Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was asked if he was nervous about the uncertainty at quarterback for the Red Raiders.
“Just because they’re young or inexperienced, to me you never know how they’re going to respond,” Kingsbury said. “I wouldn’t say nervous. I think excited to not really know who it is and be able to work with those guys and try to have one guy really step up.”
Sophomore Jett Duffey is a dual-threat option with some similarities to Patrick Mahomes, who bypassed his senior season at Tech for early entry into the NFL draft and was succeeded last year by Nic Shimonek (3,963 yards passing, 33 TDs) in his final season. Shimonek finished the regular season-ending win over Texas that solidified Kingsbury’s return as coach after McLane Carter got his first start in that game.
Along with Duffey and junior Carter, the Red Raiders have talented true freshman Alan Bowman, who was there for spring drills.
“We’ll stress them, put them in a lot of high-stress situations over camp to see who responds,” said Kingsbury, who threw for 12,429 yards and 95 TDs in 43 games for the Red Raiders from 1999-2002, and is 30-33 overall (16-29 in Big 12) in five seasons as their coach.
While making no wild predictions about his current quarterbacks, Kingsbury brought up his first year as head coach in 2013 with freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, now with the New York Giants after ending his college career at California.
“Those two true freshmen that we didn’t know, and those guys turned out to be pretty decent,” said Kingsbury, who before that was offensive coordinator at Texas A&M with Heisman Trophy-winning freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In Kingsbury’s first game as Tech’s coach, Mayfield became the first walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for a BCS school. Mayfield was at Tech only one season before transferring to Oklahoma, where he led the Sooners to three consecutive Big 12 titles, won the Heisman Trophy last season and was the top overall pick in the NFL draft.
With David Gibbs going into his fourth season as defensive coordinator, and the defense greatly improved in that time, Kingsbury can put more attention into the quarterback situation. The defense could also take some pressure off of the offense.
“I think with the younger quarterback, hopefully you’re not (feeling) you’ve got to out and score every possession to try to keep up,” Kingsbury said. “If your defense is keeping you in the game, that alleviates some of that pressure on a young quarterback.”
Texas Tech opens the season at a neutral site for the first time ever, Sept. 1 against Ole Miss in Houston.
Gibbs is the first Texas Tech defensive coordinator in two decades to stay four consecutive seasons. Gibbs is under contract through 2019. The last defensive coordinator to stay that long was John Goodner, the DC from 1995-99 while on Spike Dykes’ staff.
“We have a chance to be a better defense than we’ve been,” Kingsbury said. “I think just the continuity has a lot to do with that.”
WHERE PROS PLAY
Texas Tech will open and close its regular season in NFL stadiums. The opener against Ole Miss is in NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, and the finale is Nov. 24 against Baylor at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, where the Dallas Cowboys play their home games.
The Red Raiders have four Big 12 games at home, and three of them come in a four-week span. They host Kansas on Oct. 20, then go to Iowa State before back-to-back home games against Oklahoma and Texas. After the neutral site opener, Tech’s other two non-conference games are at home, against Lamar and Houston.
Clayton Hatfield made 27 of 30 field goal attempts his first two seasons for Tech, but was only 6-of-10 in six games last year while dealing with nagging injuries. He missed inside of 40 yards (31-yard attempt) for the first time in his career.
Kingsbury said he felt Hatfield “was trying to kind of overcompensate and do some different things because he was injured and didn’t get back into a rhythm until after the season when he was fully healthy.”