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Skywriters Tour: Texas Tech Showing Substance
August 11, 2014
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.

By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

LUBBOCK, Texas – Here’s a list of potential woes for Texas Tech: No quarterback depth, last year’s leading rusher moved to linebacker, last year’s top two receivers are gone, the defense needs junior-college transfers to bolster the defensive line and the secondary is inexperienced (a major issue in the pass-happy Big 12).

Here’s the reason why Red Raiders fans aren’t worried: Kliff Kingsbury.

OK, so that’s a bit of over simplification. Kingsbury – aka Coach Bro, Coach Swag, Coach Cool – isn’t sprinkling magic dust to cure all the football ills that comes Texas Tech’s way. But going into his second season here, it’s obvious that there is as much substance as style residing in the head coach’s office.

“We’re about substance, no doubt,” Kingsbury said Monday during the Big 12 Skywriters Tour stop. “All that exposure and attention is good, but we want to win games. That’s the bottom line and we feel like we’ve done the steps to get that done.”

Kingsbury was being interviewed in the late morning or about six hours after his usual pre-dawn appearance in the football offices. He’s cool enough to be an answer to a Jeopardy clue – Texas Tech head football coach Kliff Kingsbury looks a lot like this star of “Half Nelson” and 'Drive” (who is Ryan Gosling?) – but he knows that a winning football team doesn’t get by on its good looks.

Texas Tech gained plenty of attention by hiring the 33-year-old Kingsbury, a former Red Raiders quarterback, in December 2012. The team’s 7-0 start had the nation buzzing about Kingsbury’s swagger but the season crumbled with a five-game losing streak.

“I learned you need to be consistent even with the ups and downs,” said Kingsbury, who turned 35 Saturday. “The team is gonna follow the lead of the coach. You need to bring the same energy every day and that’s hard when you’re losing games. I think we all learned how to handle adversity.”

The high hopes for this season were planted when the Red Raiders turned sour into sweet with a 37-23 victory over No. 16 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.

“We really needed that and everybody carried that through the off-season, spring practice and now,” said senior Kenny Williams, the team’s leading rusher the last two years who volunteered to move to linebacker for this season.

Williams saw a need as an undermanned and overmatched defense. In the last four games of the losing streak, the Red Raiders were outscored 205-110. An influx of junior-college players to help the front line is expected to add size and depth. The secondary will be inexperienced.

However, with an offense that’s expected to be potent, Texas Tech’s defense only needs to improve, not become the ’85 Chicago Bears.

Sophomore quarterback Davis Webb, who has impressed Kingsbury with his attention to film study, also spent the offseason attacking the weight room. He’s 6-5, 210 with an added 15 pounds of muscle compared to last season.

“I can throw out passes a little easier, with more touch. I don’t have to put everything into it,” said Webb, who lit up Arizona State for 403 yards and four TD passes in the bowl game. “Having that extra strength is making me more confident.”

Washington Ready To Take Over
When Kenny Williams volunteered to move to linebacker, Texas Tech’s offense lost its leading rusher from the last two seasons. Junior DeAndre Washington, who figures to take over as the Red Raiders’ top rushing option, says not to worry.

“I’m ready,” Washington told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “I’ve never been so excited. I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been since I’ve been here. Things happen for a reason. I’m just looking forward to take advantage of it.

“I waited for this moment since I’ve been here, being able to be the guy. Now it’s finally here and I’m looking forward to it.”

As a freshman in 2011, Washington rushed for 366 yards but suffered a torn knee ligament that forced him to miss 2012. Last season, he gained 450 yards as Williams’ backup.

Quick Slants
* Offensive line coach Lee Hays on the running game adapting to having smaller, quicker running backs: “There are subtle changes. There’s some things maybe play-wise we’ve added or taken out, just based off the personnel we have now. We’ve got some speed in the (backfield), so maybe a little bit more outside zone versus inside zone, stuff like that.”

* Kliff Kingsbury on the school selling out season tickets before the season for the first time in school history: “That’s huge. Recruits see that. Our fan base has been great and it’s huge for our players. They can see and hear the excitement and what’s happening. It’s great for the program.”

* A story line to follow this season will be the offensive line. Junior-college transfer Dominque Robertson is being expected to take over at left tackle. That allows Le’Raven Clark, who was an All-Big 12 first team selection last season, to move back to right guard. If Robertson can “block the blind side” then the Red Raiders can have their five best offensive linemen on the field.

Skywriters Tour, Year Seven
So what is the Skywriters Tour? It was born in a previous era of college football … and media/communications. In the late 1960s and 1970s, sportswriters and broadcasters would gather in a central location and embark on an annual conference-wide tour, traveling from campus-to-campus to cover preseason practices and conduct interviews with coaches and players. The tour provided fans with unprecedented daily coverage from each school by moving the group between campuses by charter bus or air service and thus was dubbed the Skywriters Tour. Since 2008, the Big 12 has revived the tradition and staged its own preseason campus tour to preview the football season.

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