With the full 2023 Texas Tech football season now behind us, it is a natural time to look back on what transpired this fall. Certainly, it was an up-and-down ride for Red Raider fans, one that included some important individual performances along the way.
What's interesting though, is that this wasn't particularly a notable year for standout individual seasons in Lubbock. Of course, there were two exceptions.
Tahj Brooks was phenomenal with 1,538 total yards rushing, the fourth-most any Red Raider has had in a single season. What's more, he had 10 rushing TDs on the year.
On the other side of the football, linebacker Ben Roberts came from out of nowhere to rack up 105 total tackles. That performance was good enough to earn him co-Defenisve Freshman of the Year honors in the Big 12.
However, there were not any other standout season-long individual performances by Red Raiders. Much of that was due to the rash of injuries this team fought through at key positions.
Many expected QB Tyler Shough to have his best season and show the country what he's capable of over the course of 13 games. Of course, that didn't happen as his season was cut short in the week four loss to West Virginia.
Shough's broken leg meant that redshirt sophomore Behren Morton got his opportunity to shine but unfortunately, he couldn't put his full talent on display either. That's because, in the same game that Shough was injured, Morton sustained a sprained right shoulder, an injury that limited his effectiveness for the remainder of the regular season.
Thus, at the game's marquee position, Tech never got to see what its top two QBs could do when unencumbered. That's one of the great disappointments of the 2023 season.
Another disappointment is that no wide receiver stepped up to have a big year. Of course, that goes hand-in-hand with the QB injury woes.
Still we have seen past Texas Tech wide receivers have big years while playing with backup QBs. For instance, in 2018, Antoine Wesley had over 1,400 receiving yards despite the fact that Tech started three different quarterbacks that season.
This year, though, no Red Raider pass catcher was able to assert himself that way. In fact, the passing attack was so limited by the QB injuries and the inability of any wide receiver to take over games that people around West Texas started demanding that the team "run the damn ball" as if the clock had turned back to the 1990s when keeping the ball on the ground and playing defense were the trademarks of Texas Tech football.
Defensively, this was supposed to be a collective effort all along. With no potential All-American in the fold like 2022 star defensive end, Tyree Wilson, the plan was for the depth of the group to outweigh the individual talent on the roster.
To a certain extent, that's what happened. Tech's defense was solid across the board but far from spectacular at most positions.
That's because the players that the coaching staff believed would be breakout stars didn't come anywhere close to reaching their lofty preseason expectations. For example, edge rushers Myles Cole and Steve Linton were touted as being future NFL Draft picks and while both may eventually hear their names called at the next level, neither had the productivity to warrant such an honor meaning that if either is selected in the 2024 Draft, it will be based only on physical attributes and potential rather than on college productivity.
In the end, the Red Raiders received only two standout individual seasons in 2023, one from Brooks and one from Roberts. Players like Shough, Morton, and linebacker Jacob Rodriguez might have been able to do the same had they been healthy for a full season but we'll never know for certain.
The rest of the team was a combination of nice pieces (Jaylon Hutchings, Tony Bradford Jr, Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, etc.) and underperforming teases (Jerand Bradley, Myles Price, Mason Tharp, etc.) who all displayed enough potential to entice fans into hoping for a big year only to produce modest results at best (for a number of reasons).
Still, there were games when individual players stepped up and took over to help this team rise up. So let's take a look at the top five individual game performances of 2023 and we'll begin with the rise of an unlikely hero in a crucial early-season win.