Keke Coutee might have the most fun name to say in this draft class, but for the defensive backs that had to cover him in his career, it was far from fun on a Saturday afternoon.
One of those Saturday afternoons was right here in the city of Houston. The Red Raiders traveled to Houston to take on the Cougars, a team with a 16-game home winning streak. That was the same weekend that we traveled to New England to take on the Patriots. With a three hour flight ahead, it was perfect timing.
The game kicked off at 11 a.m. just as we walked onto the plane, so we got the chance to watch the entire game. Drew Dougherty and I sit next to one another on our road trips and he spent years out in Lubbock covering the Red Raiders, so he immediately turned our screens to the game.
Almost immediately, I hear the announcers Mike Patrick and Tommy Tuberville mention Coutee after a catch, reminding the nationwide audience that it's pronounced "Q-Tee". The pronunciation stood out to me, yet it wouldn't be the last time that we heard his name that day.
By the time the Red Raiders sealed the win over the Cougars, breaking that home winning streak, the announcers ran out of superlatives for the dynamic Coutee. He finished with 11 catches for 161 yards and a back-breaking 77-yard touchdown in the second half.
In the first half, he showed one aspect of his game that will make him a definite space weapon in the NFL. On a 2nd-and-5 play, Coutee aligned in the left slot and started back into the backfield on the snap.
Then, he whipped back out to the left flat. The play was the exact same that the Rams used against the Texans for a Robert Woods second half touchdown in 2017. The Rams ran it to the right side; the Red Raiders ran it to the left. Quarterback Nic Shimonek had eyes for Coutee the entire way. He made sure to give Coutee a ball with which he could run after the catch.
Unfortunately, he led Coutee a little bit too much. Coutee was able to get his hands on it, but he wasn't in any position to make a play with it.
Then, he did. Look at the picture, his body made a 45-degree angle to the ground. Yet, he was able to collect himself; however, having to do so slowed him down just enough to allow pursuit to catch up to him. Houston defensive lineman Payton Turner had a great shot to stop Coutee after little to no gain as he pursued from the inside.
Furthermore, if Turner didn't, two other Cougars were in position to make the tackle short of the first down marker.
One of the things I love about Coutee is his angry running style after the catch. He never seemed to give up or go down easily. This was certainly evidence of that.
Turner bounced off the muscular Coutee, but another Cougar was right there. Well, Coutee cut left then ducked under that guy, forcing the linebacker to fall on his face. That put him one-on-one with the third and last defender, the Cougars cornerback.
He ran through his tackle and picked up nine yards and the first down. Running back Desmond Nisby scored on a three-yard run on the very next play.
This play was dead on arrival, really, but Coutee didn't see it that way. He gathered himself after the throw was well out in front of him. He muscled through Turner. He ducked under the linebacker after making a cut. He then ran through a defensive back for the first down.
With Texas Tech ahead 13-10 in the third quarter, on a 2nd-and-7 play, Coutee aligned in that slot receiver position on the right side. The Cougars were late lining up and it forced confusion in coverage. Regardless, Coutee did what he typically did against man or quarters coverage - he ran the slot fade (basically a deep route from the inside/slot position).
Texas Tech had no fear sending Coutee down the field because of his ability to track the deep ball, adjust to it and then catch it. This was a staple in Tech's offense throughout his career. Houston was exploited in coverage and Shimonek hit a wide open Coutee for a 77-yard waltz-in touchdown. The Houston secondary sprinted after Coutee and, even in slowing down around the 20-yard line, Coutee pulled away from the Cougars defensive backs.
The best hitters in baseball can hit home runs to all fields, giving a pitcher no answer at the plate. Coutee is like that type of home-run hitter. He can make the 77-yard catch down the field as he did against Houston, but he could just as easily turn a catch-and-run situation into a 77-yard sprint to the end zone. It's going to be fun to see Coutee grow in this offense.