Texas Tech football: 2019 signing class yet to make significant impact

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 12: A general view of play between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT /

Though we are already through one-quarter of the Texas Tech football schedule, the 2019 signing class is yet to have made a significant impact for the Red Raiders.

Every offseason, fans obsess over the recruiting process as they look towards the future.  But in 2019, Texas Tech football fans had reason to be concerned about the first class of recruits Matt Wells signed.

Of course, level-headed fans were able to remind themselves that the new December early signing period for college football severely hamstrings programs that change coaches.  Name-brad programs like Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State will always be fine, even during a coaching change, but middle-class programs such as our own are going to see their recruiting take a hit when they fire a coach just weeks prior to the early signing period.

Because over 75% of the recruits are signing early, a coach in Matt Wells’ shoes has at most three weeks to get settled in at his new school and start trying to hold together some semblance of a signing class.  We saw first-hand last fall how coaching turnover can decimate a class as nearly half of the players that had been committed to Kliff Kingsbury jumped ship after he was dismissed.

As a result, Tech’s 2019 class was ranked just No. 61 in the nation and No. 8 in the Big 12 by 247Sports.com.  Wells’ so-called transition class was ranked behind programs that most Red Raiders would consider themselves superior to such as Georgia Tech (51), Illinois (53), Vanderbilt (56), and Florida Atlantic (60).

Now, we are seeing that this might be a class that does not contribute much in its first year on campus.  Through three weeks, Tech has received far less production from this year’s true freshmen than it has in recent years.

The most impactful 2019 freshman signee to this point has unquestionably been punter Austin McNamara.  The Arizona native has been one of the best punters in the country.  He ranks 11th in the nation with an average of 46.9 yards per punt and he has had seven of his 16 kicks downed inside the 20-yard-line.

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While we are thankful to have that aspect of the kicking game locked down, it’s never a great sign when a punter is the bell-cow of a class.  That’s not to suggest that somewhere along the way, possibly even this year, another 2019 signee won’t emerge as a big-time player but it is an indication of how little of an impact this freshman class has made out of the gates.

On offense, no freshman has caught a pass this season.  That’s not too shocking when you consider that Tech signed only two true freshman receivers (Trey Cleveland, Cameron Cantrell) and one freshman tight end (Simon Gonzalez).

Still, it is a bit unusual to see no Red Raider freshman contribute in an area where Tech has long relied on young talent.  Last year, KeSean Carter caught 28 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown in his true freshman season.  And by this point in the season last fall, he had already caught 14 passes for 143 yards.

Remember the name, Tony Brown?  In 2015, he saw action in six games as a true freshman catching 14 passes for 250 yards and a TD.  Transferring to Colorado following his sophomore year, he’s become one of the better receivers in the PAC 12 and already has 19 grabs for 301 yards and four touchdowns this year, numbers that top the production of any Red Raider receiver.

On the ground, only one true freshman has carried the football and that is walk-on Chux Nwabuko III.  The 5-foot-6, 150-pound scatback has just one carry for one yard through three games.

Through three games in 2018, freshman RB Ta’Zhawn Henry had carried the ball 35 times for 166 yards and six touchdowns.  Likewise, after not seeing action in the first game of the season, his classmate SaRodorick Thompson had 10 carries for 40 yards and two scores in weeks two and three combined.

Up front, no freshman has seen any action on the offensive line as well but that is no surprise.  All of the linemen Tech signed in 2019 were considered projects and were not expected to be needed this year.  Unlike current Red Raiders Terence Steel and Jack Anderson, both of whom were starters from the moment they stepped on campus, the 2019 linemen seem far from ready to contribute.

The freshmen on the other side of the ball have been a bit more productive but have yet to make a true impact.  Freshman Tyrique Matthews has made four tackles at the Raider position after earning the start in week one.  Since then, he’s seen his snaps decrease as redshirt freshman Xavier Benson has stepped forward a bit at that spot on the field.

Along the defensive line, Tony Bradford Jr. is seeing some playing time.  He has appeared in the last two games after missing the opener for family reasons.  He’s been credited with two tackles and 0.5 sacks, the latter of which came in his Red Raider debut.

Meanwhile, corner Dadrion Taylor, a converted high school running back, has registered one tackle in limited action.  His most noticeable moment to date was when he jumped offsides against UTEP to negate a Zech McPhearson pick-six.

That’s it.  Those are the freshmen who have registered stats through three games in 2019.  Part of the reason for such scant freshman contribution has been the unusually large influx of grad transfers in 2019.  With as many as five seeing significant action, Wells is not having to press a freshman class that was rather short on ready-made contributors into immediate action.

Also, injuries have taken out two 2019 signees that would have been on the field already.  DE Gilbert Ibeneme was Tech’s highest-rated signee but he was ruled out for the season during fall camp after a shoulder injury that required surgery.

San Angelo QB Maverick McIvor did not survive fall camp unscathed either as a foot injury suffered in the second intrasquad scrimmage has him out until at least November after surgery.  At the time he went down, he was in the mix for the backup QB job and likely would be seeing some action this weekend were he available.

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This program can’t afford to have an empty class from which only a handful of contributors emerge.  The lack of depth on the roster won’t allow for such.  Fortunately, there’s still time for the true freshmen to become foundational pieces of Tech football but after what we’ve seen in the first portion of this season, it seems safe to assume that probably won’t happen this fall.