Texas Tech football: Why is Tahj Brooks being underutilized?

Sep 9, 2023; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders running back Tahj Brooks (28) breaks a tackle by Oregon Ducks defensive back EmarÕrion Winston (32 in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2023; Lubbock, Texas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders running back Tahj Brooks (28) breaks a tackle by Oregon Ducks defensive back EmarÕrion Winston (32 in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Texas Tech football program has one of the better running backs in the Big 12.  For some reason, though, senior Tahj Brooks isn’t being utilized in a way that a player of his talent should be.

That rather puzzling trend continued in Saturday’s 38-30 loss to Oregon.  On a night when he averaged a whopping 11.0 yards per carry, he was given the ball only six times.  That makes absolutely no sense.

For some reason, Tyler Shough has been the primary rushing option for Texas Tech

Last season, Brooks split the rushing attempts for Texas Tech with SaRodorick Thompson as that duo had almost the exact same number of carries.  With Thomspon now on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad, it stood to reason that Brooks’ workload would increase substantially in 2023.

That hasn’t happened through two games as he’s carried the ball just 17 times thus far.  So where have all of those extra carries gone?  They’ve gone to an unexpected place; QB Tyler Shough.

So far, no player in the Big 12 has had more rushing attempts than the 38 Shough has amassed.  That’s a risky strategy given that in each of the last two seasons, the Red Raider QB has sustained a broken collarbone while running the ball.

Still, offensive coordinator Zach Kittley has felt more than comfortable asking Shough to run the ball through the teeth of opposing defenses. It’s been a strategy that Kittley has gone to in critical moments as well.

In week one against Wyoming, Tech ran ten total plays of offense in the two OT sessions.  Five of those plays were called runs for Shough.  Meanwhile, only two plays saw Brooks carry the ball.

Then, against Oregon, Shough ran the ball 23 times.  Now, four of those were sacks, which count as rushing attempts for some reason.  Also, there were a few improvised runs from Shough when the pocket broke down.

Still, calling around 15 designed runs for Shough and only six for Brooks is a puzzling tactic.  What’s more, in one of the game’s critical moments, Kittley trusted Shough to run the ball more than he trusted Brooks.

With Tech gambling on a 4th-and-2 from its own 33 early in the 4th quarter, Kittley called for a designed QB run for what felt like the hundredth time in the game.  Everyone in the stadium knew that was going to be the play and Oregon easily stuffed it to take over possession.

While Shough is a big QB who runs powerfully, he is not Cam Newton or Anthony Richardson.  When two yards are needed, why trust an injury-prone QB more than a sturdy running back with over 1,600 career rushing yards?  Especially on a night when Brooks is averaging more than a first down every time he touches the ball.

Against Wyoming, it was easier to understand why Kittley went away from the traditional ground game.  With the offensive line’s struggles, Brooks and fellow RB Cam’Ron Valdez (who received no carries against Oregon) were able to average only 2.8 yards per rush.  That night, Shough’s legs were Tech’s best way of picking up yards on the ground.

However, Brooks gashed Oregon almost every time he touched the ball.  He had runs of 35 and 16 yards while never being stopped at or behind the line.

What was most confusing was that on the 4th quarter drive following Oregon’s 17-play TD drive, Kittley called three passing plays and one QB run instead of giving the ball to his rugged running back at a point in the game when the Red Raider defense needed a rest and when the Ducks’ defense should have begun to wear down.

That should be the definition of “Tahj time”.  Instead, he was essentially nothing more than a lead blocker on the game’s most critical short-yardage play.

If Kittely wants to run Shough despite his injury history, then so be it.  However, no team is going to be dominant on offense with Shough as its top rushing option.  He isn’t Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson.

Oregon didn’t ask Bo Nix to run but nine times on the evening with most of those carries being improvised.  That was despite the fact that Nix, who ran for 14 TDs in 2022, is a faster and more accomplished runner than Shough.

Instead, the Ducks put the ball in the hands of their dynamic running backs 22 times even though their backs averaged only 3.0 yards per rush between them.  It was a more disciplined and intelligent game plan.

Moving forward, Kittley must do some self-evaluation and understand that he has to be more diverse as a play-caller.  He has a fantastic running back at his disposal and utilizing that weapon would help settle down a QB who has become surprisingly interception-prone this season.

Tahj Brooks is too good to get only 17 carries through two games.  Starting this week with Tarleton State, Tech has to earnestly commit to running the ball with one of its best weapons instead of asking Shough to do the job of both QB1 and RB1.

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