Texas Tech Must Find Effective Red Zone Quarterback

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 24: McLane Carter
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 24: McLane Carter /

Last year, the Texas Tech offense was one of the worst in the nation in the red zone, so whichever QB wins this year’s job must improve in that critical aspect of the game.

One of the most difficult tasks an “Air Raid” offense faces over the course of a game is scoring touchdowns in the red zone.  When the ball moves inside the 20-yard-line, the field shrinks allowing defenses to use the back of the end zone as a 12th defender.  And though Texas Tech has struggled for years to score touchdowns in the red zone, the 2017 offense was one of the worst red zone units in program history.

On 43 red zone trips last season, Texas Tech scored just 30 times, a success rate of 69.4%.  That number was poor enough to rank 125 out of 129 teams in the nation and last in the Big 12.

By comparison, the best team in the nation inside the 20 last year was FIU which scored on 40 of 41 red zone possessions, good for a 97.6% success rate.  The best Big 12 team in the red zone was, surprisingly, Kansas which scored on 30 of 32 possessions (93.8%) good for 9th in the nation.

There are two reasons that Texas Tech was one of the worst teams in the red zone last year; the kicking game and the QB play.

Every Texas Tech fan still has nightmares of the awful kicking game woes that plagued the team last season.  Those struggles cost the Red Raiders dearly in the red zone as Tech missed six field goal attempts when the ball was snapped from inside the 20.

Had Tech made those six attempts, its red zone success would have risen to 79%.  That number would have been good for No. 99 in the nation.  And the blame for theses misses was wide-spread as four kickers, Michael Ewton, Matthew Cluck, Michael Barden and Clayton Hatfield all missed at least one red zone FG.

Likewise, QB Nic Shimonek struggled in the red zone where his completion percentage dropped to 56%, a ten-point dip from his overall completion percentage.  That is somewhat understandable given the smaller passing lanes created by the condensed field.

But where Shinonek really hurt the team in the red zone was throwing three interceptions.  While all interceptions are harmful, red zone picks are crippling because they take points off the scoreboard (though given the FG troubles last year, the guarantee of points on those drives was greatly diminished).

So obviously, Texas Tech must be better in the red zone this year.  The return of a healthy Clayton Hatfield should fix the field goal problems leaving Kingsbury to figure out how to get more out of his QBs near the goal line.

Looking at all three QBs, it is easily to draw the conclusion that McLane Carter looks to be best suited to have success in the red zone.  Over the course of spring practices and the first part of August camp, Carter has proven to be the most trustworthy with the football.  He does not try to take risks that Jett Duffey is prone to take and that type of decision-making is critical in the red zone where points are at stake.

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Also, Carter’s combination of size and mobility are perfectly suited for the red zone. At 225- pounds, he has the size to break tackles near the goal line and in the red zone, his lack of break-away speed is negated by the short distance he must travel to get to the end zone.  He can use his legs in the red zone in a similar way that Pat Mahomes did as neither are burners but both are crafty runners that are tough to bring down.

Plus, the nature of red zone football eliminates the greatest weakness of Carter’s game.  Close to the end zone, he will not be asked to make long throws that expose his sub-par arm strength to lurking defensive backs.

Rather, red zone offense is predicated on timing between QB and receiver as the ball must be delivered through windows in the defense.  While it is helpful to have a cannon for an arm to get the ball through those windows more quickly, delivering the ball on time and to the right spot is the most critical job of a QB in the red zone.

That makes Carter a better option than true freshman Alan Bowman.  Though Bowman has elite arm-strength, at times he has looked unsure of what to do with the ball as is to be expected of a freshman.  In the red zone, Texas Tech can not afford for its quarterback to be uncertain of what play he needs to make and until Bowman becomes more comfortable with his reads and with the playbook, he will not be as effective as Carter.

Some reports out of camp indicate that Carter leads the QB race at this time.  But even if he does not start in week-one against Ole Miss, or if he is eventually replaced as the starter, could Kingsbury come up with a set of red zone plays each week for Carter?

In recent years, Texas did that with Tyrone Swoopes and Oklahoma did the same with Blake Bell.  Both Swoopes and Bell were big QBs who could use their legs and bulk near the goal line but neither was asked to throw the ball outside of the rare trick play or misdirection pass.

Carter could be an intriguing option in the red zone as he is a much better passer than the typical red zone QB, which is usually just a glorified running back.  In a season in which it appears Texas Tech will have an offense that is a work-in-progress, Kingsbury must be more creative with his game plan than he has been in previous seasons, especially in the red zone.

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Spread offenses are notorious for moving the ball with ease until they reach the red zone.  But what happens in the final twenty yards of the field separates an elite offense from an average one.  And in 2018, it could determine if Texas Tech is a good team or just a mediocre team…or even worse.