Having Patrick Mahomes - one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 - will be a big help, but will those around him make the offense flourish? Texas Tech must replace standout receiver Jakeem Grant and running back DeAndre Washington, and the offensive line has to be rebuilt. Coach Kliff Kingsbury is an offensive mastermind, but the defense also has to make major strides in 2016. Coordinator David Gibbs is in his second year and should ease the growing pains of a young defense.
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Previewing Texas Tech’s Offense
Following a season that saw the Red Raiders set a program record for points scored, Kliff Kingsbury’s Texas Tech offense will look to replace a number of departing seniors in critical positions, namely leading receiver Jakeem Grant, leading rusher DeAndre Washington and left tackle Le’Raven Clark. It’s not all bad news on offense, as quarterback Pat Mahomes returns and will look to build off of his highlight-stuffed sophomore campaign.
There’s competition at both running back and receiver. At tailback, Justin Stockton looks to be the frontrunner to start, as he’s proven himself to be an electric home run hitter. The Red Raiders will have plenty of size at outside receiver, thanks to the arrival of junior college transfer Derrick Willies and the return of Dylan Cantrell from injury. Slot receivers Cam Batson, Ian Sadler and juco transfer De’Quan Bowman will all have opportunities to make noise, too.
The offensive line will be young but talented, anchored by veteran guard Baylen Brown.
Previewing Texas Tech’s Defense
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The Red Raider defense, like the team’s offense, also set records in 2015. Unfortunately for coordinator David Gibbs, they weren’t positive. Texas Tech surrendered the most points (43.6 ppg) in school history, to go along with its Big 12-worst 279.9 rushing yards allowed per game. It wasn’t all bad for the Red Raiders, as they did make huge strides in gaining turnovers, forcing 25. Now in his second season at Tech, Gibbs is hopeful that stability in the scheme will translate into improvement on the field.
The core of the Tech defense is comprised of three sophomores: defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko, linebacker D’Vonta Hinton and safety Jah’Shawn Johnson. That group will lead as the rest of the picture comes into focus, and it’s a solid quartet around whom Gibbs can build. This unit was dealt an offseason setback when sophomore linebacker Dakota Allen was dismissed from the team in May.
Transfers, such as defensive end Kolin Hill (Notre Dame) and nose tackle Ondre Pipkins (Michigan), are being counted on to come in and contribute right away. Those two newcomers, along with Fehoko and end Gary Moore, are the only players on the defensive line with legitimate experience.
In the secondary, it will be a battle of youth versus experience as seniors such as Paul Banks and Justis Nelson will have to fight off D.J. Polite-Bray and several true freshmen.
Previewing Texas Tech’s Specialists
Sophomore Clayton Hatfield returns as Texas Tech’s primary placekicker after connecting on 14-of-16 field goals last season and making 53-of-54 PATs. Michael Barden replaces Taylor Symmank on punting duties, and he has some big shoes to fill as Symmank garnered some All-Big 12 recognition during his career. Stockton is expected to be the primary kick returner now that Grant is gone, a natural progression for the speedy San Antonio native. Punt returner could be a close competition between incumbent Batson and newcomer De’Quan Bowman, who was one of the most electric punt returners in junior college a year ago.
Texas Tech enters 2016 needing to replace several critical pieces on offense and defense, but those losses should be softened by the return of Mahomes, one of the best quarterbacks in the country. It’s probably too much to expect another record-setting season on offense, but the potential for elite production is there as long as players in vital roles step up to support Mahomes.
Defensively, the youth movement is on. The young core of Fehoko, Hinton, and Johnson is promising, but overall experience is scary low across the board, and the depth situation is just as frightening. Success may come only in the form of baby steps this fall. A 7–5 or 8–4 season is likely in the cards for the Red Raiders, as so many new players will have to take on vital roles.