Texas Tech football: Alan Bowman must avoid sophomore slump

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 15: Alan Bowman #10 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders stands on the sidelines during the 4th quarter of the game against the Houston Cougars on September 15, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 63-49. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 15: Alan Bowman #10 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders stands on the sidelines during the 4th quarter of the game against the Houston Cougars on September 15, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech won the game 63-49. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

For the Texas Tech football team to have a successful 2019, QB Alan Bowman must avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

Next to the iconic gallop of the Masked Rider, the most beautiful sight Texas Tech football fans will see Saturday afternoon will be sophomore QB Alan Bowman running back onto the field.  After missing four games, including the final three, of a fantastic freshman season, Bowman is back to full health and ready to lead the Red Raider offense.

Last year, he was one of the most impressive freshmen in the nation  The Grapevine, Texas native finished with 2,638 yards 17 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions while completing 69% of his passes.

He had four 300-yard games and set the Big 12 freshman record with 605 yards against Houston.  And when he was in the shotgun, the offense was truly elite.

In the six games in which he played at least three quarters last year, Tech averaged an absurd 47.8 points per game. In the other six games, Tech scored just 26.3.

This year, he will again be at the helm of an offense that will push the tempo and put up big numbers, though it may come in a slightly different way.  In 2018, Tech’s OC David Yost coordinated a Utah State offense that averaged 47.5 points per game, second-most in the nation.

The difference is that USU ran the ball just over 50% of the time and Yost game his running backs over 100 more carries than Kliff Kingsbury gave the Texas Tech RBs last fall.  Still, this offense will only operate at an optimal level if Alan Bowman is as good as he was in his debut season.

We often hear about the dreaded sophomore slump with college QBs.  And according to at least one article, there’s reason to believe that the sophomore slump is a real phenomenon for many college students, not just QBs.

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College Magazine cites factors such as an increase in the difficulty of classes, less guidance from authority figures, and the lack of a novelty factor as reasons that many sophomores struggle in their second year on campus.

Looking back at the history of Texas Tech football, there are two prime examples of QBs having sophomore slumps following standout freshman seasons.  The first came in 1979 when Ron Reeves was the man orchestrating the offense.

After a freshman season in 1978 that saw Reeves throw for 1,195 yards and 9 touchdowns while tossing eight picks, he fell off considerably as a sophomore.  His passing output fell to just 656 yards and his completion percentage dropped from 47.8% to 42.5%.  What’s more, he tossed only six touchdowns to go along with eleven interceptions in what would be by far the worst year of Reeves’ career in Lubbock.

Across the board, he saw his passing stats fall off in 1979. And so too did his rushing numbers, which fell by 48 total yards and four touchdowns.  So as you might expect, Tech struggled that season going just 3-6-2 to finish 7th in the Southwest Conference.

Another poor Texas Tech football season was in 2014 when the Red Raiders went just 4-8 in year-two of the Kliff Kingsbury era.  And one of the reasons the team struggled that year was a lack of progression from sophomore QB David Webb.

As a freshman, he was impressive as he threw for 2,718 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while completing 62.6% of his passes in 10 games.  As a result, he entered the offseason with tremendous hype after beating out Baker Mayfield for the starting job and winning offensive MVP honors at the Holiday Bowl.

But the next season, he seemed to put too much pressure on himself to live up to that hype.  He often tried to make the spectacular or impossible throw instead of the smart throw and his numbers were reflective of that.

In 2014, Webb threw for 2,539 yards, 24 touchdowns, and an unhealthy 13 interceptions.  He saw his yards per attempt, QB rating, and completion percentage all dip slightly from the previous year.  Though the dropoff was not dramatic in terms of statistics, it was disappointing to see a player that had been billed by some as a darkhorse Heisman candidate fail to show any tangible progress in his second year.

It must be noted that he did miss the final four games of the year with an ankle injury preventing him from being able to salvage his season with a strong final month.  In his absence, a freshman named Pat Mahomes would ascend to the throne on his way to being a top-10 NFL Draft pick in 2017.  But even with Mahomes taking over, Tech was not able to do better than a 4-8 record.

Of course, Mahomes did not suffer through a sophomore slump.  In 2015, he threw for 4,653 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 15 picks.

We want to see Bowman progress in a similar way this year.  Not that we expect him to throw for over 4,000 yards, especially in David Yost’s balanced offense.

But look to see if Bowman progresses in some less obvious stats other than yards and touchdowns (both of which may not look like what we’ve seen from most “Air Raid” QBs).  For example, it would be nice to see his interceptions in conference play decrease.

After not throwing an interception in three non-conference games last fall, he would throw one against every Big 12 team he faced but OU, against which he played only two quarters.  He had two interceptions against Oklahoma State and a season-worst three in a loss at Iowa State.

That’s one of the reasons Tech was tied for last in the conference in turnover margin in Big 12 games.  When league play rolls around this year, Bowman must prioritize taking care of the ball.

It would also be great to see his footwork improve, an area that he’s been focusing on this offseason.  That area of his game is unquantifiable but as you watch him this year, notice whether the throws with a wide base and looks under control or whether he reverts back to his old habit of throwing off his back foot or having a narrow stance when releasing the ball.

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If Alan Bowman is able to continue his progression and build upon a solid but abbreviated freshman season, this offense will be lethal.  Hopefully, he will find that his second year is more of a surge than a slump.