Texas Tech football: Red Raiders still waiting for outside receivers to step up

Houston's defensive back Art Green (23), left, and Texas Tech's wide receiver Jerand Bradley (9) reach for a pass, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Houston's defensive back Art Green (23), left, and Texas Tech's wide receiver Jerand Bradley (9) reach for a pass, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Jones AT&T Stadium. /

Thus far in the Texas Tech football season, it has been fair to say that the offense has failed to meet expectations.  Most of the blame for that has fallen at the feet of the offensive line, QB Donovan Smith, or offensive coordinator Zach Kittley.  However, the outside receivers also bear some of the responsibility for this offense’s uneven play.

Entering the year, many were concerned about the Red Raiders’ outside options.  After last season, Erik Ezukanma left early for the NFL and Kaylon Geiger exhausted his eligibility meaning that the 2022 outside receiver spots would have to be manned by a group of players that were as inexperienced as any group of wide receivers that this program has ever relied on to begin a season.

However, the hope was that there was a player in that group just waiting for his opportunity to become a star.  After all, that position group featured two former 4-star recruits and four players who were all over 6-foot-3 and who are considered plus athletes.

Unfortunately, those hopes have faded after five games of the season as none of Tech’s outside receivers have proven to be difference makers.  In fact, it could be argued that no position on the roster is falling shorter of preseason expectations.

Currently, no Texas Tech outside receiver has cracked the 200-yard mark for the season.  What’s more, if you take away the season-opening win over lowly Murray State of the FCS, only one Red Raider outside receiver has cracked the 100-yard mark on the season.

That player is Trey Cleveland, who has made a couple of notable plays in the last two games.  Hauling in a 35-yard contested catch against Texas in the fourth quarter of Tech’s 37-34 win, and snagging a one-handed catch that he turned into a 58-yard play in this past weekend’s 37-28 loss to Kansas State, he has emerged as perhaps the best option the Red Raiders have on the outside.  Unfortunately, Tech could not turn either of those big plays into points despite the fact that Cleveland’s heroics set the offense up inside the red zone.

However, those plays have fans hoping that Cleveland is on the verge of becoming a reliable weapon for an offense desperate for some playmakers.  However, Cleveland still does not have a 100-yard game in his career and he has yet to find the endzone this season.

While Cleveland has worked his way into the starting lineup, another outside receiver at the same position has fallen out of favor this season.  Redshirt freshman Jerand Bradley was once thought to be this team’s best receiver after he reportedly dominated in spring practices and off-season workouts.  However, he’s lost his starting job to Cleveland and was not even targeted in the loss to KSU.

For the year, Bradley has just 198 yards and two touchdowns.  Yet, it must be noted that 108 of those yards and both of those TDs came against Murray State in week one.

Since then, when facing four ranked FBS opponents, Bradley has caught just 10 passes for 90 yards.  That’s not the type of productivity that most expected from the former 4-star recruit.

Speaking of former 4-star recruits, Loic Fouonji also has struggled this year.  The difference is, though, that a banged-up shoulder is limiting what the Midland native can do.

After catching four passes for 110 yards and two TDs against Murray State, Fouonji has since hauled in just eight passes for 82 yards.  That includes just three receptions for 24 yards against Kansas State.

What makes this group’s struggles even more worrisome now is the fact that the team’s leading receiver, Myles Price, is now dealing with a sprained ankle suffered this past Saturday, a setback which could keep him out against Oklahoma State this coming weekend.  Without him in the mix, Tech would be without the team’s best playmaker and most consistent weapon placing more burden on the outside receivers.

However, there’s no assurance that even if the outside receivers get more opportunities they will produce.  They haven’t done so yet this year and that’s been one of the reasons why this offense has struggled so mightily.  Now, it is fair to wonder if any of them will see the light come on in 2022 or if it will be a struggle on the outside all season long.