who each have 500 or more receiving yards, as well.
“They’re a great team,” said senior linebacker Kane Seeley, the Cyclones’ leading tackler with 64 stops. “High-powered offense obviously. they’re a great team. Solid, They don’t have many flaws in their system. They’ve got good backs, a great quarterback and some skill players that can make a lot of plays.”
Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in scoring offense, averaging 46 points per game. The Red Raiders also pace the league in passing offense (473.1 yards per game) and total offense (580.2). They’ve passed the ball a head-spinning 240 more times than they’ve run it, so the “Air Raid” offense is, again, in full effect.
But that’s not all. Running back Demarcus Felton is averaging 5.8 yards per carry — and ISU’s rush defense ranks second-to-last in the Big 12 (seven yards stingier than last-place Tech).
“So I think the reality of it is you’ve got to really mix and match what you do,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to really continue to do a great job, but I don’t think you can lose the fact of this Texas Tech team will still run the football. And if you think you’re just going to sit there and try to drop nine guys into coverage, you’re probably going to get yourself embarrassed. It’s a great chess match for our defense, obviously.”
The Red Raiders — whose porous defense acts as a counterweight to their explosive offense — are fighting to keep hopes of bowl eligibility alive. They’re three-point favorites against the Cyclones according to VegasInsider.com and must be kept off balance if ISU is to score the mild upset and forge its first win streak since the end of the 2013 season.
“We’re just going to have to keep (Mahomes) contained,” Seeley said. “He makes a lot of plays. He won’t look to run it right away but if he has to run it, he will. And he buys a lot of time. They’re offensive line’s great, to start off, but he will buy time and sling it down deep and very accurate. They’re a good offense, so it will be a good challenge.”
The Cyclones haven’t beaten Tech since former quarterback Jared Barnett starred five years ago in a stunning 41-7 upset down in Lubbock. If ISU’s to win on Saturday, the running game must be firmly established — and true freshman David Montgomery provided a strong precursor to that with last week’s career-best 169-yard effort in the win at Kansas.
“He came here with a mission,” star receiver Allen Lazard said.
Now Montgomery, Lazard and others will play key roles in what the Cyclones hope will be a solid finish to a transitional season.
“As a young coach, I’ve watched guys and maybe they say, “Ah, we’re going to put all our attention to the future,'” Campbell said. “To me, this team hasn’t stopped fighting. They haven’t stopped playing hard and they’ve had to overcome a lot in their own career. You talk about the loss of a bunch of guys before the year starts, you talk about a new staff, you talk about new schemes, all these things, these kids deserve way more than that and they’re laying a great foundation for the future of our football program by their want-to and their want to get better consistently.”