Happy College Football Season everyone! Look, when push comes to shove, I’m a basketball guy at my core, but there might not be a more exciting time of the sports year for me than the start of the College Football season!
And with the start to this college football season, we have the start of a new era in Lubbock Texas. Matt Wells takes over for Kliff Kingsbury, who was let go after 6 mediocre seasons. As much as I loved Kliff, he was even more loved in the city of Lubbock. We all believed he would be the guy to get Tech back to consistent relevance, unfortunately it just never happened. If you’re interested in my thoughts on the coach replacing Kliff, click here for my reaction to the Matt Wells hire back in December.
Anytime you have a coaching change, in really any sports, expectations in that first year are typically fairly low. Usually a new coaching staff means a new system which means you have bunch of players playing in a system they weren’t recruited for. However, sometimes you see the opposite take place. Sometimes a new coach inherits a group that has talent, but just hasn’t been able to put it together yet. The question is, which one of these outcomes is more likely for the Red Raiders in 2019? Hopefully we can find out by the end of this blog…
With all that said, lets get into it.
Matt Wells’ offensive system really isn’t all that different from what Texas Tech fans should be used to seeing. There are differences, but some of those differences won’t be noticeable by the average college football fan that doesn’t nerd out on this stuff the way some of us do. There will be some noticeable differences though, most notably will be the use of the TE. Tech had recruited and got a commitment from Simon Gonzales (3 star TE from Magnolia, Tx) well before they made a coaching change. But once Wells took over, he added to that position by bringing in JuCo TE Travis Koontz. Add them to returning senior Dante Thompson, and converted Full Back Tyler Carr (both of whom were seldom used under the previous staff) and all of a sudden you have a fairly deep group of TEs for QB Alan Bowman to throw to. Another difference in the schemes should be a stronger commitment to the run game. However thats always a tricky thing to predict, especially when what you have done in the past has worked. In all of the 6 seasons under Kliff, we thought we would see a stronger commitment to the run game, but rarely did that consistently be the case once the conference play started. Kliff was a guy that would run the same play over and over again if it was working, which I’m fine with. So if Bowman does throw it 50 times a game and the offense is successful, you won’t hear any complaints from me.
Speaking of Alan Bowman, lets talk QBs. Bowman entered the 2018 season thought to be the 3rd string QB headed for a redshirt season (at least thats what I thought). There was a QB competition that most believed was between McLane Carter (now at Rutgers) and Jett Duffey. While Carter ended up winning the job, he was hurt early in the opening game and didn’t see much playing time all season after that. We all expected to see Jett Duffey trot out there after Carter went down, but instead it was the true freshman Alan Bowman. After a fine performance (considering his circumstances) in his week 1 relief job, Bowman took off the next few weeks and took control of the job. Unfortunately, a broken rib and collapsed lung kept him, and the entire team for that matter, from reaching their full potential last year. If you want to look back on last season and over-analyze things, you’d likely come to the conclusion that had Alan Bowman been healthy all season, Kingsbury would still be in Lubbock… With that being said, a healthy Bowman is absolutely paramount for the Red Raiders’ chances at a successful season. The kid is really good, and he has some pretty solid weapons around him, which brings us to the skilled positions.
One of the added benefits of Matt Wells’ offense specific to this season, is the depth improvement that comes with playing in a mainly 3 WR set in stead of 4. Tech was looking pretty thin at WR had they needed to fill 4 spots. In such a fast paced system, you really need at least two guys at each spot that you feel conformable with playing a lot of snaps. Losing Antoine Wesley (draft), Zach Austin (graduation), and Seth Collins (injury) would have really hurt in a 4 WR system. Now, needing only 6 guys to fill 3 spots, as well as a couple of potential newcomers, that WR position looks to be solid at the very least. Once again, TJ Vasher will be looked upon to be “the guy” at WR. He’s had a decent career, but has yet to take that next step (similar to what Wesley did last year). Going into his Jr year now, its important for him to do just that. Its unclear who else will be starting on the outside, but expect to see Kesean Carter, Erik Ezukanma, and Louisiana Monroe Transfer RJ Turner all getting playing time. If I had to guess based off of coaches and player comments, I would expect Turner to be the starter opposite Vasher. On the inside, Tech has their typical slot position, as well as a consistent TE spot. I mentioned the TEs already, and I think you could see all 4 of those guys playing a decent amount of snaps, unless they decide to redshirt Simon Gonzales. I think Donta Thompson probably gives the offense the most in terms of pass catching and running after the catch, while Tyler Carr will be more of an old school blocking option. Travis Koontz is the most traditional TE on the roster. At the H position, which is the spot that Tech fans are used to seeing a lot of production from (Keke Coutee, Jakeem Grant, that one season of Jonathon Giles, Danny Amandola, Eric Morris, Wes Welker, I could go on and on), west Texas native and Nevada transfer McLane Mannix will likely get the majority of snaps. He has already had a decent amount of success at the FBS level and looks the part to be a force in this offense. He’s my early pick to lead the team in catches. Behind him will be Dalton Rigdon and walk on stand out Xavier White. There will be a lot of new names out there catching passes for Texas Tech, but I feel confident that it will be a top 5 position group in the conference.
At Running Back, however, depth could be a real issue. Tech has been searching for a consistent RB since Deandre Washington graduated in 2015. Da’Leon Ward was supposed to be the guy the past couple of years, but after multiple suspensions he has finally left the program. The addition of grad transfer Armond Shyne from Utah will help greatly with depth. But at the moment you have Shyne, Ta’zhawn Henry, SaRoderick Thompson, and Jax Welch all competing for playing time. Im inclined to believe that Henry will ultimately be the top guy, but thats just because we have seen the most out of him so far. I’d expect to see a RB by committee until someone steps up and takes the job.
