- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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One of the early surprises of the season has been Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech squad. The Red Raiders have cruised to a 2-0 start heading into tonight's Big 12 opener against TCU. Could the Red Raiders compete for a Big 12 title? Nothing is out of the question in a wide-open conference.
Here are five key stats that could help Texas Tech be the surprise team of the Big 12:
Third-down conversion percentage: The Red Raiders are converting 60 percent of their third-down attempts. True freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield is 12-of-15 for 187 yards and one touchdown on third down. The walk-on has a total QBR of 97.9 in those clutch situations. Jace Amaro is Mayfield’s favorite receiver on third down, completing 5 of 6 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown to the Red Raiders’ tight end. If Mayfield can continue to convert on third down, it will make the Tech offense much more potent and keep the Red Raiders' defense from spending the entire game on the field.
Interceptions thrown: Mayfield has been unusually careful with the football for a true freshman. Normally you would expect one or two youthful mistakes per game from an inexperienced quarterback, but Mayfield has been poised and collected. He has thrown 90 passes without an interception, although he has fumbled twice. If Mayfield continues to limit his mistakes and protect the football, it will force opponents to beat the Red Raiders instead of Texas Tech beating itself.
Percentage of negative plays: The Red Raiders defense has played well, although it will face much better offenses in the Big 12. Nonetheless, Texas Tech has limited opponents to zero or negative yardage on 38.5 percent of its defensive plays. It’s a sign that Texas Tech plans to be aggressive on defense and not allow Big 12 quarterbacks to sit back in the pocket and try to pick the defense apart.
Jakeem Grant’s yards per touch: The Red Raiders sophomore is setting himself up to emerge as one of the league’s most explosive offensive threats. Grant is averaging 11.23 yards per touch on offense. He has four carries for 31 yards and nine receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns. His quickness, speed and open-field ability will be a handful for Big 12 defenses.
Yards per carry allowed: The Red Raiders have allowed just 2.71 yards per carry this season. They haven’t faced a run-heavy offense yet, so their defense will be tested, starting tonight against TCU. But if Tech can make opposing offenses one-dimensional, its chances to insert itself into the Big 12 title race will increase. Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder could be the key with his strong play in the interior.
3hDavid M. Hale