Welcome to Texas Matt Wells, you’ll love Lubbock, it’s an eclectic college town that on the vast prairie that stretches beyond the Caprock. Oh, and go ahead and win, because every other program at Tech seems to ship shape. Basketball went to the final four, track won a National Title, and baseball is, as I write, in Omaha. The football program is dragging the Athletic program down. No pressure, Matt.
Tech moves into a new era of football, a concerted move away from Mike Leach and the Air Raid. Kliff Kingsbury parlayed a mediocre stint in Lubbock into an NFL gig, even if it is Arizona, it’s still technically in the league. In the past nine seasons combined, Tech is two games below .500. Enter Wells, fresh of a nice run at Utah State that saw him win ten games twice in six seasons, the latest coming last year. In two seasons prior to 2018, the Aggies went 9-16.
The reaction from Tech fans, hoping for a Holgorsen or, dare to dream - a Leach, was subdued. Now it’s up to Wells to grow the Tech program in a competitive force in the Big 12. Here’s how we think he’ll aim to do it in year one.
Tech won’t convert to the flexbone. New OC David Yost is an experienced Big 12 operator, working with Gary Pinkel and Missouri for a decade and a half. He’s a pace and space guy who likes the quick game. Tech will run the football with much more regularity, it would be hard not to, but this team will try to break you down by getting the ball to playmakers in green spaces.
Alan Bowman* could once again put up scary, video game numbers. In eight games in 2018, the true freshman completed 69% of his throws with over 2,600 yards in just eight games. He totaled seventeen touchdowns to seven picks. Jett Duffey* stepped in after Bowman’s injury and played well in relief. If he can cut down on his turnovers, he’ll be a dangerous player as well.
Duffey led the Red Raiders in rushing, an example of the issues Tech had developing a consistent rushing attack. In 2019 look for Ta’Zhawn Henry to get his fair share of the carries. Da’Leon Ward announced his intention to transfer earlier this summer, so Tech’s running back depth is unproven heading into fall camp.
The receiver talent is good, but Tech lost 88 catches from Antoine Wesley and another 62 from Ja’Deion High. T.J. Vasher comes back after a breakout 2018. At 6-6 and a freak athlete, he’s a matchup nightmare. Oregon transfer Seth Collins is back as well, along with KeSean Carter. Collins is recovering from a broken collarbone suffered last March.
Up front, Tech brings back one of the better interior offensive linemen in the league in All-Big 12 performer Jack Anderson. Multi-year starters Terrence Steele and Travis Bruffy return at tackle along with guard Madison Akamnonu. Tech must replace Paul Stawartz, a consistent piece at center, but the line is the strength of the offensive unit.
*We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.
If Tech is going to move its way up the Big 12 food chain, the area with the most room for improvement is on the defensive side. Keith Patterson heads up those efforts. He coordinated Utah State’s 2018 unit, before that he led the blitz-happy Arizona State defense under Todd Graham from 2014 to 2016. Graham demoted Patterson ahead of the 2017 season in favor of former Baylor DC Phil Bennett.
Patterson’s demotion was warranted after the Sun Devils ranked near dead freaking last in total defense. His 2019 Red Raider unit will replace some critical components including linebacker Dakota Allen, but some interesting pieces return.
Eli Howard is back at defensive end. He’s a havoc player with a high motor. Broderick Washington Jr. returns on the interior of the defensive front. At linebacker Jordyn Brooks, the leading tackler from 2018 is back after a second straight Honorable Mention All-Big 12 season.
Brayden Strings and Riko Jeffers will compete for significant playing time alongside Brooks. The Red Raiders continued to bring in JUCO and grad transfer depth even recently to fortify the position, including Cal Golden Bear Evan Rambo.
The secondary returns four experienced cover men in Justus Parker, Desmon Smith, DeMarcus Fields, and 2018 Freshman All-America Adrian Frye. At safety, Tech will start over after losing both starters and both backups.
