With massive renovations underway at Jone At&t stadium, the conclusion of Texas Tech’s spring football practices took place just down the road at Lowery Field. Entering into year two under head coach Joey McGuire, this Red Raider program is looking to build off a very successful year one. There were some critical questions hoping to be answered during spring ball. It looks like two of them have some sort of answer after the 15th and final practice during the Texas Tech spring game.
Texas Tech Spring Game Takeaways
Depth At Quarterback
With the departure of Donovan Smith, the quarterback race has been focused on two players who both started and won games in 2022. Tyler Shough was picked off on the game’s opening drive, In a developing spring tradition of Texas Tech spring games. But overall, he looked comfortable running the offense. He only went 10-of-23 overall for 70 yards, so it would have been nice to see better accuracy for a quarterback who is 8-1 as a Texas Tech starter. His decision-making was crisp, but there was still a notable lack of Shough pushing the ball down the field.
The other quarterback in this race for QB1 looked much like he did when he was the starter in 2022. Behren Morton was not afraid to push the ball down the field, including a 57-yard touchdown pass in the game. Morton finished 12-of-20 for 143 yards but still had a few moments where he relied on his arm strength instead of making good decisions. This included a poorly thrown ball in traffic inside the red zone. Overall, both quarterbacks looked solid, but nothing spectacular. All signs point to Shough being QB1 on opening day. But the coaching staff proved last year they will use Morton even when Shough is healthy. Shough also hasn’t started and finished more than four games in the last two seasons in Lubbock. Offensive coordinator Zach Kittley knows having Morton ready is critical for any potential success the Red Raiders will have.
Offensive Line Improvement
The big boys in the trenches bring a ton of experience into the 2023 season. But there was a lot of shuffling along the offensive line, so seeing how quickly this crew could become a productive cohesive unit was a concern. Before the spring game in an interview with On3, McGuire’s and the entire offensive staff’s expectations for this line are to be much improved:
We expect to be a lot better in the O-line. We were one of the worst teams in the country in sacks, giving up sacks. We’re a lot older. We added a center with a lot of experience in the transfer portal (Rusty Staats from Western Kentucky). