Good teams in college football have great backups at quarterback. They also have clear-cut starters. Somewhere in the middle is where Joey McGuire sits with his biggest decision since being named Texas Tech’s head coach.
Donovan Smith or Tyler Shough? One of them is going to be the starting quarterback for the Red Raiders Week 1 against Murray State.
“I would like to at least say, ‘Hey, this guy’s in the lead,’ by the end of spring, or even name a quarterback, just for the leadership aspect,” McGuire said, via the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, last month.
Spring is over. Summer is starting. Is there an answer when it comes to first-team quarterback? So far, nothing to report from the Lubbock practice fields.
The national narrative likely is on Smith’s side simply because he is the most relevant. Shough missed the entire second half of the season with a broken collarbone. Smith was the best of the bunch remaining once Sonny Cumbie took over for Matt Wells.
It’s not as if Smith was a slouch, either. For the first time since Patrick Mahomes in 2016, there was a sense of stability at the position, in large part due to the 34-7 feel-good win over Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. Smith was named Offensive Player of the Game after accounting for 282 yards total offense and two touchdowns.
It’s been a confidence boost for the Las Vegas native throughout spring. He’s held the game close to his chest as a reminder of what can happen when given the opportunity.
“I watch it every now and then, just like ‘Man, this what you can do,” Smith said last month. “This is what you do.’ Makes me feel good looking at it.”
Smith has the hot hand. Shough has slightly more experience. Before taking a snap at AT&T Jones Stadium, he was the starter for Oregon under Mario Cristobal and helped the Ducks compete for a Pac-12 title.
Shough looked the part of QB1 under Wells and Cumbie’s play design. There wouldn’t have been a battle at all if he remained healthy. In fact, when looking at the current quarterbacks selected in last month’s draft, Shough likely would have gone pro.
Kenny Pickett was a first-round option, why not Shough?
McGuire is starting fresh in a multitude of ways. Cumbie was kept on staff to fix the offense after leading the Red Raiders to a bowl game. He now is prepping for his own success in Ruston as Louisiana Tech’s head coach.
New offensive coordinator Zach Kittley will have a say in who is running the show. Last season, his Bailey Zappe-led offense ranked No. 1 in the country while the former Houston Baptist quarterback entered the history books for the greatest season ever for a college quarterback.
“Coach Kittley gives us the keys to the car and we do whatever we want,” McGuire said.
Kittley could see the potential in Shough, who will be learning his third offense in three seasons. Last year, he picked things up on the fly and finished with 872 yards and six touchdowns in his abbreviated season while also completing 69.6 percent of his passes.
Then again, why not Smith? He completed 61.2 percent of his throws and threw seven touchdowns in six appearances. He also is younger, which would give the Red Raiders more of a foundation to build around past the 2022 season.
In reality, the job is likely Shough’s to lose simply due to his experience. His attention is away from the academic side of things and more engulfed in studying coverages and personnel on defense.
He also has acted as a second coach in the meeting, giving advice to Smith and newcomer Behren Morton.
“I look up to him, he’s a great guy,” Morton said last month of Shough. “He’s played in big-time games, so just learning from him, taking different pieces from everybody in the room is big-time.”
There isn’t a wrong decision for Texas Tech necessarily. Shough, Smith, and Morton all could likely defeat the Racers at home. Heck, they might be able to beat Houston a week later.
The real decision should be made by Week 3 when the Red Raiders travel to Raleigh to face North Carolina State. It must be made a week later when facing Texas.
It could end up being the biggest decision made to begin the McGuire era off on the right note.
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