It’s hard to believe that Kliff Kingsbury is now 39 years old and entering his 6th season as the Head Coach at Texas Tech. He accepted the Head Coaching job at his alma mater with tons of momentum, but the combination of bad hires, awful defense, and bad luck both on the field and the recruiting trail has Kliff firmly on the hot seat entering the 2018 season. For Tech fans, you could say Kliffs entire tenure has been a big “what if.” What if Kliff had hired David Gibbs as his Defensive Coordinator in stead of Matt Wallerstadt when he took the job in 2013? Would Tech have fielded a defense competent enough to do the Pat Mahomes era justice? What if Jerrett Stidham never de-comitted? Assuming he stayed at Tech as Mahomes’ backup, he’d be entering his second year as the starter in Lubbock. While these are factors, the fact remains that through his first five seasons in Lubbock, Kliff simply hasn’t gotten the job done. At least not yet.
Texas Tech entered the 2018 fall camp with a QB competition between junior McLane Carter, sophomore Jett Duffey, and true freshman Alan Bowman. While a starter has yet to be announced (don’t expect an announcement from Kliff), most expect McLane Carter to be the guy leading the Red Raider offense Saturday morning against Ole Miss. Carter made his first and only start last season in Austin. He struggled for 2.5 quarters and was replaced by Nic Shimonek, who started every other of the season. Carter doesn’t have the raw talent of the other QBs competing for the job. Jett Duffey is a dual threat playmaker with tons of speed and athleticism. Alan Bowman is prototypical Texas Tech QB. He’s a big kid with a strong arm, he’s primarily a pocket passer, but has enough athleticism to scramble if he has to. However, Carter is a plus athlete and throws an accurate ball. And while his arm strength looked below average against Texas last year, I don’t think it’s fair to judge him off of just one game. If McLane has won the job as expected, its safe to assume its for one main reason, decision making. In the Big12 conference, a team that can take care of the ball has the advantage. In such high scoring games, one lost possession can cost you a game. Its rare that Texas Tech starts a game manager at QB, but thats likely what McLane Carter is. And although Kliff is firmly on the hot seat, I think he has earned the benefit of the doubt as far as the QB position is concerned. As far as the rest of the offense goes… The offensive line returns all of its starters and should be solid. Deleon Ward is back at RB after a disciplinary redshirt season in 2017. He’ll likely split carries with Tre King, who proved formidable last season. At WR, expect to hear a lot of new names. Led by TJ Vasher (shout out Wichita Falls), I expect enough guys to step up and make plays. Some other names to look for at WR are Zack Austin, Seth Collins, Ja’deion High, Antione Wesley, Dequan Bowman, Kesean Carter, and Dante Thompson (TE).
The main reason that it just might make sense to go the game manager rout at QB is something that fans in Lubbock aren’t used to… For the first time since before the Air Raid era, the strength of this team might just be its defense. David Gibbs has proved to be one of the best DC’s in the conference and this is the first season since he arrived in Lubbock that he has a fair amount of depth at every level of the defense. Tech has 11 returning starters and even more returning contributors. The defensive line looks solid at every position. Inside, Broderick Washington and Preston Gordon are expected to start, with big Joe Wallace, who had a nice freshman season in 2016 and redshirted in 2017, getting significant playing time as well. Wallace may be the most talented of the group and I would be surprised if he’s not one of the main contributors on the line this year. On the ends, the combination of Eli Howard, Kolin Hill (OLB), Tony Jones (OLB), Lonzell Gilmore, and Nelson Mbanasor will hope to get a consistent pass rush. Whether or not they can do that is probably the biggest question mark on this defense. Tech plays the majority of their defensive snaps in Nickel, which means they typically only have two true Line Backers on the field together. That group is the strength of this defense though. Jordyn Brooks is coming into his 3rd year starting at Tech. Rico Jeffers played really well as a freshman last year and will get plenty of playing time this year as well, either as the 3rd true LB on the field in the base defense, or rotating in as Brooks’ backup in the Nickel package. The other starting Line Backer is, in my opinion, the key to this Tech defense. Dakota Allen is in the conversation for best LB in the Big12 and is a real candidate for Big12 DPOY in 2018. These three Line Backers are the most talented group I’ve seen in my 15 years following Texas Tech football. In the secondary, Gibbs has a handful of guys that will rotate in and out. Jah’Shawn Johnson is back for the last season of what has seemed like never ending career, he’s a 5th year senior that has been a consistent playmaker for this defense for the past 4 seasons. Also getting playing time at Safety will be Vaughnte Dorsey, Thomas Leggett, and recent UT transfer John Bonney. At the Corners, expect to see 5, maybe 6 different guys out there. Names to watch are Demarcus Fields, Des Smith, Douglas Coleman, John Davis, Adrian Frye, and Quincey Addison. The last piece of this defense came out of nowhere last season. Justus Parker walked on and eventually earned playing time as a Nickel Back. Parker was one of the best defensive playmakers in the conference by the end of the 2017. Expect to see him all over the field this year.
It goes without saying, this is a crucial season for Kliff Kingsbury. He finally has a defense talented enough to compete in the Big12. All he has to do is make sure this offense even sniffs Texas Tech standards. They don’t necessarily need to score 45 points a game, but this is still Texas Tech! This is still a Kliff Kingsbury offense. In order to return to Texas Tech for a 7th season, I believe Kliff needs to lead this team to an 8-4 regular season. I think thats an attainable goal. But with a tough non-conference schedule (Ole Miss, Houston) it’s no guarantee. A lot depends on QB play. If McLane Carter (or whoever starts) can lead this offense to reach the standards at Texas Tech, I think they reach 8 wins. However, if the QB cannot take care of the ball consistently, or if the defense hasn’t taken that step that I believe they have… It could be another 6 win season.
BONUS- In case you need a reason to root for Kliff…