Tech will trot out a new placekicker and kickoff man in 2019. 6-4 redshirt freshman Trey Wolf will get the first crack at the kicking chores. Punting will fall to a newcomer as well after Dominic Panazzolo graduated.
Look for Adrian Frye and a cast of new faces to take over return duties. De’Quan Bowman graduated, and Ta’Zhawn Henry is destined for more playing time in the backfield rather than risking him in the return game.
The Departure 2.0
Texas Tech brought in Kliff Kingsbury to cleanse the palate from the Tommy Tuberville aftertaste. Kingsbury stocked his staff with former Tech players, and the fan base saw visions of 2008 and Michael Crabtree streaking into the endzone. The old Home week went south pretty fast as Kingsbury couldn’t climb over the Big 12 elitist hump, even after the promise of 2013’s 8-5 Holiday Bowl season.
AD Kirby Hocutt gave Kingsbury time, six seasons in all, in part because Kingsbury handled himself with class and distinction, but the wins didn’t come. Now Tech turns to another “foreigner” to run the program in Wells. Begging the redundant question, can Tech win outside of the Air Raid bubble? The answer, of course, is yes, but the road for Wells might be steep as he seeks to turn over a roster to fit his needs and recruit a new geographic area.
Tech finished 61st in 24/7’s final recruiting rankings, eighth in the Big 12. The Powers of the Big 12, OU, Texas, and TCU are all well ahead of the Red Raiders from a talent/depth standpoint. Oklahoma State is a rung below that neighborhood but closing fast, and a rising Baylor might be a year away from re-establishing itself as a league contender.
Wells will have to build himself a giant killer for the time being. If he can make Lubbock the toughest place to play in the Big 12 again - a distinction it enjoyed during Leach’s time but one that disintegrated under Tubbs - that would be a huge plus. While that’s happening he can figure out how to get his talent to the plains to run his system and start climbing the Big 12 ladder. That’s at least a two to three-year process and will undoubtedly deliver growing pains along the way.
The Red Raiders have an eclectic mix of opponents on the non-conference schedule, from Montana State to former Badlands Conference members UTEP and the fighting Sumlins of Arizona. Tech has a shot to go 3-0 if things go well in Tucson. Then life comes at you fast with the Oklahoma Big 12 pair and their first visit to McLane Stadium and a rising Baylor program. Circle that Baylor game as a measuring stick, a win in Waco and this team might be up for something big. We’re not counting on that.
Matt Wells could enjoy eight wins this season if everything breaks right. If stuff gets real and teams like Iowa State, West Virginia and Kansas State don’t take a step back, that number drops to four or five. The Lubbock natives, all too familiar with sub .500 football, will get even more restless. We think Wells’ first team gets to the meaty part of the curve and six wins.
|8/31/19||Sat||Montana State||Big Sky||W||An FCS opponent to kick things off.|
|9/7/19||Sat||UTEP||CUSA||W||The Miners might not be as talented as said FCS opponent.|
|9/14/19||Sat||at Arizona||Pac-12||L||Beware Khalil Tate and a resurgent 'Zona.|
|9/28/19||Sat||at Oklahoma||Big 12||L||Tough task for a conference opener.|
|10/5/19||Sat||Okie State||Big 12||L||The visiting team is on a 4 game winning streak in this series.|
|10/12/19||Sat||at Baylor||Big 12||L||This game, thankfully, moves back on campus.|
|10/19/19||Sat||Iowa State||Big 12||W||We aren't buying Iowa State in Lubbock.|
|10/26/19||Sat||at Kansas||Big 12||W||The Les Miles experiment might already be wheels off.|
|11/9/19||Sat||at West Virginia||Big 12||W||Tough, but the Mountaineers lost too much from 2018.|
|11/16/19||Sat||TCU||Big 12||L||Wells has a chance for a signature win in Lubbock.|
|11/23/19||Sat||K-State||Big 12||W||Snyder-less Wildcats? Give us the Red Raiders.|
|11/29/19||Fri||at Texas||Big 12||L||Hopefully Tech secures a bowl before this one.|