Kliff Kingsbury made his return to the Texas Tech Red Raiders and returned the Air Raid to Lubbock with solid results. Tech raced out to a 7-0 record thanks to a soft opening to their schedule, riding the arms of two true freshmen quarterbacks, before hitting the teeth of their schedule. The Red Raiders faltered down the stretch, losing the last five games of the regular season before bouncing back with a dominant 37-23 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl to finish the year 8-5 with loads of optimism about the future.
Now, Kingsbury has to deliver on that optimism. He has his quarterback situation settled (thanks to the transfers of Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer) but will have to get his team to improve in year two if they hope to take a step forward in the Big 12. There is plenty of reason to be excited about this Tech football team with a young core of playmakers. Will they deliver on their potential and make a run at a conference title?
Davis Webb took advantage of a tumultuous quarterback situation last fall and rose to the top of the depth chart as a prototypical Air Raid quarterback who can run Kingsbury’s offense to perfection. The 6-foot-4 sophomore finished last season with 2,718 yards passing and 20 touchdowns against just nine interceptions while getting rid of the football on time and showing an excellent understanding of the passing offense. With the reins to the offense 100 percent in his hands for 2014 (as he finished spring as the only QB on the roster), Webb is poised to enjoy a breakout campaign as one of the Big 12’s rising stars.
While the running game is always a bit of an afterthought in the Air Raid, Texas Tech is not hurting for experience at running back. Despite leading rusher Kenny Williams (497 yards, 8 touchdowns in 2013) moving to linebacker, the team is in good hands with junior DeAndre Washington at the top of their depth chart. Last season, Washington rushed 107 times for 450 yards and scored four touchdowns. In addition, he was a valuable weapon out of the backfield, recording 34 catches for 269 yards.
The receiving corps takes a major hit losing their top two pass-catcher from 2013 in tight end Jace Amaro and receiver Eric Ward. Together the pair combined for 189 catches in 2013 for 2,299 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. But the cupboard is far from bare in Lubbock thanks to a system that distributes the ball very well to all its receivers. Jakeem Grant returns after finishing third on the team with 65 receptions for 796 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore in 2013 along with senior Bradley Marquez, who finished 2013 with 49 receptions for 633 yards and six touchdowns.
Texas Tech was hurt by the run as their defensive front got pushed around regularly in 2013 and they finished as the No. 99 rushing defense in the country. Kingsbury went out and added some junior college beef to provide additional strength to the defensive line. Look for 350-pound Rika Levi to find an immediate role in the middle at nose tackle along with 305-pound Marcus Smith. Their added bulk in the interior should help returning defensive end Branden Jackson carry the pass rush as the only d-lineman with a sack to his name from 2013.
At linebacker, Tech is loaded with talent as five of the top six tacklers return to replace the graduated Will Smith, who led the team with 103 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss last season. The group will be further boosted by the addition of Williams from the offense, and transfers V.J. Fehoko from the Utah Utes and possibly Mike Mitchell, a former five-star 2013 recruit who left the Ohio State Buckeyes to play closer to home in Lubbock. If the line can play tougher this fall, this group of linebackers should be a dynamic bunch of playmakers.
In the secondary, meanwhile, the strongest aspect of the 2013 defense will become one of the weakest in 2014. Texas Tech loses all four starters from last season and will be turning to an inexperienced group to step up into featured roles. Strong safety Keenon Ward and cornerback Justis Nelson are exciting sophomores to watch this fall as they step into the starting lineup after making some plays in relief last season. The young duo combined for two interceptions, seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble as freshmen in 2013.
This season, the Texas Tech schedule is not nearly as backloaded as it was in 2013, which means we will know a lot more about this team earlier in the year. After a winnable stretch of non-conference games, highlighted by the Arkansas Razorbacks coming to Lubbock, the Raiders open Big 12 play with back-to-back road games against the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Kansas State Wildcats. Their November slate will be tough again with home dates against the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners and a neutral site game against the Baylor Bears in the regular season finale.
There are a lot of exciting pieces to this Texas Tech team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. But if the team continues to struggle on defense, they’ll have a very hard time breaking through into the upper tier of the Big 12 in 2014. Look for a young Tech team to win eight or nine games this season as they build the foundation for a conference title run possibly in 2015.
