Monday, Texas Tech football fans got an early Christmas present when senior running back Tahj Brooks announced his intention to return to school for one last run in 2024. That news, which Brooks shared on X using a scene from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” gives Red Raider fans hope that next season’s offense will be able to take a step forward after a disappointing 2023.
Not that the struggles on that side of the ball were Brooks’ fault. In fact, he was about the only shining star in a very dim sky for the Red Raider offense this fall.
Rushing for 1,443 yards and nine TDs on 268 carries even though everyone in the stadium knew he was Tech’s only offensive option, Brooks earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and had one of the best seasons by any Red Raider running back since the turn of the century. Now, he’s following in the footsteps of another excellent Texas Tech running back who played during the “Air Raid” era of the program.
Back in 2014, DeAndre Washington galloped his way to 1,103 yards and two TDs despite playing for a team that went 4-8 thanks in large part to an offense that saw the QB position struggle as Davis Webb failed to meet expectations as a sophomore before suffering an ankle injury that opened the door for a true freshman named Patrick Mahomes II to take over at the end of the year.
Then, in 2015, with Mahomes taking over as the full-time starter, Washington would rip off 1,492 yards and 14 TDs on the ground with 385 more yards and two more scores as a receiver. Those two seasons marked the first (and so far, only) time that a Red Raider RB put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since the program went to the spread offense back in the 2000 season.
Now, coming off of one 1,000-yard season in 2023, Brooks can do the same. What’s more, this year he did so on a team that didn’t meet expectations due in large part to QB chaos and injuries just like Washinton did in 2013.
Next season, another young gunslinger, Behren Morton, will get his first shot at being the starting QB for the first time in his career just like Mahomes in 2015. The hope is that the offense will take a massive step forward as a result.
Don’t forget that Morton has played through a severe shoulder sprain since the week-four West Virginia game in late September. Next year, his return to health could be what fuels the offense’s return to elite status.
Also, Tech is expecting an infusion of talent on that side of the ball to help. Five-star wide receiver recruit Micah Hudson, the highest-ranked recruit in program history, is set to arrive next fall. Also, Tech has added playmaking tight end Jalin Conyers from Arizona State via the transfer portal.
Of course, Brooks, who led all Power-5 running backs in broken tackles this season, would love to see an improved offensive line take the field next year to make his life easier as well. We do know that Joey McGuire and Co. have to replace four of the five starters for that unit and whether or not they can do so with upgrades will be the story of this offseason.
Brooks’ return, though, is one of the biggest wins that McGuire could have secured before 2024. Not only is he the heart and soul of the Red Raiders, but he’s also the workhorse that the offense will lean on.
Having him back in the fold will be critical in helping Morton develop as a QB. Now, the entire offense won’t rest primarily on Morton’s right arm.
Rather, he can play a more controlled and disciplined game. He can play within the offense and not feel like he has to be the second coming of Mahomes for Tech to move the ball.
Also, Brooks’ presence will make offensive coordinator Zack Kittley better. Still early in his career as a playcaller, Kittley came into the season thinking that he had to throw the ball all over the yard to be effective. That was a habit he developed at Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky when he had future NFL QB Bailey Zappe running the show for him in his first seasons as a coordinator.
This year, he began with that same mentality being as he had senior QB Tyler Shough calling the shots. In Tech’s first two games, both losses, Kittley gave the ball to Brooks only 18 total times. Most egregious was the Oregon game in week two when Brooks ran only seven times despite averaging 10.1 yards per carry. Given that Shough would turn the ball over four times that night, not leaning more heavily on Brooks brought some warranted criticism Kittley’s way.
After that, though, Kittley seemed to learn his lesson. Or, maybe, his hand was forced by the season-ending injury to Shough and the sprained shoulder sustained by Morton in Morgantown.
From game three through the final game of the regular season, Brooks would see no fewer than 19 carries in a game and he would rack up eight 100-yard performances. Having to turn to the ground game likely forced Kittley to mature as a coordinator and learn that it is acceptable to run the football as your primary option, especially when you have a player like Brooks to feature.
It’s clear to see that Brooks is a player who makes everyone in the program better. He could go down as the best Texas Tech running back of the last 25 years and Monday’s news gives everyone in Raiderland hope that next season will be a rebound year for the offense after what was a slog in 2023.