1. I sorta ready to put the season behind me. It’s been draining on a handful of levels: watching the offense seemingly underperform yet again; watching the secondary get burned for big play after big play; watching the offensive line not given Shimonek more than two seconds to get a pass off; watching special teams gaffes to start the game; etc. You get the idea. I hate spending so much time on this year and I hate to start off by being negative. It’s a really dumb bowl game that doesn’t mean anything in the long run. The worst thing that it does is that it gives Texas Tech a losing record for two years in a row and I don’t remember that happening in a long time. The rest of the ten things will be what needs to happen in the offseason at some key spots. I’ve reached by end point in analyzing what went wrong.
2. Whoever the wide receivers end up being with this thing next year will need to be significantly better than their counterparts. Some of this we can blame on the quarterback play (which we’ll get to in a bit), I love Dylan Cantrell, he’s one of my favorite Red Raiders, but the only wide receiver who played with much of any significance is T.J. Vasher and he’s great at making some big plays, but it’s the plays that move the chains that are the most important. On the outside, Quan Shorts will need to be on point to start the year and I think the coaching staff is thinking that he’s going to be “the guy” at the X-receiver spot. Other than Shorts and Vasher, possibly we’ll see Antoine Wesley make a significant leap in what he’s able to do, I’m not sure who else is going to be a big participant other than Vasher. That’s three at the most and before anyone suggests that the freshmen will need to step up, well, that’s not going to work out that well because it almost never does. We’ll have to see what the coaching staff does with Donta Thompson, my preference is to see him continue his roll at inside receiver.
3. I’m not sure how the secondary takes the next step. I sorta remember the defensive line and linebackers and wondering how they take the next step, but the holes in the secondary were darn near depressing. South Florida did what they do and I don’t think it was anything fancy, the secondary just got turned around to the point where they just weren’t covering who they were supposed to cover. It appears that the secondary is pretty much set for next year: DeMarcus Fields; Octavious Morgan; Jah’Shawn Johnson, Justus Parker; and DeVaughnte Dorsey. My big problem with this group is that Johnson and Dorsey, to me, seem to struggle in coverage. Their forte is stopping the run. This is my opinion and we almost never really get a look into the secondary unless something wrong happens with how the secondary plays (i.e. we don’t get All-22 film). Guys like Douglas Coleman and Desmon Smith need to push and take someone’s spot while freshmen Quincy Addison, John Davis, Jr., and Adrian Frye need to push the veterans. If they can play, I hope they help immediately.
4. There won’t be any changes on the offensive line most likely. Everyone returns, but there is no doubt that they all need to get stronger and meaner and tougher. I’m pretty comfortable with Rusty Whitt being in charge of all three of those categories. There was simply not enough of the offensive line imposing their will on opposing defensive lines. With the entire line returning, this really doesn’t leave much room for much, if any competition and I’d expect some transfers to take place. Terence Steel, Madison Akamnonu, and Travis Bruffy are all sophomores and with Jack Anderson just being a freshman, that’s the majority of the line right there. Paul Stawarz will return as a senior next year, but you get the idea here. These guys are going to need to make significant improvements internally.
5. The most disappointing thing about the defensive line was the pass rush, which was non-existant at times. Make no mistake, I’m crazy excited that Eli Howard is considered a true freshman, which means we’ve got that strongside defensive line spot pretty much nailed down for a while but that weakside spot needs improvement. And that’s not to say that Kolin Hill didn’t improve over last year, because he did, but one of the biggest problems with the game against South Florida was the time that Flowers sometimes had throwing the ball. It’s going to be time for guys like Lonzell Gilmore and Noah Jones to make their presence felt and to push Hill and Howard for playing time. That needs to happen. Gilmore got hurt and Jones has worked his way out of a freshman season where he was in the doghouse, but a lot like the offensive line, those ends need to improve greatly in the strength department. Progress has been made, I’m not saying that it hasn’t but pressure is important.
6. That was a helluva final effort from Justin Stockton, but it is incredibly clear how important it is that Devin Brumfield get signed in February. The running back position needs a shot and maybe Brumfield is the guy to do that. I don’t know if we can trust DaLeon Ward to do what he needs to do in the classroom, I don’t feel like I can depend on that. Even then, I think that Ward was good, but not good enough to pin my hopes on Ward being the guy next year. The returning guys are Ward (maybe), Tre King (who has been great, but he hasn’t broken a ton of big plays), Demarcus Felton (saw little time), and Desmond Nisby (needs to work on that playbook). There is a seat waiting for someone here and the reality is that Texas Tech needs the running back position to be more dynamic.
7. Speaking of being more dynamic, I think we’re all there with the quarterback play. Nic Shimonek was frustrating for me and not all of it was his fault. As mentioned above, the offensive line could have been better and they weren’t at critical times. Kingsbury has said that he wants quarterbacks that can get out of situations, guys that are a bit more dual-threat than what Shimonek was. I think the plan is for Jett Duffey to be the guy, at least, I’m setting my hopes up for this to be the case. He has the most talent, 2,732 passing yards, completing 63% with 29 touchdowns and 5 picks while running for 1,703 yards and 20 touchdowns. Duffey needs to be perfect this offseason. Perfect. I’m not discounting McLane Carter, but I think the idea is for Duffey to be the guy. We’ll see, but just based off of their respective pedigrees, Duffey should be the guy. Historically, he’s been the better football player and he needs to be the same way in 2018.
8. I’ve already stressed out about the wide receivers, let’s really stress out about the inside receivers. It’s really critical that Keke Coutee return, although I won’t blame him and will wish him well if he decides to go the NFL. Go chase that money. If Coutee leaves, then yeah, you are pretty much watching everyone leave and in addition to adding a new quarterback, Texas Tech would then essentially be replacing Coutee and Cameron Batson with all unproven players. Possible replacements? Jojo Bowman, Xavier Martin, De’Quan Bowman? That’s who is on scholarship, three guys who fit that inside receiver mold. Kingsbury has said that Martin is a full-on receiver, and not going back to quarterback and maybe he’ll be a complete revelation. I’d love for that to be the case. Robinson is a former 4-star receiver and maybe he and Bowman along with Martin will make a terrific rotation, but that’s a lot of guys that haven’t played more than a handful of snaps. Could someone like Felton make a move to inside receiver to get snaps? I’d be all about that, but don’t know if that will happen.
9. I think the defensive line is good hands. We discussed that Howard and Hill are solid, but need to get better. Broderick Washington is just scratching the surface but Mychealon Thomas was a revelation. Just a huge transformation from his junior year to this year and I couldn’t be more proud of how he stepped up. Other than the Oklahoma game, Thomas was solid as a rock. Now it comes to replacing that with someone like Joe Wallace and Nick McCann, both have seemingly had some off-the-field issues (most likely grades and doing the whole school thing more seriously). I think the coaching staff has high hopes for Nelson Mbanasor, but I can’t imagine that he’s ready to do what Thomas did this year. I’m not sleeping on Houston Miller either, an injury sidelined him this year and hoping he’s rehabbing and ready to make a signifcant contribution next year. It should be Wallace and McCann and that means that they need to get their focus on academics and getting on the field.
10. I could do this last one on special tems and I could spend a lot of time doing that, but we’ll go to the coaching staff. I think Kingsbury needs a bit of self-reflection here and I think if anything that the offense wasn’t nearly as good. Sure, some of that was Shimonek, but maybe he needs to be better too. Trying to distinguish what he needs to do versus what was the fault of the quarterback is incredibly tough and I won’t do that here because I’d be speculating at best. Nevertheless, Kingsbury and Morris need to regroup and figure out how to make the offense better, with will most likely be a very green quarterback and receiving corps. This is the first time that I think I’ve had this thought, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I’ve speculated that I think improvement may come from that 10th assistant being a high-dollar offensive coordinator that let’s Kingsbury do his thing as a head coach, but I don’t know. This means that I don’t think this high-dollar coordinator needs to be Zach Kittley, no offense to Kittley, but I’m hoping for an external hire that makes this team significantly better. In needing to fill the special teams coach and having the opportunity to make that 10th hire, it will be interesting to see how and what Kingsbury does with those two spots. I think that Kingsbury improved the team with Terrance Jamison at the offensive line spot and the jury is still out with the secondary and Karl Scott. Truthfully though, the secondary is Gibbs forte, so regardless of Scott, that should be a position that’s better.