It might be difficult for Kliff Kingsbury not to crack a smile when he gears up his Texas Tech football team for its first road test this weekend against Houston.
Back in the 2008-2009 season, Kingsbury was given his first coaching opportunity when the Cougars named him an offensive quality control assistant working under then offensive coordinator Dana Holgersen — who was a former Texas Tech coach and, is now, current head coach at West Virginia.
Kingsbury ascended the ranks by moving up to quarterbacks coach (2010), co-offensive coordinator (2011) before moving on to take the same position with Texas A&M (2012) until he landed at his current gig as the head coach of the Red Raiders.
While the ride to the top was rapid, Kingsbury was quick to note that he’s grateful for the initial chance the Houston coaching staff afforded him almost a decade ago.
“I have a lot of great memories, and I have a ton of respect for that university,” he said during the Big 12 media teleconference Monday. “I owe that university a lot for giving me an opportunity to start my career there. Loved my time there. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had coaching. Working with Case Keenum, that group in 2011. So, yeah, can’t say enough great things about the university, about the people there and my time at UH.”
Those good feelings will have to be put on the back burner as the Red Raiders (2-0) face off against the Cougars (2-0) in the non-conference finale for both squads at 11 a.m. Saturday at TDECU Stadium.
One of many spotlights will be on quarterback Kyle Allen, who transferred from Texas A&M and earned the starting gig under center. He’s thrown for 554 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 56 of 65 passing.
“The offense that he’s running at UH is completely different from what they ran at A&M,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a talented player. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country, or No. 1 quarterback in the country coming out. You can see the arm talent, you see he’s a smart kid. Any given day he can light it up and we know that. And we’re approaching the game as such.”
As for Houston, which touts defensive line standout Ed Oliver, the focus remains on slowing down the Red Raiders offense.
“Obviously the tradition continues in terms of explosive offense,” Houston head coach Major Applewhite said during his Monday media press conference. “Texas Tech can put a lot of points on the board. They play with great tempo, have a lot of different receivers and running backs involved, and have great ball distribution. Defensively, they are playing well. Their defensive line, I can tell a difference from last year to this season in terms of how they are playing up front. They continue to be aggressive in the back-end. They play with great eyes and see things well, so we have a tremendous challenge for us this Saturday.”
Closing it out
Last season, Texas Tech lost five games in which the final tally was 14 points or less.
It was a huge sticking point for the Red Raiders, who were close to turning in a breakout season if a play could have been made or a mistake not taken place during the course of those games.
But, for the 2017 campaign, Texas Tech can take some confidence in knowing it earned a 52-45 victory over Arizona State. The Sun Devils made a frenetic comeback in the second half, knotting things up at 45-45 late in the fourth quarter before the offense scored a late touchdown and the defense came up with a big sack to end a final Arizona State offensive possession.
Kingsbury believes the lumps his team experienced from those losses a season ago are paying dividends.
“Hopefully just experience,” he said when asked what the difference is in his team finding a way to win in 2017. “There’s a lot of guys back on this roster, offensively and defensively, that played a bunch of snaps last year and went through those games. There’s no substitute for experience and experiencing that and how to get better the next time. So, hopefully, just them being through that one year and not turning out the way they wanted and all the hard work they’ve put in has hopefully changed that.”
Texas Tech senior Ja’Deion High was selected Monday as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week.
The Hereford native earned his first Big 12 weekly award, which is voted on by media who regularly cover the conference.
The wide receiver and special teams ace notched a vital punt block before halftime. Seeing a small opportunity, High bounced off a defender before sprinting up the middle of ASU’s protection before blocking Michael Sleep-Dalton’s punt that set a Texas Tech touchdown on the next offense series.
High is the first Red Raider to block a punt since Kerry Hyder accomplished the feat against Oklahoma State back in 2013. Texas Tech is one of two schools in the Big 12 and one of 17 in the country to block a punt, so far, this season.
Another night game
The Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game scheduled for Sept. 30 has been designated for a primetime kickoff.
The Cowboys and Red Raiders are set to play at 7 p.m. under the lights of Jones AT&T Stadium.
It marks the second night kickoff for Texas Tech (2-0), which defeated Arizona State 52-45 in a second-half shootout over the weekend.
If past history is any indication, OSU and Texas Tech are going to turn in a nail-biter.
Last season, the then 13th-ranked Cowboys edged out the Red Raiders 45-44 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
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