Texas Tech football: Inconsistent QBs will decide TTU-KSU game

Texas Tech's quarterback Donovan Smith (7) runs with the ball against Houston, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Texas Tech's quarterback Donovan Smith (7) runs with the ball against Houston, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium. /

It isn’t a revelation to suggest that quarterback play will be a key component of a football game.  After all, that position is the most important on the field regardless of the level of the sport.  Yet, it is worth noting that the two quarterbacks facing off this weekend in Manhattan, Texas Tech’s Donovan Smith and Kansas State’s Adrian Martinez. are interestingly similar in the fact that neither has yet to prove to be a consistent week-to-week performer.  Thus, Saturday’s contest might just boil down to which QB is on his game this week.

Of course, Red Raider fans know that Smith has been a bit of a roller coaster ride during his young career, one that spans only seven starts.  For beginners, he’s never won back-to-back starts as a collegiate.  And what’s more, he’s essentially alternated strong and poor performances since making his first career start last year versus Iowa State.

That game saw Smith complete 78.1% of his passes on his way to 322 yards and 3 TDs with only 1 interception as Tech took down the Cyclones 41-38.  However, a week later he was just 9-29 passing for 83 yards as Tech was shut out 23-0 against a fantastic Oklahoma State defense.

Smith would then follow up that showing with a pair of statistically mediocre performances.  Against another stout defense, Baylor, he completed 65.2% of his passes for 262 yards and two scores in a 27-24 road loss.  Then, in the Liberty Bowl, Smith completed 53.6% of his passes for 252 yards and a TD as the Red Raiders trounced Mississippi State 34-7.  Though he was named Offensive MVP for that game, he was still just average for most of that contest as the Red Raider ground game and the defense are what drove the team to victory.

Then, in his first start of 2022, Smith was terrific.  Against Houston, he threw for 350 yards and ran for 31 more despite being under constant pressure from the Cougar defensive line.  Though he was picked off three times (including a pick-six), he was able to account for three total TDs, including the game-winning score in double-overtime on his way to earning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week recognition.

However, for as good as he was against the Cougars, he was just as bad against NC State a week later.  Again facing one of the nation’s top defenses he was able to complete just 58.3% of his passes for a meager 214 yards.  While he did account for one passing and one rushing TD that night, he was also picked off twice (including another pick-six) as Tech fell 27-14.

Fortunately, he would rebound this past weekend against Texas.  Playing a clean game in regards to turnovers, he was able to complete 67.9% of his passes as he threw for 331 yards and a pair of TDs while rushing for another as Tech upended UT 37-34 in overtime.

So in other words, Smith has been a bit of an unpredictable commodity.  That’s expectable given the fact that he’s just a redshirt sophomore.  However, Kansas State’s QB is a senior and he’s still trying to put to rest questions about his consistency.

With 42 career starts, all for a Power 5 conference school, to his name, he’s got all the experience any college QB could ever hope to have.  Yet, he still has massive ups and downs the likes of which one might expect from a younger QB.

For example, just look at his 2022 season.  In his first three starts of the year, he produced over 200 yards of offense just once.  What’s more, that one 200-yard performance came in a home loss to Tulane, a game that saw him throw for only 150 yards on 31 pass attempts.

So of course, when his team traveled to Oklahoma last Saturday, Martinez played like an All-American.  Throwing for 234 yards and rushing for 148 more, he accounted for five total touchdowns (4 on the ground).

Such swings are truly a hallmark of Martinez’ college career.  For instance, his current run of four games without an interception is his career-best, tied with one other stretch of four games in 2020.  Outside of that, he’s had only one stretch of three games without a pick.

What’s more, Martinez has never been a tremendously accurate passer.  Only twice in his career has he had consecutive games of over 70% completion.  Additionally, in over half of his career games, he’s been below a 65% passer.

Most importantly though, he’s won consecutive games against Power 5 teams just once in his college career.  That’s what he’ll be attempting to do this weekend.

So the question that has to be answered this weekend is: Which of these two QBs will play up to his potential and which will struggle?  After all, it seems a bit unlikely that both will be on their “A” game.  Yet, one likely will be and that could be the biggest determining factor between teams that appear to be evenly matched.