It’s become an annual rite of fall. The Texas Tech football program has sustained yet another significant injury at the quarterback position.
In fact, this will mark the third time in four years that Tech will have to turn to its backup QB to start multiple games after an injury to the QB1. This time, it is Tyler Shough, not Alan Bowman, who has sustained a broken collar bone and who will miss several weeks, if not the remainder of the year.
Thus, Henry Colombi will be thrust into a starting role in the middle of the season for the second year in a row. But if 2021 is going to be salvaged, Colombi is going to have to be better than he was last fall.
To be fair, Colombi wasn’t a disaster in 2020. In fact, he put up respectable numbers, especially given that he was playing his first season in the program.
In six games played, he completed 65.7% of his passes for 1,065 yards and eight TDs with four picks. He even led Tech to one of last season’s four wins, a seven-point victory over West Virginia in Lubbock in what was his first start of the year.
But the problem was that as teams got a book on him, Colombi started to grow less and less effective to the point that he was eventually replaced by Bowman, whom he himself had supplanted as the starter after Bowman’s woeful showing at Iowa State.
After completing over 78% of his passes against the Mountaineers, Colombi wouldn’t have another game with a completion percentage over 60%. What’s more, against both Oklahoma and TCU, his completion percentage was below 57%. And, in his final three starts of the year, he had just a 4: 3 TD: INT ratio.
That’s not going to cut it this year. But the problem is that, in 2021, there is no viable option waiting in the wings should he struggle as there was last year with Bowman.
Whereas Matt Wells was able to return to Bowman to take back over as the starter to end last season, this year, until Shough returns, the only options behind Colombi are freshmen Donovan Smith and Behren Morton, neither of whom has attempted a pass as a collegiate. That puts a huge burden on Colombi’s shoulders
Now, some may be a bit encouraged by the way Colombi performed against Texas on Saturday after Shough went down. He completed 17 of 23 passes (73.9%) for 324 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
But remember that last season, he was also solid in his first meaningful appearance of the year, which came at Kansas State after Bowman sustained an ankle sprain. That day he was 30-42 (71.4%) for 244 yards and a pair of TDs with one pick.
But it seemed as if the more he played, the more teams learned how to take away what he wanted to do. Knowing that Colombi doesn’t possess the strongest arm, teams figured out that Colombi wanted to work the middle of the field and they began to bring the safeties up closer to the line thus shrinking the passing lanes that he was comfortable throwing into.
Now, the good news is that against the Longhorns, Colombi was able to connect on deep touchdown passes to Myles Prices and Loic Fouonji. And those are the types of throws that he will have to make with more consistency this year.
However, it is fair to suggest that what Colombi did against Texas was somewhat inconsequential given that most of his work came after the game had already been decided. By the time he took over the reins of the offense, UT had already started playing soft coverage knowing that the game was in hand.
What’s more, Texas didn’t have the opportunity to scout Colombi. Not expecting to see him in meaningful action, Texas certainly didn’t scheme their defense to take away what Colombi prefers to do.
But West Virginia will do just that this week. And this is a Mountaineer defense that just held OU to 16 points and 256 passing yards in Norman. What’s more, this will be the second time that WVU’s coaching staff will have scouted and game-planned for Colombi.
Then, next week brings TCU and their puzzling cloud defensive scheme to Lubbock. All that scheme did a year ago against Colombi was to hold him to 56.1% passing.
But players are allowed to get better from year to year and that’s what Colombi must do. And the number to watch is his yards per pass attempt.
Last year, he averaged a woeful 6.4 which means that he didn’t challenge defenses deep nearly enough. For comparison’s sake, consider that Shough is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt this year and Alan Bowman averaged 8.1 as a true freshman in 2018 when he was at his best before injuries turned him into a timid, one-read QB.
But it’s all on Colombi this year. There is no other viable alternative behind him until Shough returns, which might not happen at all.
So if 2021 is going to be salvaged, and Matt Wells’ job is going to be saved, Colombi must prove that he’s taken a step forward as a passer. If he hasn’t, this program will likely be headed in a much different direction next season.