When Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury heads into what many consider a critical campaign year in 2017, he will do so without the service of one Patrick Mahomes II. Mahomes is a special player, and became the face of the Red Raider football program over the last three seasons. But you really don’t need me, or anyone else for that matter, to tell you what how good he was. The proof was in the pudding, on highlight reels, radio calls, and in the NCAA records book.
A team doesn’t simply “replace” a player who was able to accomplish feats the likes of which Mahomes seemed to make routine. His early departure for the NFL leaves the Red Raiders with one burning question in particular: What will the 2017 team look like on offense without Mahomes at quarterback?
Well, what did the Chicago Bulls look like when Michael Jordan left to play baseball? Ok, that example is somewhat over dramatic, but then again, when Mahomes was at his best he did simply amazing things.
Last season, Mahomes threw for 5,052 yards, 41 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He added an additional 285 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. And, in the shootout against Oklahoma, he set a NCAA record for yards in a game (819) and tied the record for passing yards in a game (734). Even when Mahomes’ worst game — passing for a season-low 206 yards and two touchdowns against TCU the week after setting the aforementioned record — would be considered average by most other quarterbacks.
In order to assess Tech’s 2017 quarterback situation it’s obviously important to take a look at their offensive production in the absence of Mr. Mahomes last season. In week one action against Stephen F. Austin, backup quarterback Nic Shimonek took the reigns and went 18-of-28 for 150 yards and one touchdown with a handsome 113.9 passer rating. After Mahomes was injured in the third quarter of Tech’s September 29th game against the Kansas Jayhawks, Shimonek entered the game and promptly threw for 277 yards and four TDs of 4, 37, 31, and 59 yards in a 55-19 victory. These performances are promising, though you have to consider the level of competition he faced, and those are the only real tangible examples of Shimonek’s capabilities that we have to look at. So, we still don’t know what to expect. Shimonek would only go on to complete 5 more passes, including one touchdown, the rest of the season in very limited action against West Virginia and Iowa State respectively.
At this point, the starting quarterback job appears to be Shimonek’s to lose. Although, it was no secret that coach Kingsbury anticipated a quarterback competition to develop during the spring between Shimonek and redshirt freshman Jett Duffey. However, Duffey was suspended by the university for the spring and summer semesters for undisclosed reasons. And while Kingsbury has stated that he expects Duffey to compete for the job in the fall, he’ll have a lot of ground to gain on the more experienced and entrenched Shimonek.
Whether it’s Shimonek, Duffey or someone else, they are going to need significantly improved offensive line play under the tutelage of new O-line coach Brandon Jones. Jones joins the coaching staff after the somewhat unexpected departure of former offensive line coach Lee Hays. Counting on your QB being able to elude the defense while things open up down field is a risky way to live.
Coach Jones returns to his alma mater after serving as the former run game coordinator and offensive line coach at Cal. During his two-year tenure at Cal, the Golden Bear offense ranked in the top-10 nationally for passing offense and total offense while making huge improvements in sacks allowed.
Tech can also make life a little easier for their QB by improving the run game. No one expects them to become a run-first team any time soon, but you need a legitimate run threat to keep defenses honest. This is something coach Kingsbury and new associate head coach/running backs coach Jabbar Juluke will be focusing on this year. Coach Juluke is taking over duties after coach DeShaun Foster left to take the same position with his alma mater, UCLA. Juluke served as running backs coach at Louisiana Tech and LSU prior to beginning his new stint in Lubbock. A big part of any run success will come down whether or not the offensive line can improve, but thankfully, the Red Raiders have two proven commodities to work with in back Demarcus Felton and Da’Leon Ward.
At least whoever is taking snaps under center won’t have to worry too much about who is catching it. The offensive side of the roster appears to be richest at the wide receiver position. Standout junior, Jonathan Giles leads the way after racking up 1,158 receiving yards to go along with 13 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. Keke Coutee, another junior, added 890 receiving yards and scored 7 touchdowns. Senior receiver, Cameron Batson, provided 688 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns last season. Dylan Cantrell, a senior as well, amassed 675 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns last season. No matter which direction the QB looks, he will have someone proven to throw to.
The talent seems to be in place for Tech’s next quarterback to be successful. However, with the aforementioned coaching changes that’s far from a guarantee. It takes time for adjustments to be made and for each individual unit to gel properly. The first four games of the season (Eastern Washington, Arizona State, at Houston, Oklahoma State) provide nothing short of a trial by fire. Only time will tell what the 2017 Texas Tech Red Raiders look like without Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, but we’ll know pretty quickly.