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5 keystone players for Texas Tech’s offense in 2020

If the Red Raiders want to break free of their mediocrity, these offensive players have to show up.

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Oklahoma State v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Do we really need to still talk about last season?

Yea - unfortunately we do. Matt Wells and the Red Raiders had a historically disappointing season last year. Wells had the worst first season as a Texas Tech HC since Jerry Moore went 1-9-1 in 1981. Sports Reference College Football’s “Strength of Schedule” metric indicated it would be the easiest season since 2009, when Mike Leach won 9 games including the Alamo Bowl. Yet when they finished the season, their SRS (Simple Rating System) was a -0.65, only the second time it had been in the negatives since 2000 (other occurrence was 2014 at a -3.56). There were injuries, including those towards primary offensive players QB Alan Bowman, WR TJ Vasher, and RB Ta’Zhawn Henry. Also the adjustment to a new offensive system was clearly difficult. Unfortunately, the history is daunting too. Every new Texas Tech HC has had a worse record (or the same - Mike Leach) in their second year since - you guessed it - Jerry Moore improved his singular win in 1981 to 4 in 1982.

If things are going to improve next year, the talent has to be there. Just as an ecosystem depends on a keystone species for it’s health and survival, the ecosystem of Texas Tech Football will live or die depending on the performance of these players.

QB Alan Bowman

Do I think Bowman will be the starting QB come fall? He seems like the most likely candidate to me. David Yost has a great track record of coaching quarterbacks. Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, and Blaine Gabbert are just a few of the quarterbacks Yost has turned into serious talents. Those three guys were primarily pocket passers, and it seems that’s what Yost prefers. This is why for now I think Bowman has the job over McIvor.

But make no mistake - Bowman has to show up to keep his job. Just 11 games played in two years, injuries have plagued him and Texas Tech. We got to see most of what he was capable of in 2018 when he played 8 games. Clearly a very talented quarterback, but there are kinks to work out. The first of which is obviously that Bowman has to stay healthy. Although I’m more optimistic regarding Maverick McIvor than others seem to be; the learning curve it takes to switch quarterbacks mid-season has hurt Texas Tech profusely the past 2 years.

Texas Tech has won only 2 of their last 12 games when Bowman was sidelined due to injury.

I’d like to see Bowman’s TD/Interception ratio increase to at least around a 3 (currently 2.3). This can be easily improved if he becomes just a little more careful with the football. There is a lot of upside to his game and if he can stay healthy, mild take incoming, I think he can win 5+ games next season.

UTEP v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

WR T.J. Vasher

The player most overdue for a breakout season.

Outside of Jack Anderson, Vasher should easily be the highest picked Red Raider in the 2021 NFL Draft. To ensure that, he needs to make sure his last year of college football is his best. Last season he led the team in TD receptions with 6, which was the first time in his 3 full years he had led the team in receiving yards or touchdowns. Vasher makes a living in the redzone, putting his 6’6 frame to work. He brought in nearly 700 yards in 2018, and despite the air raid dying, I’d like to see similar production next season.

The route tree for Vasher is really limited. A lot of his offense revolves around fly and post routes. I’d like to see him be utilized more on slants and in-routes as well. The footwork and release has to get better before this can happen. In the game against Texas, he got a couple of designated screens. If the team still wants to run screens for 80% of it’s offense (kidding - kinda), I like the idea of using Vasher in short yardage situations when SaRodorick Thompson needs a rest. Look for Vasher to bring in at least 600 yards and 7 TD’s next season.

Texas Tech v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

RB SaRodorick Thompson

Allow me to reintroduce your future offensive player of the year.

“Sweet Feet” Thompson had a really good season last year. He proved his ability as a “Swiss Army Knife” type player after he brought in 919 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns. Oh, and it was his first real season of college football. Thompson not only led the team in rushing attempts and yards, but was also 4th in receptions. He remained healthy the entire season; an accomplishment that’s impressive on it’s own, but even more impressive when you’re used on 199 plays from scrimmage (102 more than Ta’Zhawn Henry in second place). The running back room is losing some serious weapons with Armand Shyne graduating and Ta’Zhawn Henry’s decision to transfer to Houston. Jax Welch is looking like RB2 at the moment, but there’s also the possibility that incoming freshman Tahj Brooks could see the field as well. These two backups are going to play a huge role in ensuring Thompson can rest when he needs to, therefore reducing his injury risk. If Thompson can stay healthy, he very well should end up being the best player on the offense.

Iowa State v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

OG Jack Anderson

There is nothing harder than trying to explain the value of an offensive lineman using words. The college football analytics world is essentially useless in finding valuable metrics for individual offensive linemen. But, if you’re an involved Texas Tech Football fan, you should not only recognize the name Jack Anderson but also understand how damn good this guy is.

Jack Anderson is so good that he could’ve been drafted in the 2020 Draft after not even playing during the 2019 season.

Instead, Anderson is back for what looks like his last season as an NCAA player. He’s a consensus second rounder (at least) and has 50:1 odds (BetOnline) to be the first offensive lineman selected in the next NFL Draft. The former PFF All-Big 12 First Team member has one job next season: protect. He needs to replicate his 2018 season where he had the best run-blocking PFF grade in the conference and allowed only one sack. Make sure Thompson doesn’t get met in the backfield and please, for the love of all that is good, do not give someone a clear shot at Alan Bowman. If he can do those two things, his impact will still be overlooked by the casual fan but his value will be the highest on the team.

Texas Tech v TCU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

WR Dalton Rigdon

It wouldn’t be a Texas Tech Football article without at least 60% of it being dedicated to the passing offense.

Tall, strong, “you just got Mossed!” type receivers seem to be the stereotype of Texas Tech receivers. The 2020 Red Raiders don’t lack in this area having T.J. Vasher and Erik Ezukanma. But if the team is wanting to play offense similar to how they did last season, they need a slot/H receiver presence. There’s no one better I can think of than speedster Dalton Rigdon.

I absolutely love Rigdon’s abilities as a receiver. A little undersized at 5-11, he’s forced to use his speed in order to create separation. That’s no problem for him. Last season, he caught 34 passes which totaled 486 yards and 5 TD’s.

Rigdon isn’t a keystone player because I think he’s the number one or two option. He’s a keystone player because he frees up the one and two options. In a receiver room that’s really only losing RJ Turner, look for Vasher and Ezukanma to be the clear cut favorites at WR1 and WR2. Rigdon’s speed forces the defense to watch for him underneath and not just stay occupied with the deep ball. 500 yards sounds like a very realistic milestone for him next season.

UTEP v Texas Tech Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images