One of the stories that has flown under the radar for Texas Tech football this offseason was the news that Da’Leon Ward would transfer. Ward was considered by most outsiders to be the best running back in the backfield last year, however there is reason to believe that Ward’s presence was not ideal for the team’s success. The biggest stat that supports this is the pure win/loss comparison. Texas Tech went 0-7 when Ward got at least five carries, and 4-0 when he did not play. While Ward had arguably the most impressive counting stats of any Tech back, he seemingly hindered the offense in some capacity, as Alan Bowman’s three best games statistically (Houston, Oklahoma State, and Kansas) all came with Ward not playing.
This is not to say Ward is not talented, as it would be disingenuous to suggest Kingsbury’s decision to start him was baseless. Ward is a talented back that will find a home somewhere and likely thrive, but our subject today is the potential emergence of Ta’Zhawn Henry and Sarodorick Thompson
The biggest thing that Ward lacked that Ta’Zhawn Henry brings to the table is elite lateral speed. Ward was strong as a one-cut back, but in games against Iowa State and Texas he really struggled to find an open lane. Henry’s ability to cut in or out while moving laterally played a large part in his four touchdown game vs. Houston, where three of his four touchdowns came from finding the edge and reaching the sideline through runs that originated off tackle. Ward was unable to score a single touchdown outside of the hashes in 2018, whereas Henry had six such touchdowns on only seven more carries.
Ta’Zhawn’s role in the offense was really bizarre under Kliff Kingsbury. He had 24 carries vs. Houston, however aside from that game it seemed as if Kliff refused to let Ta’Zhawn play in more than a spot role, as he would never have more than 12 carries again. Tre King suffered from a similar deficiency in carries, and some would argue Demarcus Felton suffered from similar issues in his final season in Lubbock after his breakout game in Stillwater.
Regardless of what Ta’Zhawn’s role was, it was clear that he was ready to produce. The game against Houston proved his worth as a lead back, and strong secondary games vs. Oklahoma State and TCU indicated his ability to play in a non-lead role. This could be important, as fellow back Sarodorick Thompson could have a large role as well.
Thompson’s four games before redshirting were surprisingly effective from a statistical standpoint. His YPC rate was higher than either Ta’Zhawn or Tre, and he had easily the lowest OPP Rate (opportunity rate) of any back on the team at 32% (10% lower than Henry, who was at 41.9%), and his Hlt Yds/Opp was the highest of any player at 5.95, which indicates he made the most of his opportunities on the year. Thompson had over 50 yards vs. Oklahoma State, and was instrumental as a power back in keeping the chains moving against both the Cowboys and Houston.
Thompson’s power and general elusiveness could provide the offense with some between-the-tackles ability. While Ta’Zhawn had some flashes of excellence running between the tackles (much to the surprise of Joe Davis and Brady Quinn in the Houston game), most of his work came off tackle. Without another power back on the roster, Thompson’s ability to run inside might be the most important factor in maintaining a balanced offense, especially considering Jack Anderson is the best OL on the team as an interior guard.
Ultimately, both Sarodorick Thompson and Ta’Zhawn Henry will need to have great sophomore seasons to keep defenses honest against Alan Bowman and the electrifying passing attack. Considering that their most likely third option is true freshman Alante Brown, it is probably going to be up to them to ensure the Red Raiders maintain balance throughout the game, as the lack of depth is not something that we have seen recently. Given their success in spot roles as true freshman, there has to be optimism from Matt Wells and the coaching staff that the two can put together a great second year in Lubbock. A lot of games could come down to success running the football, and I trust Sarodorick and Ta’Zhawn to deliver.