Like any football team, good, mediocre or bad, Texas Tech
has several players whose play will be particularly critical to the squad’s
success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership ability, importance
of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially
crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be
very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that may be
the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the performers
the team could least afford to lose.
With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the
Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
5’ 11” 175
Theoretically, Texas Tech’s offense should produce a higher
percentage of touchdowns in the red zone, as its running game becomes more
potent. Certainly, Tommy Tuberville has harped on the need to develop the
ground attack in order to do better on short-yardage and goal line situations.
Unfortunately, the Red Raider running game is a mystery
going into 2012 because of the questionable status of Eric Stephens, DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams. The former two are
rehabbing injuries while the latter is mired in a seemingly endless legal
Because of the uncertainty at running back, it may be
fortuitous that Tech has a very talented young kicker on the roster in the name
of Ryan Bustin.
The sophomore junior college transfer from Kilgore
redshirted in 2011 as Donnie Carona rose to the
occasion and had a very good senior season. Consequently, Tech’s coaches really
didn’t know what they had in Bustin.
But the players did.
They, apparently, paid more attention to Bustin
than the coaches, and occasionally whispered to them that Bustin
was something special. By his own admission, Tuberville said the coaches paid
little attention to the players’ praise. Bustin’s
showing in spring camp, however, caused them to sit up and take notice.
Bustin had one of the best spring
camps by a Tech kicker in recent memory. From 45 yards in he was absolutely
deadly. He was consistent throughout the spring, never going through a lull in
accuracy. And late in camp—particularly during the Red/Black
scrimmage—Bustin began showing the ability to
connect from 50 yards and beyond.
Bustin did all of this good work,
of course, without much stress and pressure. He was kicking field goals in
front of teammates, coaches and reporters, with little on the line.
It remains to be seen whether Bustin
can get the job done on national television from 50 yards out with a bowl game
on the line. Banging home field goals on a lazy spring day in Lubbock is one
thing; doing it in Norman in November is another animal altogether.
Bustin’s other duty will be
kickoffs. And the NCAA, in an ever increasing effort to sanitize the game of
football, has moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line, restricted kickoff coverage
teams to a five-yard run as the ball is kicked off, and decreed that touchbacks
will now come out to the 25-yard line.
In theory, this should make the placekicker’s job easier,
insofar as a less mighty leg is required to boot the ball into and out of the
end zone. But it’s entirely possible that coaches, gnashing their gums over
letting the opposition start at the 25, will instruct kickers to kick the ball
just short of the goal line in hopes of stopping returns short of the 25. If
this transpires, Bustin and all his colleagues will
be required to get tremendous hangtime on their
kickoffs, and to finesse them inside the five.
Whether it be field goals or
kickoffs, you can bet Ryan Bustin will work hard on
his craft this summer. Chances are good, he’s doing so