Kliff Kingsbury no longer resides in Lubbock, Texas, as the former Texas Tech head coach (and one of the best quarterbacks the Red Raiders ever had) now plies his trade in the NFL, trying to lift the moribund Arizona Cardinals back to relevance.
During his time with the Red Raiders, and multiple coaches preceding him, the team hung its hat on a high-flying offensive attack. Under first-year head coach Matt Wells, that hasn’t changed.
The good news for Kansas State, which takes on Texas Tech at 6 p.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium, is that defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton is familiar with the exact challenge his unit will face.
That’s because he matched wits against Wells the past two years, when they both were in the Mountain West Conference, Wells (the head coach at Utah State) and Hazelton at Wyoming (as defensive coordinator).
Hazelton believes that background will help some Saturday.
How much won’t be known until the game actually gets underway.
“It will help them too,” Hazelton said Thursday. “Both teams have seen other, so they kind of know what we do and we kind of know what they do. So, it helps us a little bit there. At least we’ve had the experience of saying, ‘Hey, this is how we’ve practiced against them. We did one time and it worked pretty good, and we did it this time and it didn’t work very good.’ Just preparing the guys, at least we had a plan going into the game.”
At the same time, Hazelton conceded an obvious point: Texas Tech isn’t Utah State. K-State isn’t Wyoming. The players are different, and each Big 12 team has wrinkles the respective coaching staffs didn’t use at their Mountain West posts.
One area where Hazelton said hasn’t changed despite Wells’ new location is the pace at which his offense operates.
“They definitely have the ability to go faster than anybody else, or at least as fast as everybody we’ve played,” Hazelton said. “They’re definitely the fastest-tempo guys. I’m trying to think of anyone faster. I guess I don’t know anybody that runs much faster. They have the ability to go at eight or 10 seconds per play. I’m sure for media guys, they don’t enjoy that all the time because they can’t even watch a replay.”
Junior quarterback Jett Duffey is the conductor of the tempo. In six starts this season, he’s completed 68% of his attempts, averaging 330 yards per game while tossing 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He has a 6-foot-6 physical specimen to target in fellow junior T.J.Vasher. If that weren’t enough, the Red Raiders have three wideouts beyond Vasher (Dalton Rigdon, RJ Turner and Erik Ezukanma) who have more than 450 receiving yards this fall.
With Texas Tech needing to win its final two regular-season games to ensure bowl eligibility, the hosts will be desperate Saturday.
The hurry-up offensive scheme only adds to Hazelton’s headaches.
“It’s just, how do you practice? How do you get the scouts to run and understand the tempo of this? How do you get the guys trained?” he said. “It’s a fine line, especially playing this late into the season.
“You want to save the guys legs some and you don’t want to wear them down, but you have to go fast to make sure that they’re prepared.”