The Texas Tech Red Raiders’ 2016 season reached its conclusion on Friday night at Jerry World in Arlington. After starting out 4-7 and coming off its worst loss – both in terms of margin of defeat and caliber of opponent – in the Kliff Kingsbury era, Texas Tech played arguably its best game from start to finish on both sides of the ball, beating Baylor 54-35.
Let’s take a look back at the season’s major storylines and a glimpse at the upcoming offseason.
1. Our Coach’s Seat is Hotter Than Yours
The debate over whether head coach Kliff Kingsbury is the right man to lead Texas Tech peaked following the 66-10 loss to Iowa State in Ames, which eliminated Tech from bowl contention. Fearing a second 4-8 season in his four-year tenure (prior to Kingsbury, Tech didn’t have that bad of a season since 1990), fans began demanding athletics director Kirby Hocutt move in a different direction.
A convincing win over in-state rival Baylor put to rest those talks, for now. On Sunday, Hocutt announced in a press conference that Kingsbury would remain the head coach in 2017. However, the pressure is on for Kingsbury and his staff. Personally, if Texas Tech doesn’t, at a minimum, reach a bowl game in 2017, I think Hocutt will clean house.
With 2017 being Kingsbury’s fifth season at the helm, his buyout falling to about $6 million at season’s end, and a fan base growing weary of losing, Kingsbury is officially on the hot seat.
2. Patrick Mahomes
What can you say about the Red Raider quarterback? He’s phenomenal. Playing with an injury to each shoulder and a broken wrist for huge portions of the season, he set the NCAA record for total yards in a game and eclipsed 5,000 yards for the season. Unfortunately, Texas Tech did not have enough of a defense, offensive line, or a run game (more on all that later) to complement Mahomes. Had Tech been able to win nine games, I think Mahomes would have garnered some serious Heisman Trophy consideration.
That’s not to say Mahomes was flawless. He left a lot to be desired trying to make up deficits all by himself, playing what his coaches call “street ball.” But his talent has caught the attention of NFL scouts. According to Mel Kiper, Mahomes is the second best quarterback in the 2017 draft class should he choose to skip his senior season. After the Baylor game, Mahomes said his plan right now is to return to Texas Tech, but that he and coach Kingsbury will wait to receive more evaluations before making a final decision.
Obviously, Mahomes’ decision to stay for one more season or jump to the NFL will have a major impact on 2017’s outlook. If he leaves, there will likely be a quarterback competition between senior Nic Shimonek and redshirt freshman Jett Duffey. Shimonek’s upside is his time spent in the system (he’s going on three years at Texas Tech) and his experience, taking some snaps in a few games this year. Duffey’s advantages are his raw talent and speed to be a dual threat quarterback, and the fact that he’s likely the future at the position for the Red Raiders. Either way, competition breeds success.
Well, someone finally did it. David Gibbs stayed as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator for two whole seasons, a feat not accomplished (or endured) in quite some time. Statistically, the defense did not make major strides, ranking near the bottom of the FBS in every category.
But some young players like Jordyn Brooks, Douglas Coleman, Broderick Washington, Kolin Hill, Joe Wallace, and Breiden Fehoko all showed some promise. Considering the season began with converted wide receivers starting at cornerback (DJ Polite-Bray) and defensive end (Gary Moore), and other spots were plugged in by transfers (Luke Stice, Ondre Pipkins), the future should probably be brighter than what we saw in 2016. But it will still probably be a year or two before there is enough depth and talent to be more competitive on a consistent basis. (And I know, fans REALLY love to hear that)
Building depth and experience can only be done if Tech avoids attrition, though. Which leads us to the next major storyline of 2016…
Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison, and Dakota Allen were all supposed to return as starters for Texas Tech on defense in 2016. All left the program for one reason or another. Tech also had three offensive linemen – Cody Wheeler, Justin Murphy, and Conner Dyer – retire from football due to injury. Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell left the program before the season started. Defensive end Gary Moore and wide receiver Devin Lauderdale, both starters, left mid-season for reasons still undisclosed. Freshman defensive lineman Ivory Jackson and running back Corey Dauphine announced their plans to transfer mid-season. And who knows who might transfer in the offseason, or be dismissed from the team before 2017 begins?
The kind of attrition Tech has experienced in the last year would hurt any program. Simply put, this cannot continue if Texas Tech is to be successful in coming years. Some of the attrition is for understandable reasons (i.e. concussions, dismissing players for off the field incidents). But constantly having to rebuild and plug in inexperienced players takes its toll. Let’s hope 2017 sees more continuity as opposed to attrition.
5. The Running Game
This was also a huge disappointment for the Red Raiders in 2016. Starting running back Justin Stockton quickly lost his job to DeMarcus Felton, who then lost it to true freshman Da’Leon Ward. Frankly, all three were pretty much doomed behind the offensive line.
Ward led the team with just over 400 yards rushing on the season. His longest carry was only 15 yards. That’s a figure that should probably be eclipsed by the starting running back once a game, not once a season. Total, Texas Tech rushed for 1,243 yards, barely averaging 3 yards per carry.
Contrast that with 2015, when DeAndre Washington topped 1,000 yards on the ground for the second straight year, and the Red Raiders averaged over 5 yards per carry on the way to nearly 2,500 rushing yards. That’s basically double the production seen in 2016.
The 2016 offense rarely hurt for points or total yards, but it’s hard to imagine that they couldn’t have been even more successful with a more balanced attack and the threat of a run game. Running the ball effectively allows the offense to do more in short yardage situations, gives them greater control over the tempo of a game, and further opens up the passing attack by keeping the defense honest.
When opposing defenses dropped eight men into coverage and only rushed three defensive linemen, Texas Tech couldn’t capitalize by running the ball effectively. That has to change in 2017.
There’s a silver lining to not reaching a bowl game; the Tech coaching staff gets to really hit the pavement on the recruiting trail. According to 247, Texas Tech currently has the fourth best 2017 recruiting class in the Big 12. They’re within striking distance of second place according to those same rankings, though they’re currently ahead of Texas, who I suspect will get a huge boost with Tom Herman as their head coach.
Kingsbury and his staff have shown an ability to recruit well before, though some of the biggest commitments they’ve landed – Jarrett Stidham, Corey Dauphine, J.F. Thomas, Carlos Strickland, etc. – never panned out. If they can find a few guys who can contribute as true freshmen like Jordyn Brooks did in 2016 and D’Vonta Hinton did in 2015 as linebackers, that could provide some much needed help for 2017. But of course they’re thinking long term for the most part, so hopefully they can grab some talented guys who they can develop into some great student-athletes for Texas Tech.
Ability to recruit is a main reason I was a supporter of bringing Kingsbury back for 2017. The football program needs momentum for the fan base to remain interested, and a stellar recruiting class could do just the trick.
What were your final takeaways for 2016?