Texas Tech football: The case for Donovan Smith as QB1

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Donovan Smith #7 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders runs with the ball during the first half of the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jones AT&T Stadium on November 13, 2021 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Donovan Smith #7 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders runs with the ball during the first half of the college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jones AT&T Stadium on November 13, 2021 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /

Fall camp is nearly here for the Texas Tech football program and when the players report in early August, the biggest task that head coach Joey McGuire and offensive coordinator Zach Kittley much accomplish is to find a starting QB.  Fortunately, the QB room provides plenty of quality options.

Recently, we took a detailed look at the case for starting senior Tyler Shough, who has to be considered the favorite to win the job.  But today, let’s discuss why it might make sense to start sophomore Donovan Smith.

Now in his third year in the program, Smith is still relatively green as a QB.  He was just a one-year starter in high school, his senior season, which came at Frienship High School in Wolfforth after his father DeAndre was hired as running backs coach on Matt Wells’ staff.  What’s more, as a collegiate, Smith has started a mere four games, all of which came at the end of last season.

That’s where the case for starting Smith this year has to begin, though.  After all, he played as well as anyone could have expected from a redshirt freshman, especially considering that all four of the teams he started against would be eventual bowl qualifiers, including the two teams that would appear in the Big 12 Championship Game, Baylor and Oklahoma State.

In those starts, Smith would complete 57.1% of his passes, a number that is respectable for a freshman who is facing such tough competition.  But what really stands out is that he accounted for seven touchdowns (six through the air) and only one interception.

What’s more, when you take out the Oklahoma State game in which the Red Raider offensive line was a sieve giving him no chance at making plays, (Smith was just 9-29 passing that night), he completed 66.2% of his passing attempts, a number that is more than acceptable for a starter.

But it isn’t just what Smith can do with his arm that matters.  Of course, his ability to carry the ball is a huge asset to the Red Raiders.

A former high school wide receiver while playing for powerhouse program Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, NV, Smith is always a threat to take off from the pocket.  What’s more, his legs help give an offensive coordinator an extra edge when scheming the weekly game plan.

Now, last season, we didn’t see too much of Smith’s ability to run the ball, at least by design.  He registered only 155 yards and 3 TDs on 56 carries (of course, those numbers factor in sacks as well).

But we must remember that offensive coordinator and interim head coach Sonny Dykes couldn’t afford to expose Smith to injury by asking him to run the ball as often as he likely wanted to.  After all, Smith was the only viable option to start those final four games given that Henry Colombi had already been benched, Behren Morton was a true freshman with no appreciable experience to his name, and Shough was out with a broken collar bone.

However, could this year see Kittley lean more heavily on the QB run game if Smith is the starter?  Likely so.  McGuire has already indicated on multiple occasions that Tech will use Smith’s legs in red-zone packages regardless of whether or not he wins the starting job.  But if he is named QB1, Smith could be an even greater weapon on the ground than that, and imagine how much more difficult to defend that would make Kittley’s offense.

Now, to his credit, Shough is not afraid to take off with the ball either.  In 2020, his only full season as a starter in college, he ran for 289 yards and two TDs in just seven games.  But to suggest that he is the same caliber of athlete as Smith would be lunacy and if he is the starter, he will be asked to do almost all of his work from the pocket.

One other factor to consider when discussing Smith is that, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he is a massive QB.  To put that in perspective, understand that is the same size as former Auburn and Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton, one of the most physical players to ever man the QB position.

Could that size help prevent Texas Tech from continuing this program’s recent trend of season-altering QB injuries?  Since 2018, the program has had its week-one starter suffer a season-ending injury in three seasons.

That included last year when Shough was lost for the year in the fourth game, a blowout loss to Texas in Austin.  While one injury does not mean we should brand Shough as injury-prone, it is fair to point out that he is some 15-20 pounds lighter than Smith and it is also fair to consider whether Smith is more physically capable of withstanding the physical demands of a full season, especially given that we don’t know what to expect from the rebuilt Red Raider offensive line this fall.

Tech simply must find the answer at QB this year.  It has been since Pat Mahomes was a Red Raider in 2016 that Tech has had a true difference-maker at the position for an entire season and that’s a streak that must come to an end sooner than later.

The good news is that, regardless of if it is Smith or if it is Shough who wins the job, Kittley has players in his QB room who have proven capable of winning games at the Power 5 level.  Now, it will be fascinating to see which player can separate himself this fall and win the starting job.  That will certainly be the program’s top storyline when camp opens next month.