Mike Leach’s spread offense has aggravated defensive for nine years at Texas Teach, attracting a multitude of schemes designed to slow down the Red Raiders’ aerial attack. Zone blitzes, dime packages, three-man fronts, bump-and-run—by this point, Leach has no doubt seen it all.
When the Oklahoma Sooners take the field in Norman on Saturday night, the answer to shutting down Tech may not have anything to do with generating a consistent pass rush or double-covering star receiver Michael Crabtree. In fact, the key may be right below the Sooner defenders’ feet.
For all the hype surrounding Tech’s PlayStation-like production, the Red Raiders have a decidedly average offense when they’re not playing on artificial turf, according to an analysis of data provided by cfbstats.com.
Superman has Kryptonite. Mike Leach has grass.
Since 2004, Tech has played a total of 60 games, 45 on turf and 15 on grass. During that period, the Red Raiders have put averages of 43.1 points per game and 499.2 yards of total offense per game on artificial turf. In comparison, the national medians for all teams on all surfaces are averages of approximately 25 points and 360 yards.
What happens when the Raiders play on the real stuff? Tech’s averages drop considerably: 27 points per game and 430 yards. On a per-play basis, Leach’s teams have averaged 6.0 yards per play on grass versus 6.9 yards per play on turf. Each offensive play generates an average 0.37 points on grass against 0.59 points per play on turf.
The disparity even holds true when it comes to taking care of the ball. Since the 2006 season, the Red Raiders have averaged 1.2 turnovers per game on grass, while they have turned it over an average of just one time on turf.
Not surprisingly, the differences have appeared in the win column as well. Overall, Tech has won nearly 85 percent of its games on turf from 2004 until now, while the Raiders have won just 40 percent of their games played on grass.
In Tech’s only appearance on grass this year, the Red Raiders apparently coasted to an 18-point victory over Texas A&M at Kyle Field on Oct. 18. Tech struggled to move the ball in the first half, however, and turned the ball over three times in the game. In classic Leach fashion, the Red Raiders’ 43 points included a garbage touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the game.
Of course, Tech plays its home games on Jones SBC Stadium’s artificial surface, and the Red Raiders’ peak performance in Lubbock has been well documented. Consequently, Tech’s gaudy numbers on turf could be more of a function of the Raiders’ dominance at home. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that Tech’s output on grass has been far less impressive. And Leach’s wide-open passing game seems tailor-made for a fast track.
If OU comes out on top on Saturday night, Bob Stoops may owe Mother Earth a game ball.