Texas Tech football coach Kliff Kingsbury knows it better than most people: Football Championship Subdivision programs are not created equal.
Given the choice, he’d rather not be facing Eastern Washington in the season opener Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.
“Eastern Washington is one of those teams that you know you’re going to have your hands full,” Kingsbury said Monday. “We know who they’ve beat.”
Last year, that was former Tech coach Mike Leach, whose Washington State squad was upset 45-42 by the Eagles in last year’s opener.
On that same day, Tech was clobbering in-state FCS team Stephen F. Austin 69-17. No one expects that kind of score on Saturday, though Tech is favored by 14 points.
“We are definitely preparing knowing that’s it’s going to take our best game to get it done,” said Kingsbury, who finished 5-7 overall last year and 2-7 in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders certainly have the weapons to get it done on offense, returning an elite group of receivers in Jonathan Giles, Keke Coutee, Dylan Cantrell and Cameron Batson.
That quartet combined for 3,676 yards and 36 touchdowns last year, but most of those balls were being delivered by first-round NFL pick Patrick Mahomes.
Next up is redshirt senior Nick Shimonek, a big-armed pocket passer. “He’s a tough young man, and we expect him to do well,” Kingsbury said.
That is, unless the 6-foot-4 Shimonek gets sacked or pressured by Eastern’s pass rush – that matchup should go far in deciding Saturday’s game.
The bigger question for Tech fans is the offensive line (only two starters return) and the limited scope of the running game (1,243 rushing yards last year, down from 2,487 the year before). Things could get worse in the backfield, as top returning rusher Da’Leon Ward (350 yards in his last four games last year) is in academic trouble.
That sets up another key matchup: Can Tech get some traction against an Eastern defense that has historically struggled to stop FBS teams on the ground?
The larger issue – and the reason Kingsbury’s seat is among the hottest in the nation – is a defense that ranked dead last in FBS last year. The Red Raiders gave up 554 yards and gave up 40-plus points in nine games.
“There really is no culture on their defense,” an anonymous Big 12 assistant told Athlon Sports this summer. “They’ve been great on offense and still not been a good football team. That’s ridiculous.”
On top of that, Tech returns just four defensive starters. However, two of them are in the secondary, which figures to hold its own against an inexperienced EWU receiving corps.
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