Almost every offseason, coaches around the country like to espouse the idea of competition for starting jobs or key roles. They try to motivate their players through the doldrums of endless training sessions, the month of spring practices, and the rest of the time between the bowl game and Labor Day weekend by pretending that snaps are up for grabs based partially on what happens outside the lines of the field. While the time from January through August is important in terms of development, there simply hasn’t been much intrigue about starting jobs for the Texas Tech football team in 2023 and on Friday, the laughable notion that anyone other than Tyler Shough would be named the starting QB was put to rest.
We don’t really know why Joey McGuire and his offensive coaching staff chose this moment to officially name Shough the starter with posts on social media. Perhaps it was to begin a campaign to bring attention to the senior thus starting the hype train that is required for pre and post-season accolades and awards.
Similarly, that type of publicity can boost the image of an entire program and, as we already know, college football is the only major sport in the United States that is built primarily upon perception given that the smallest playoff tournament in the world is an invitation-only event. If Shough starts to get preseason recognition, it could do wonders for Tech’s preseason rankings, something that actually does matter in this sport given that starting off higher in the polls greatly increases a team’s likelihood of playing for something meaningful in January.
However, through most of this offseason, the normally outspoken McGuire was slow to anoint Shough as his starter at perhaps the only position on the field where the hope is that the same player will take every meaningful snap in a game. Instead, the head coach was keen on the idea of using a pseudo QB competition as a carrot to motivate the younger players on the roster behind Shough, players such as starter-in-waiting Behren Morton, to push themselves to improve this offseason.
In reality, though, anyone with even the slightest knowledge about the Texas Tech football program knew that, without the occurrence of a major injury, Shough was going to be QB1 throughout the offseason and into Labor Day weekend.
The former Oregon transfer who was a 4-star recruit out of high school and once thought to be the heir apparent to current NFL star Justin Herbert in Eugene has been the program’s preferred QB. He won the starting job in both 2021 and 2022 despite being evaluated by different head coaches and offensive coordinators each season.
While two collarbone breaks, one in each of the last two seasons, have prevented us from seeing a full season of his work, Shough has shown that when he’s healthy, he’s the best option on campus. A natural leader and an alpha male who doesn’t shy away from the responsibilities of being the face of a program, Shough has done everything one could ask of a QB1 other than stay healthy.
In games that Shough has started, the Red Raiders are 8-1 with that one loss coming in the 2021 contest at Texas that saw Shough exit the game after playing only in the first quarter before breaking his collarbone diving into the endzone for the team’s first score.
The best look at what this program can be with Shough running the show came at the end of last season when he returned from his second collarbone break, sustained in the first quarter of game one of 2022. Though he would see action against Baylor and TCU in relief of a hobbled Morton, it wasn’t until the late-season home game against Kansas that he found his footing again. After that, he was fantastic.
Leading a program that has traditionally struggled to finish seasons with any semblance of momentum to a 4-0 record to close out 2022, Shough showed why he is the best option for this team. With a completion percentage of 63.8 during that run, he threw for 1,065 yards and 5 TDs while rushing for 264 yards and 3 more TDs. Extrapolate those numbers out over a 13-game season and you’d have a QB putting up 4,319 yards of total offense and 26 total TDs.
Those are numbers that we haven’t seen from a Red Raider starting QB since the end of the Pat Mahomes era in 2016. What’s more, Tech could actually expect more than that out of Shough this year given the expected improvements of his offensive line and receiving corps.
Of course, much of what Shough brings to the table is unable to be measured statistically. The team simply appeared to be more composed when Shough was in the fray. For instance, thanks to a late 4th-quarter TD pass from Shough to TE Baylor Cupp, Tech was able to grind out a 14-10 victory at Iowa State last season on a bitterly cold night, conditions in which many other Texas Tech teams have wilted over the years.
One week later, he passed for over 400 yards in helping Tech earn a 51-48 overtime shootout win against Oklahoma in Lubbock, the program’s first victory over the Sooners since 2011. Those two games are proof that Shough helps the Red Raiders win by any means necessary and they underscore the fact that, when Shough is right, this program is able to pull out the type of wins that have been rather elusive for the past two decades. Nothing Morton or any other QB on the roster did during the offseason was going to trump that.
So while McGuire’s announcement on Friday was noteworthy, it was more of a formality than a surprise. The only question surrounding Shough is one that won’t be answered this summer; what would a full season from him look like? If we find that out in 2023, Texas Tech could be one of the stories of the season in both the Big 12 and around the nation.