Plenty of questions surrounded Texas Tech entering August camp, but its starting quarterback wasn’t thought to be one of them.
Then presumed starter Michael Brewer’s lingering back issues forced him to miss practice and first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Brewer is unlikely to start the opener at SMU on Aug. 30.
That leaves the Red Raiders’ up-tempo offense to two unproven true freshmen: Davis Webb and walk-on Baker Mayfield.
The last true freshman quarterback to start a Tech opener was Aaron Keesee in 1984.
For Kingsbury, the prospect of running with a young quarterback is old hat. He used former Southlake Carroll star David Piland as a true freshman at Houston in 2010 when he was the Cougars’ offensive coordinator. And as the coordinator at Texas A&M in 2012, he helped guide freshman Johnny Manziel to a record-breaking Heisman Trophy season.
“This will be my fourth year calling plays and, I guess, my third year that I’ll start a freshman,” Kingsbury told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “I tell them all the time if I coach them like freshmen, they’ll play like freshmen. So I coach them like they’ve been in the system for three years and expect those results.”
But getting the same kind of results that senior Seth Doege got a year ago — 4,205 yards and 39 touchdowns passing — seems a tall task to ask of a true freshman, let alone a sophomore in the case of Brewer, who completed 34 for 48 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns in nine games as Doege’s backup.
And most of that came in mop-up duty against Northwestern State in the 2012 season opener. It’s not as if whomever is running the offense won’t have talented options from which to work.
Six offensive starters return, including receivers Jakeem Grant and preseason All-Big 12 selections Eric Ward and Jace Amaro. Leading rusher Kenny Williams (824 yards, five touchdowns) returns as well. Left tackle Le’Raven Clark returns but left guard Tony Morales, from Arlington Sam Houston High School, will miss the season opener with a shoulder injury.
Kingsbury has made it a priority to find more balance in his offense, which led the Big 12 in passing (355.9 yards a game), but also finished last in rushing (139.9 yards a game). If Williams and sophomore Deandre Washington, who redshirted his sophomore season with an injury, can provide some punch in the backfield, Tech’s offense should find the diversity it lacks.
“I think always, that’s what we’re trying to do — try to run the ball first to set up the pass,” Kingsbury said. “We’re going to make that a big emphasis.”
First-year defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, who came from Texas A&M with Kingsbury, is the Red Raiders’ fifth defensive coordinator in five years. He’s switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme with multiple looks. Tech’s defense was second in the Big 12 in 2012, but must replace its top two tacklers in Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson.
Starters return to six defensive positions, plus two additional players with multiple starts are back.
All-Big 12 defensive tackle Kerry Hyder was third on the team in 2012 with 56 tackles, including 14 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He leads a thin defensive line that lost two key linemen in Delvon Simmons and Michael Starts who left the program in the spring. Linebackers Sam Eguavoen and Will Smith had 52 and 55 tackles a year ago. Southlake Carroll High School ex Jackson Richards returns to defensive end after starting all 13 games in ‘12.
“The scheme will be aggressive enough and confusing enough to make the quarterback earn his scholarship and keep the offensive linemen guessing,” Wallerstedt said. “We’re going to have to play full speed and know where our fits are and play aggressive.”