Two years ago T.J. Vasher was considered an unfinished product at receiver, however anyone that watched Tech in the Big 12 that year knew he was something special. The 6’6 receiver had two 100 yard games, six catches of 25 yards or more, and over 500 yards in the final seven games of the year. Vasher was expected to lead a reloaded wide receiving corps and potentially be a contender for the top receiver in the Big 12 in 2018.
That never happened during his sophomore campaign. Vasher was only able to put up 687 yards over 11 games (including the TCU game where he played one drive), and his yards per reception average dropped from 18.8 to 12.7. There were some bright spots- namely a two touchdown game against Houston, a spectacular catch in the season opener vs. Ole Miss, and a career high eight receptions vs. Texas (with two touchdowns as well.) Despite the moments there were a plethora of Red Raider fans that thought Vasher was a disappointment, with most citing a “poor work ethic” and a lack of focus. While Antoine Wesley stole the show and went to the NFL, Vasher decided to stay in school and be the leading returning receiver for the new coaching staff.
Coming into this season Vasher was placed as one of the team’s best offensive players, however there were still doubters that questioned his consistency and motivation after what they considered a disappointing 2018 season. While the stats of 2018 look disappointing, there was one trend from Vasher that should have been more of a talking point among Tech fans.
That trend was the amount of receptions Vasher had in each of his final six games of the year. Prior to the Kansas game Vasher had only reached six receptions one time in his college career, and he only had five career games (out of 14) with at least five receptions. Including that victory in Lubbock (the last of the Kingsbury era), Vasher put up at least five receptions in all six games, with at least six receptions in each of the last four games of the Kingsbury era. Vasher only played in two full games with Alan Bowman at quarterback in 2018 (Houston and Iowa State) and in those games he averaged over 80 yards per game. Prior to the season I had my doubts that the reception streak would continue, but Vasher has continued to put up numbers.
T.J. has recorded two consecutive six reception games to start the season, and his production has been solid despite constantly being rotated with other outside receivers. When re-watching a condensed version of the UTEP game, I noticed that both Vasher and Ezukanma were off the field quite a bit. I decided to chart the receivers on each drive, and I discovered that after the first drive the first string receivers (Vasher, Ezukanma, and Rigdon) only played about 50% of the snaps, with R.J. Turner, KeSean Carter, Myller Royals, and Caden Legget all receiving some sort of playing time. 31 of the 38 points scored came on drives where Vasher was in the game, and he was the only receiver with at least six targets. It’s noticeable that T.J. is currently the number one target, and with Arizona’s terrible downfield pass defense (126th in scoring defense) looming it seems logical to suggest that Vasher could have another huge game, especially since he will almost certainly have more playing time against a much tougher opponent.
The one negative so far this season is that Vasher has still failed to replicate his deep ball success from 2017, as his average yards per catch is still only 12.5. There is hope that the explosive plays will come back though, as Vasher has already been running a route tree that visibly has more vertically based routes than at the end of last year. With more chemistry with Alan Bowman and more familiarity with David Yost’s system, expect to see Vasher flourish over the next few weeks.
T.J. emerging as an all around star at receiver will make Alan Bowman’s life much easier. No receiver outside of Vasher has more than 30 pass catches from Bowman, and there still seems to be quite a few miscommunications between the receivers and the quarterback. Vasher being a consistent and explosive target makes Bowman’s reads more dependable, a trait that is valuable when the rest of the receivers are still learning. Once the receivers get broken into the system, Vasher’s ability to be a primary option at all three levels will open up the offense to be successful at every level, especially with a dynamic screen game having already been displayed and elite vertical threats such as Vasher and KeSean Carter.
A lot depends on T.J. Vasher being a reliable target. If everything goes well, his connection with Alan Bowman could be special this year. Vasher’s shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years, but this season is his chance at greatness.