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Texas Tech’s success hinges on Sonny Cumbie’s ability to adapt

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Matt Wells is counting on his new offensive coordinator to save his job - and the Texas Tech program as a whole.

Kansas v TCU Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

When Texas Tech mercifully put an end to the Kliff Kingsbury experiment, several names emerged as potential replacements but only one stood out to me - Sonny Cumbie, the former Red Raider quarterback who brought TCU to Big 12 contention in the mid-2010s.

I saw how Cumbie turned former receiver Trevone Boykin into a Heisman-contending quarterback. He worked wonders with Kenny Trill, too.

It amazes me to this day Hill was a starting quarterback in the Big 12, but it just provided more evidence for Cumbie’s offensive genius. He was more than capable of leading Red Raider football to Mike Leach levels of relevance and beyond.

And maybe Tech would’ve made that hire, too, if not for TCU’s offensive woes the previous season. In 2018, the Horned Frogs ranked second-to-last in the Big 12 in points per game, and people started to doubt Cumbie’s ability to surprise opposing defenses anymore. The Air Raid offense was no longer modern or robust - particularly in the Big 12, the conference that had seen more of that playbook than any other league in the country.

So Cumbie’s stock began to dip, and Tech hired Matt Wells to run the program. Incidentally, Wells chose to bring offensive coordinator David Yost, an Air Raid “innovator,” and the Red Raiders watched their offense tank from 37.3 points per game in 2018 to 30.5 in 2019 and 29.1 in 2020.

During that same span, Cumbie seemed to make some necessary adjustments. The Frogs went from 23.5 points per game in 2018 to 30.3 and 30.8 points per game in the last two seasons, respectively.

Interestingly, as TCU’s points per game increased over the past two years, its passing yards decreased.

TCU offensive output under Sonny Cumbie

Season PPG Passing YPG Rushing YPG
Season PPG Passing YPG Rushing YPG
2018 23.5 211.5 156.6
2019 30.3 203.7 204
2020 30.8 196.3 214.7

Go figure. Running the ball more effectively can help your team score more points, even at the expense of gaudy passing numbers.

When Wells hired Cumbie to be offensive coordinator, many fans rejoiced in the idea Tech’s offense would be in the hands of a former Red Raider quarterback from the Leach era who knows the Air Raid inside and out. But it’s possible Cumbie’s ability to deviate from the Air Raid is what will restore Tech to Big 12 contention.

And if ever there were a season to transition from 55 pass attempts per game to a more methodical, balanced approach that consumes clock and limits opponent possessions, this would be the year to do it. Tech’s defense is stronger and deeper than it has been in years. The offensive line, even without Jack Anderson, looks capable of mauling smaller defensive lines in the Big 12. While uncertainty looms around the quarterback position, the backfield is loaded with talent, speed and depth.

West Virginia v Texas Tech
Texas Tech has a diverse backfield of home-run hitters and power runners. Both should be utilized.
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

For Cumbie to succeed at Tech, he must divert from the normal way of running offenses in Lubbock. He can get a quarterback to throw for 550 yards per game, but Tech will continue its habit of 5-7 seasons with a surplus of 58-42 losses. Past coaches and coordinators have proven this repeatedly.

Cumbie must dare to deviate from the status quo. Wells’s job depends on it, but so does the fate of the Red Raider football program.