In replacing Mike Leach, Tommy Tuberville has introduced an innovative concept to his offensive line: Run blocking.
"Our offensive line, since they've been here, they haven't been on a team that tried to run the ball much and so it's changing a language," Tuberville said on Monday's Big 12 coaches' teleconference. "You've got to slowly learn it, get better at it and get more physical."
Tuberville claimed his O-line is making the adjustments and the Red Raiders' run game is improving, but Tech still ranks last in the league in rushing offense (114.8 yards a game) as it prepares for Saturday's game at Colorado (1:30 p.m., no television).
"When you're teaching a new running game, your offensive line has to learn it and your backs have to learn the way to read and focus on the hole and make their cutbacks; it doesn't happen overnight," Tuberville continued.
"But I like the progress. It's really helped us in a few of the games that we've played because it's slowed the pass rush down and that's the reason we're doing it - to give the quarterback a little more time to throw the football and be able to run some play action."
Tech's passing game hasn't slipped much with the departure of Leach; the Red Raiders trail only Oklahoma State in the Big 12, averaging 315.3 yards. Quarterback Taylor Potts, who suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit in last weekend's 34-17 loss against OSU but is expected to play this week, is second in passing yards a game (312.5) and fourth in total offense (307.8).
But Tech has been as porous as it has been prolific. Averaging 33.5 points, the Red Raiders are yielding 32.0, and their 430 total offense average is off-set by a weekly yield of 434.8. Tech is last in the league in pass defense (292.3 yards).
Tuberville conceded his defensive challenge was larger than he imagined: "Yeah, it's huge," he said. "We lost all of our defensive line last year . . . basically offensive and defensive lines, just one returning starter on defensive line - Colby Whitlock (senior tackle). He's done well, but it's just hard for him to have a bunch of young guys around him, trying to get them lined up and through the week be a leader for so many young players.
"But we haven't been very good - we haven't tackled very well and we've made a lot of mental mistakes. But the great thing is, they're playing hard and practicing hard. They're trying to get better; it's new to them. We don't line up in just one defense, we're changing the whole game. We're trying to give them a chance on the field. They're enjoying playing it and it's coming along slowly. We're giving up a lot of yards, a lot of points."
Tuberville said his defense had problems coping with OSU's balance last weekend. Rushing for 225 yards and passing for 356, the Cowboys were "the first team that's been balanced on us and it really affected us," Tuberville said. "We didn't transition well from run to pass. Hopefully we'll get better this week. We've got some tough games coming up and some high powered offenses."
His defensive base is a 3-4, but he said Tech uses as much 4-3. The three-man front, said Tuberville, allows an easier transition to nickel and dime packages in a passing league.
"If we were playing more in a running league, we'd probably be in more four-man front - but this is more of a passing league," he said. "You just have to base out of one to be able to assign your coaches, be able to substitute. I like both (3-4, 4-3) . . . you have to have both in what you're doing."
SOCKED BY THE CYCLONES: Tuberville's team is 3-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big 12, with one of the three conference losses a 52-38 debacle at Iowa State. The Cyclones are the only North Division team the Red Raiders have faced thus far.
ISU coach Paul Rhoads said his team's success against Tech was largely due to "how many short fields we had." He also noted that the Cyclones scored on a rare on-sides kickoff return "that you might not see again in 20 years . . . but we played our best offensive game that night; we played with great confidence."
WHO'S KICKING? CU was scheduled to make a switch in its kicking game against Baylor, but once again it was senior Aric Goodman attempting field goals rather than walk-on junior Marcus Kirkwood, whom coach Dan Hawkins said earlier in the week would "get the first shot" against the Bears.
Kirkwood was on the field for the botched two-point conversion try after CU's first touchdown, but he never took the field again. Instead, Goodman attempted both of CU's field goals, making kicks of 45 and 25 yards. He's now at 3-of-6 on the season.
Goodman also continued to kick off and made the Buffs' only PAT.
Hawkins was non-committal on who would kick against the Red Raiders. He mentioned a "kicker by committee," but said he was "proud of Aric; he came in and did a nice job and made both of his. We'll see how it progresses."
Hawkins also said he didn't believe that tabbing Kirkwood earlier in the week had a positive effect on Goodman's focus: "I don't think so . . . he knew when we had other kickers in here that there was going to be competition. So I don't think that really fazed him too much."
NICKEL/DIME DILEMMA? Multiple injuries in the secondary have diminished the Buffs' nickel and dime packages, and those alignments suffered another hit last weekend when starting corner Jimmy Smith went out with a concussion.
Hawkins said he thought Smith would return against Tech, but wouldn't be sure until later in the week. If Smith can't play, he would be the second secondary starter lost in two weeks. Safety Anthony Perkins is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Missouri.
The nickel position has lost Parker Orms, Paul Vigo and Travis Sandersfeld, but Sandersfeld might return this week.
KEEP ON KEEPING ON: Tuberville resigned as Auburn's head coach following a 5-7 finish in 2008 - only his second losing season (5-6 in 1999, his first year). He was 85-40 overall at the school and his 52-30 Southeastern Conference mark included an impressive 7-3 record against Alabama.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said he asked Tuberville three times to change his mind, but Tuberville declined. His pro-rated $5.1 million buyout reportedly included $3 million within 30 days of his resignation and the remainder within the next year.
Asked if he had any advice for Hawkins, who has been under fire from alumni and fans since the end of last season, Tuberville said, "Not really. Everybody has their own ways that they coach, and Dan's won a lot of games in his life. We all are under pressure. You just go out and coach the best you can.
"He doesn't need any advice from me. Dan's won a lot of games and his teams play hard. That's the only thing you can ask each week - get your guys to play hard and let 'em have fun. He'll win his share."
KEEPING THE FAITH: Hawkins called his team "good to go" after the Baylor loss: "They're good, I mean they're obviously disappointed. No one likes to lose, it was a tough game, close game. Exasperating and all that, but you've got to get back on the horse and ride . . . that's always been our mantra so I think they're good to go."
BUFF BITS: CU's Oct. 30 game at No. 3 Oklahoma (No. 1 BCS poll) will kick off at 7:15 p.m. (MDT) and be televised by ESPN . . . . CU has advanced one place - No. 12 to No. 11 - in the Big 12 rankings in scoring offense. The Buffs are averaging 19.3 points, while Kansas is last at 17.2 . . . . CU tailback Rodney "Speedy" Stewart is eighth in the conference in total offense, averaging 123.5 yards. Tech tailback Eric Stephens is first (175.3) . . . . Buffs quarterback Tyler Hansen is No. 8 in the Big 12 in passing yards a game (173.3) and passing efficiency (128.7), and No. 9 in total offense (180.2 yards) . . . . CU doesn't have a receiver among the conference's Top 10, while Tech has a pair - Lyle Leong (6.2 catches a game) and Detron Lewis (5.8) . . . . Goodman is No. 10 in kick scoring (20 points; 11 PATs, 3 FGs) . . . . Buffs DE Josh Hartigan's three quarterback sacks rank him No. 10 in the league and OLB B.J. Beatty's 6.5 tackles for loss put him at No. 8 . . . . CU corner Jalil Brown is one of five Big 12 players with a pair of fumble recoveries . . . . The Buffs lead the league in third-down conversions (46-of-92).