Texas Tech entered the 2020 campaign having lost a lot of close games the season before and with hopes of finishing out those games this time around. The second year of the Matt Wells era was supposed to be the year that Texas Tech took a step forward. Instead, due to COVID-19 and lackluster play, it was pretty much more of the same for the Red Raiders.
Looking ahead, Tech has some holes to fill in the starting lineup. The Red Raiders lost starting quarterback Alan Bowman to the transfer portal, and they also bid farewell to some other key players, including receiver KeSean Carter (transfer) and defensive lineman Eli Howard (graduation).
Tech is now in a position to turn a new page offensively, with a new quarterback set to take the reins and an old face arriving back on campus to call the shots in offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie. He will look to bring back the once-high-powered Tech offense that has been somewhat absent the past two seasons. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will look to continue to build on positive signs shown in 2020 by a transfer-laden defense.
Previewing Texas Tech's Offense for 2021
Tech has only one quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap in the scarlet and black — former Utah State transfer Henry Colombi, and he's taken a lot of them, throwing for 1,065 yards and eight touchdowns and completing 65.7 percent of his throws last season. The quarterback competition is expected to be conducted among Colombi, Donovan Smith (son of Tech running backs coach DeAndre Smith), prized recruit Behren Morton, and Oregon transfer Tyler Shough.
In his first year as the starter in Eugene, Shough led the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship, throwing 13 touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games and completing 63.5 percent of his passes. He brings a skill set that no other quarterback on the roster possesses, and the ball just looks different coming out of his hand. He would appear to have a leg up in the QB derby.
Cumbie liked what he saw out of Shough during spring practice. "Tyler has the ability to stay in the pocket and really make all the throws from near hash, far hash, across the field," Cumbie told the Dallas Morning News. "It really opens you up in terms of what you can do. Defensively, they're going to have to defend the whole field."
Whoever earns the job will have a chance to play behind an offensive line that will have four of five starters returning, losing only right guard Jack Anderson to the NFL. The offensive line did receive a boost via the transfer portal in second-team All-Big 12 selection T.J. Storment, who left TCU for Texas Tech.
The weapons on offense will look a bit different with Carter and Ja'Lynn Polk both transferring and T.J. Vasher leaving for the NFL. However, the offense is set to return leading receiver (Erik Ezukanma) and a stable of running backs that includes 2020's leading rusher (SaRodorick Thompson). The summer addition of Troy transfer Kaylon Geiger is also a boost to the receiving corps.
The Raiders did suffer a setback during the spring when Ezukanma broke his arm in two places during a drill and underwent surgery; Wells was confident that the setback was only temporary and that Ezukanma would still see significant snaps this season. "He'll play a lot of football for us in the fall," Wells told the Dallas Morning News. "The biggest thing is how fast he can heal."
Previewing Texas Tech's Defense for 2021
The focus for the Tech defense has been to find players — both in recruiting and via the transfer portal — who can contribute right away. This approach is clearly visible with a glance at the depth chart, dotted with Power 5 transfer talent that has made its way to Lubbock. Tech's defense currently has 11 Power 5 transfers on the roster, including five who stepped foot on campus in 2021.
Linebacker is the position that makes the Tech defense go. Returning starters include Colin Schooler, an Arizona transfer who was second on the team in tackles in 2020; Riko Jeffers, who led the team in tackles for a loss in 2020; and Krishon Merriweather, the only Red Raider ahead of Schooler in total tackles.
The secondary reflects the emphasis on the portal, with former LSU transfer Eric Monroe and Duke transfer Marquis Waters. Waters is entering his first year as a Red Raider, while Monroe debuted in 2020. Both bring experience to the safety position and allow Tech to mix and match with their defensive backfield.
Previewing Texas Tech's Specialists for 2021
The Red Raiders welcome back one of the best punters in the country in Austin McNamara. McNamara posted the second-best single-season punting average in Tech history with his 46.3-yard average in 2020. While the kicker position seems to be a bit up in the air, the favorite to win the position is Jonathan Garibay, who in his first start at Texas Tech helped secure a win over Baylor at home.
The new Red Raider offense under Cumbie will be the main attraction for Tech this year. Will the offense further help a defense that managed to keep Tech in games in 2020? In order for Tech to make it to its first bowl game since 2017, the offense needs to produce like the explosive Red Raider offenses of past regimes, while the defense must continue to show steady improvement.
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(SaRodorick Thompson photo courtesy of Texas Tech Athletics)