There is no denying the impact that Kliff Kingsbury has had in his return to Lubbock on the offense of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Air Raid has returned in full force and should be one of the more prolific units in the Big 12 this season thanks to the continued development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. But for Tech to take their program to the next level and compete for a conference title in 2014, they will need more from their defense. Can “bandit” linebacker Pete Robertson help them get it done?
As a sophomore in 2013, Robertson was one of the most disruptive defensive players on the roster for Texas Tech. He finished the year with 60 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also forced two fumbles and recorded two interceptions (tied for the team lead), one of which he returned for a touchdown. His efforts earned him honorable mention All-Big 12 last season and should put him in a prominent position to make plays again in 2014.
The challenge for Robertson, and the rest of the Texas Tech defense for that matter, will be to overcome their general lack of size to stand up better against the run in 2014. The Red Raiders finished second to last in the Big 12 against the run last season, allowing 201.62 yards per game. They worked on addressing this issue in recruiting, signing four junior college defensive linemen to add some bulk up front, but the pressure will be on returning players, like the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Robertson, to make more plays this fall
With a solid defense, Texas Tech could be a very dangerous team in the Big 12 title race in 2014. For their defense to take the next step and take this program to another level this season, they will need leaders like Pete Roberston to step up and be difference-makers on the field and in the locker room this fall.
Kliff Kingsbury brought excitement back into the football program in his first season as head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Now, the challenge will be capitalizing on the team’s momentum from 2013 and taking the next step towards the Red Raiders becoming legitimate Big 12 contenders in 2014. To do that, they’ll need big seasons from previously under-the-radar players like senior wide receiver Bradley Marquez.
Marquez had a strong junior season despite playing in a supplementary role in Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack. He finished fourth on the team with 633 yards receiving on 49 receptions and six touchdowns. With the loss of both Jace Amaro and Eric Ward this offseason, Marquez figures to move up into a featured role during his senior season opposite Jakeem Grant. With the way that Tech throws the ball around, you figure that will mean a huge boost in production for Marquez in 2014.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior has flashed some excellent playmaking ability during his collegiate career and has refocused his efforts on football this offseason (rather than playing baseball). The challenge for Marquez will be to continue to be productive without the likes of Amaro and Ward to take defensive pressure off of him. If he starts making big plays, will added defensive attention trip him up?
Whether or not Marquez is ready for the spotlight remains to be seen but he will certainly get his opportunities in 2014 for a monster senior season. Texas Tech found success by chucking the ball all over the field in 2013 and letting their playmakers at receiver take it from there. Will Marquez be able to carry that responsibility this fall?
The Texas Tech Red Raiders head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, is still in the honeymoon phase at his alma mater. Right now, any mistakes he makes are deemed minor, or excusable.
Except for the mistake he has made at quarterback.
I’m not saying Davis Webb is a bad quarterback. He is probably one of the top three in the Big 12 conference. Webb has looked great in spring practice. He has a complete grasp of the Red Raider offense.
The problem is the depth behind Davis, or more importantly, the lack of depth behind him. Following the transfers of Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer, Texas Tech has no scholarship signal callers on the roster.
That’s right, none. Zero. Zilch.
The Red Raiders should have signee Patrick Mahomes join the team this fall. That is if Mahomes doesn’t get drafted by a MLB team and leaves the program for the diamond.
Mahomes is a pitcher for his Whitehouse High School team. He recently threw a no-hitter, striking out 16 batters. The East Texas Sports Network has his fastball clocked between 92 and 95 mph. Baseball scouts love young arms with that kind of velocity. The lure of a big signing bonus could be too much for Mahomes to pass up. If he is drafted in the early rounds, his major league team likely will not allow him to play college football like many low-round draft picks have been allowed to do.
Even if Mahomes enrolls in the fall and suits up, he will have had limited exposure to the offense. And this poses a problem should Webb go down with an injury. This is a legitimate concern. Webb is listed at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds. Word is he has bulked up some over the offseason. But, no matter how strong you are, football is a dangerous game. Players do get injured. Webb missed two games last season with an injury – both Red Raider losses.
Why didn’t Kingsbury at least bring in a junior college quarterback to serve as the backup? Maybe go after some Division-I quarterbacks with eligibility left?
There is nothing wrong with going all in on a player. Kingsbury would not be the first coach to sink or swim with his preferred signal caller. I just question how a Division-I coach can ignore adding depth to the most important position on the team.
If Kingsbury isn’t careful, the honeymoon could be over faster than he knows it.