With so much up in the air at RB, as well as the importance of keeping Bowman healthy, its CRUCIAL that this offensive line reaches their potential this season, which is pretty high. Returning 4 starters (all but the center) is a huge advantage. These guys have been playing on the line together for a really long time. I think Wells should feel really good about his Tackle positions with Travis Buffy and Terrence Steele, as well as one of his Guard spots with Jack Anderson. The questions will be: Can Madison Akamnonu be consistent at the other guard or will he once again be in and out of the lineup? and can Dawson Deaton step in at Center and lead this experienced group of offensive lineman?
Overall, I feel great about this offense as long as Bowman can avoid the big injuries again. I like the weapons, I LOVE the addition of the TE, and I trust the experience on the line. The only real worry is the RB position, and thats more of an unknown than a worry. I think new OC David Yost will become a fan favorite pretty quickly once this fast paced spread offense gets rolling in The Jones.
Before last season, I claimed that the defense was actually the strength of the team. Ultimately, I think that was proven to NOT be the case in 2018… But anyone who has watched Texas Tech over that last 10 years will tell you, that defense wasn’t all that bad. As I mentioned earlier, 2018 probably looks a lot different if Alan Bowman had stayed healthy. Meaning, the defense was, overall, fine last year. This year, David Gibbs departs and is replaced by Keith Patterson. Patterson runs a multiple system with a couple different hybrid positions. Its technically a base 3-4 system, but in the Big12 you’re rarely going to see a defense with less than 5 DBs on the field. So one of the Linebacker spots is really a LB/Safety hybrid. At the other outside LB is an OLB/DE hybrid, a position that really is intended to get to the QB.
With that, lets talk about the Linebacker group first… Lead once again by Jordyn Brooks, who believe it or not is about to be a 4 year starter. Next to him on the inside will be Riko Jeffers, who replaces last years leader on the defense Dakota Allen. Backing them up is veteran Brayden Stringer and redshirt freshman Xavier Benson. I fully expect Brooks and Jeffers to play the vast majority of the snaps and be one of the best LB duos in the conference. However, the depth behind them could be an issue. At the outside linebacker spots, you’ll see graduate transfer Evan Rambo (coming over from Cal) at the “SPUR” position, which is the LB/Safety hybrid. Behind him is Adam Beck, who is a DB, not a LB. Which shows just how multiple this defense will be in 2019. At the other OLB you’ll see true freshman Tyrique Matthews likely starting, with a number of different guys possibly getting look there as well. Interestingly enough, Riko Jeffers is listed as the backup here, which shows that depth will be an issue.
On the defensive line, I think there are similar strengths and concerns as there are at LB. Starting up front will be Broderick Washington (DT), Nick McCann (NT), and Eli Howard (DE). I have full confidence n those 3 guys. In order to shore up the depth, guys like Nelson Mbanasor (DE) and Jaylon Hutchings (NT) will have to step up. Quinton Yontz (DE) will backup Eli Howard, while he doesn’t have the potential of the other backups, he’s probably the most stable and consistent guy in the second unit. I cannot stress enough how important it is that Nelson Mbanasor, Nick McCann and Jaylon Hutchings step up this season.
The secondary is, in my opinion, the strength of this defense. In our Big12 preview (posted below) I mentioned that I feel confident in about 7 guys right now to get consistent playing time in the defensive backfield. I wish I had worded that better. What I meant was that I think there are about 7 guys that are good enough to get the vast majority of the snaps. There are another group of 5 or 6 guys that will compete for playing time (especially early in the season). At the Safety positions, Tech will have two starters that have seen a ton of playing time, but not at safety… Adrien Frye was an All-Big12 CB last year as a freshman, but in this new system will be starting at Safety this year. At the other Safety, Douglas Coleman (who has played a lot at CB and NB) will be the first guy thrown out there. In this new system, they don’t really care about if you’re a traditional CB, Safety, or NB… They just want the 4/5 best coverage guys out there, which I love! Backing those guys up and likely getting a lot of playing time will be Thomas Leggett, Adam Beck, JaMarcus Ingram (recent grad transfer from Utah State), and Dadrion Taylor. At CB, Des Smith returns and will get the start on one side. On the other side is a guy that I am really excited about. Zach McPhearson is yet another grad-transfer who played a lot at Penn State. Coaches raved about him all off season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the best cover guy on the roster. Backing those guys up will be Demarcus Fields, who very well may be starter at some point, and John Davis Jr. Other names to pay attention to are Quincy Addison and Alex Hogan. This group lost one of their better players in Justus Parker (suspension), but the depth of this group should alleviate that loss.
All offseason long I have tried to keep my expectations realistic for Matt Wells’ first season in Lubbock. As I mentioned above, its so hard to know what to expect out of a team in their coaches first year at the helm. But I really, really like this roster. And once again, I truly believe that a healthy Alan Bowman would have caused last season to look very different… With that said, I think this is a good, but not great team. The Big12 is good, but I think there are only 2 teams that will be heavily favored over Texas Tech in 2019. Plus, the non-conference slate is relatively easy, with only a trip to Arizona potentially giving Tech trouble. I would put this team close to the top of the 2nd tier in the Big12 along with Iowa State and TCU. I think Tech finishes 4th in the conference and sets up some lofty expectations going into 2020.
8-4 and a trip to the Camping World Bowl.
Check out our season preview videos below.