After the Liberty Bowl wrapped up with a Texas Tech victory, things started to feel different when it came to the Football program for the first time in a while.
That hype started to build up when Joey McGuire was hired as the Head Coach in early November.
With Spring Ball already getting started this past week, you could tell that there was a certain energy around this team that hasn’t been there in a while. McGuire has these guys fired up and ready to turn this program in the right direction sooner rather than later.
The different storylines to look for are intriguing to say the least, and I’ll be going over a few that I’ll most certainly be keeping an eye on until the Spring Game.
What does the Quarterback Situation Look Like?
As the offense changes over from Sonny Cumbies scheme into Zach Kittley’s. The most important part of this scheme is the guy throwing the ball and making the right decisions, and Tech has a few guys that are capable.
One of the best problems to have is having a few guys at quarterback that are worthy of starting and having to choose between one of them. Texas Tech has both Tyler Shough and Donovan Smith who both started multiple games last year.
Shough was the clear starter heading into the season, but was injured during the Texas game and never returned. Henry Colombi took over for a few games but just wasn’t cutting it so Tech turned to Smith, who ended up wooing the coaching staff and remaining the starter for the rest of the season. Smith had some incredible games, but also had games that showed his lack of experience.
That being said, both guys seem to be battling for reps in a competition that could carry all the way up to the start of the season. I’d be very shocked if one guy clearly pulled away during Spring ball. Another guy to keep an eye on is Behren Morton, who saw some action last season as a true freshman but was able to maintain his redshirt status for this season. He will factor into the quarterback discussion, but heading in there’s more tape out there on Smith and Shough.
Which Receivers Will Stand Out Amongst the Rest:
If you’ve taken a look at Kittley’s resume and the offenses that he’s coached you’ll see that they are explosive as any in the country.
Looking at last year’s Western Kentucky offense specifically you’ll see that Jerreth Sterns lead the nation in receptions and was the focal point of the offense for the Hilltoppers. Kittley found ways to get him open every game and has emphasized that in his offense the playmakers will get the ball one way or another, leading us to wonder who will be that guy this upcoming season for Tech?
Sterns was a guy that operated in the slot heavily, so it’s clear that Kittley didn’t move him around even though the defense knew he was likely getting 10+ targets a game. There are a few guys that I believe will be focal points of the offense at the receiver position whether it’s on the outside or inside.
Myles Price is a clear favorite as a guy who can do both and has shown that throughout his career. J.J Sparkman and Loic Fouonji are two guys on the outside that have seen playing time in spurts throughout their careers and are going to have to fill the void left by Erik Ezukanma. They both have an opportunity to step up and lead the receiving room alongside Price.
We could even see Xavier White be a guy that they try to get the ball to quite often. He has shown an ability to play both running back as well as receiver and has looked good doing both. Last season he wasn’t used nearly as much as I hoped he was going to be as a receiver, so that should change this year with how often Kittley likes to get guys in space.
Can this Secondary be Great?
Going into last season there was some hope that the secondary could be solid all-around. There were definitely some steps in the right direction from the previous year, but playing against Big-12 offenses can sometimes be a reality check.
Those guys have another year under their belts and are getting a new defense installed from Tim DeRuyter. He’s going to bring a lot of pressure up front with different blitz packages and that should help the defensive backs react a lot quicker instead of dropping eight guys and allowing these quarterbacks that are very talented to have all the time in the world to find an open guy.
Marquis Waters, Adrian Frye, Reggie Pearson Jr., Malik Dunlap and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson are the core guys for this group that will be leaned on to carry this defense. This season I’d like to see both Cam White and Cameron Watts step up and be those guys that come in and are able to hold their own when the starters need their rest.
With the losses at linebacker this group might also have to be able to help more than usual in the running game. Guys like Pearson and and Monroe were solid against the run last year, and our cornerbacks play physical enough to be able to help in that area as well as the screen game.
I have very high expectations from this group and wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them end up with Big-12 honors after the year is done.
Who is Going to Step Up at Inside Linebacker?
With the losses of Colin Schooler and Riko Jeffers in the middle of the defense, there’s going to be a lack of experience at that position. Those guys were solid in the middle with Schooler being more diverse in the run and pass game. With those two gone, who will step up this year?
In DeRuyter’s defense, he runs a 3-4 base scheme where the strong side outside linebacker is on the line of scrimmage and the weakside OLB is off the ball. My prediction is that we see Kosi Eldridge and Dimitri Moore step in at Inside Linebacker this year. Eldridge has been solid throughout the start of spring ball, and Moore is familiar with Coach McGuire from High School and knows his scheme.
Other guys that could factor in are Jesiah Pierre, Bryce Robinson and Tyrique Matthews, who also saw time at Linebacker last season. Unless one or two of these guys stands out during spring ball, I think that we will see a nice rotation to start the season until a solid core gets established. This group is going to be key in stopping the run as well as contributing in the passing game.
As I mentioned before, Schooler was amazing at pass coverage, but defenses picked on Jeffers a lot in the middle of the defense. While it is a passing league, being able to diagnose the play and stop the run is what helps stop drives. A lot of teams in the Big-12 use the run to open up their passing game, especially Texas and Oklahoma. When you have Bijan Robinson to worry about in the pass and run game, making sure that your linebackers are not going to be a liability will be key.
Will There Finally be a Pass Rush Threat from this Defense?
If you just look at the basic stats from last year, you’ll see that Tech only had 18 sacks last season. That’s an average of 1.3 sacks per game, which is not what you’d like to see with the level of quarterback play that there is in college these days.
They did manage to pressure the quarterback at a better rate than I thought they did, with an average of 9.4 hurries per game. Hurries help with flustering the quarterback and making him rush the throw, but it’d be a lot better to average over two sacks per game.
Tyree Wilson had a solid two-sack performance in the Liberty Bowl that gave him some momentum heading into this season. He will likely be relied on to get to the quarterback from one side of the field, with that other side being occupied by Krishon Merriweather. He’s going to be a solid fit in the off-ball linebacker position on the weakside while Wilson will be on the line of scrimmage rushing the passer a majority of the time.
Tech also just received a commitment on Sunday from ULM transfer Myles Cole, who had offers from TCU, Buffalo and UNLV amongst a few others. He’s someone that can step in immediately and has some playing experience already under his belt.
Other guys that could factor into that OLB position are L.B Moore, Joseph Adedire and Charles Esters Jr. Some of these guys have inside/outside versatility, but I see Adedire as a future star at outside linebacker after being the highest rated recruit from our 2022 class.