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Know the foe: Texas Tech

A look at Texas Tech, which faces USF in the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday.
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek has thrown only eight interceptions in 434 attempts this season. (Photo provided by Texas Tech)
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek has thrown only eight interceptions in 434 attempts this season. (Photo provided by Texas Tech)
Published Dec. 18, 2017

A look at Texas Tech, which faces USF in the Birmingham Bowl on Saturday

Nickame: Red Raiders
Record: 6-6 (3-6 Big 12)
Wins: vs. Eastern Washington, 56-10; vs. Arizona State, 52-45; at Houston, 27-24; at Kansas, 65-19; vs. Baylor, 38-24; at Texas, 27-23
Losses: vs. Oklahoma State, 41-34; at West Virginia, 46-35; vs. Iowa State, 31-13; at Oklahoma, 49-27; vs. Kansas State, 42-35; vs. TCU, 27-3
Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (fifth season, 30-32)

Offensive breakdown: The Red Raiders still operate one of the most breakneck-paced systems this side of Syracuse, averaging 75.5 plays a game and and 6.2 yards per play (by comparison, USF averages 6.09). While their advanced metrics and raw numbers (468.4 ypg, 50 touchdowns) aren't as staggering as previous seasons, they nonetheless will be the second-best offense USF plays this season. The orchestrator is 6-foot-3 fifth-year senior QB Nic Shimonek, who was benched after a 27-3 loss to TCU, but re-inserted in the fourth quarter at Texas and threw a pair of touchdown passes to rally his team. A pocket passer, Shimonek (3,547 passing yards, 30 TDs) ranks 11th nationally in pass efficiency (156.0) and has thrown only eight interceptions in 434 attempts. Three times this season, he has started a game 10-of-10, and completed his first eight passes against Oklahoma. His favorite target, 5-11 junior Keke Coutee, has 82 catches for 1,242 yards and ranks in the top 10 nationally in receptions (6.8) and receiving yards (103.5) per game. Close behind Coutee is 6-3 senior Dylan Cantrell (67 catches) and 5-9 senior Cameron Batson (55). Not to be ignored is a running attack averaging a decent 141.6 yards. Senior Justin Stockton is the leading rusher (694 yards, 6.1 yards per carry), operating behind a line that has used the same starting five each of the last 10 games.

Defensive breakdown: Though it starts only one senior, Texas Tech has improved significantly from recent seasons. Then again, that's akin to saying the Bucs are better under Dirk Koetter than Lovie Smith. The Red Raiders still allow 31.8 points (tied for 94th nationally) and 434 yards (99th) a game, but it's a considerable improvement from 2016 (43.5 ppg, 554.3 ypg). Against TCU, they allowed only 289 yards, the fewest they've surrendered to a Big 12 foe in six years. Perhaps the most significant stat is their sparkling turnover margin (plus-11), slightly better than USF's (plus-10). The Red Raiders have recorded at least one turnover in every game, forcing four in the victory at Texas. Still, some of the advanced metrics aren't flattering. Texas Tech's DFD (percentage of opposing drives that result in a TD or at least one first down) is 76.9 percent, which ranks 102nd nationally.

Odds and ends: Charlie Strong won two of three against Texas Tech while coach at Texas. The Longhorns held the Red Raiders to 13 points in their 2014 triumph, but gave up 85 points and 1,147 total yards in the other two meetings (which the teams split). … Former Bulls DE Tevin Mims, the team's defensive MVP in 2013, is a Red Raiders defensive graduate assistant. Mims hails from Round Rock, Texas, near Austin. … The Red Raiders haven't played in Birmingham since the 1989 All-American Bowl, when they rolled past Duke, 49-21, in Steve Spurrier's final game as Blue Devils coach (ESPN's Chris Fowler was that game's sideline reporter). … Early in his career, Shimonek operated his own furniture-restoration business to help offset the costs of being a collegiate walk-on.

Audible: "They're running the same thing they did with Coach (Mike) Leach (in the 2000s), and you know how successful he was. Kliff was his quarterback at Texas Tech (from 1999-02), so he knows the offense inside and out, and they can attack you in so many ways. … It's almost similar to UCF where they start the game so fast, and you have to adjust to their tempo and their speed. You can't blow any gaskets early. You just get settled down and get ready for a four-quarter game." — USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary