LUBBOCK, Texas — Heading into his second season as head coach, Matt Wells is looking to propel Texas Tech over .500 and into the top half of the Big 12 after finishing 4-8 in his debut campaign.
The Red Raiders have had to work around coronavirus and the hurdles it has brought forth throughout camp, and have had as many as 21 players test positive for the virus.
Players with COVID-19 and others identified through contract tracing have had to miss practice time. To deal with a thin depth chart, Texas Tech has cross-trained players at multiple positions, in case they’re needed to fill in elsewhere.
Of course, every school is dealing with the same issues when it comes to COVID-19. A large part of succeeding in the 2020 season will be navigating these dilemmas. But Texas Tech is in a tough situation early in the season.
Let’s take a more detailed look at the roster and the questions surrounding the team.
Alan Bowman will return from injury to start at quarterback. When healthy, Bowman has flashed potential over the past two seasons and the Red Raiders are hoping his body holds up to finally show them what he can do in a full campaign.
Bowman figures to be joined in the backfield by SaRodorick Thompson, who will have an even bigger role after Armand Shyne graduated and Ta’Zhawn Henry’s transferred to Houston. Thompson was solid in 2019, picking up a team-high 765 yards on 160 carries and punching in 12 touchdowns.
The Red Raiders’ primary challenge offensively will be replacing senior tackles Terence Steele and Travis Bruffy. To start the season, Texas Tech is trusting a pair of transfers, JUCO product Ethan Carde and Wofford graduate transfer Josh Burger, to protect the edges.
Texas Tech looks to be sturdy inside, as probable NFL Draft pick Jack Anderson mans the right guard position and returning starters Dawson Deaton and Weston Wright join him in the starting unit.
Bowman will throw to a talented but unproven core of receivers.
Erik Ezukanma is in line for a breakout year after leading the team in receiving as a freshman. Senior T.J. Vasher starts on the other side. Vasher has tantalizing size and speed, but has yet to put it all together for a full season. He’s recorded at least 500 yards in each of his three years on the team but his numbers dropped off from 2018 to 2019.
Dalton Rigdon, KeSean Carter and McLane Mannix will all battle for snaps in the slot, and senior Travis Koontz will take over the starting tight end role after seeing a fair amount of playing time last season.
Several freshmen have impressed in camp, particularly former Wellington tight end John Holcomb and tackle Caleb Rogers. Both are currently backups at their respective positions, and should see the field at some point.
With Thompson and and an experienced interior line, Texas Tech should have a strong running game; much of its offensive success will hinge on Bowman.
The sophomore signal caller has had good and bad outings for Texas Tech. With a full year in Matt Wells’ system under his belt, he should provide more consistency.
However the Red Raiders will need stability from their tackles. If they give Bowman time to sit back in the pocket and go through his progressions, he’ll avoid the rushed throws that often lead to turnovers.
Wells brought in talent from the transfer portal to boost a defense that struggled last season. All-Pac 12 linebacker Colin Schooler is the biggest name to come to Lubbock. At Arizona, Schooler notched at least 96 tackles in each of his three seasons and became the active FBS leader in tackles for loss with 46.
The Red Raiders also added safety Eric Monroe from LSU. Monroe did not play much for Ed Orgeron, but he was highly regarded out of high school and spent time in a championship program. Both players are projected to start in week 1.
Eli Howard is primed for a big senior season as he leads a defensive line that should see marked improvement. Howard, who led the team with five sacks in 2019, will start alongside promising defensive tackles Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford.
Texas Tech will have to replace its two most productive players from the 2019 defense. Middle linebacker Jordyn Brooks went to the Seahawks in the first round of the NFL Draft, and safety Douglas Coleman is gone as well. He had eight interceptions in 2019.
Schooler and JUCO linebacker Krishon Merriweather will get the first crack at filling in for Brooks. The two of them have an impressive combination of range and tackling ability, but replacing someone of Brooks’ caliber is easier said than done. Monroe will take over for Coleman at free safety.
The Texas Tech secondary will feature a fresh look, spearheaded by new defensive backs coach Derek Jones. The Red Raiders will put a cornerback in the slot, where they’d previously used a linebacker.
Related Story: Energetic Jones looks to turn around Texas Tech secondary
Texas Tech’s secondary will need to be better for the defense to significantly improve. The Red Raiders were gashed through the air last season, and secondaries can afford few lapses in the pass-heavy Big 12.
Adrian Frye moved back to cornerback, where he said he feels most comfortable, after playing safety last year. Zach McPhearson moved to inside to play slot corner, and will have new responsibilities as a run stopper.
Kicker Trey Wolff and punter Austin McNamara both had excellent freshmen seasons and special teams should be a strength for Texas Tech.
There are intriguing new faces on the defensive depth chart, but there will need to be development throughout the defense for Texas Tech to compete with the best Big 12 teams.
It’s hard to see Texas Tech in the same class of schools like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas at the top of the Big 12, but with a healthy Alan Bowman and improvements elsewhere on the roster, the Red Raiders could move towards the middle of the Big 12 pack in 2020.
However, questions do remain on both sides. If none of the offensive tackles step up, Bowman will be under siege all year. The Red Raiders also must show that they can stop the pass after giving up 307.8 passing yards per game last season.
Texas Tech will almost definitely beat Houston Baptist in its opener, and should be able to pick up wins in home games against West Virginia and Kansas. We also predict that the Red Raiders knock off one of Kansas State and TCU on the road.
Prediction: Texas Tech goes 4-6 (3-6 Big 12)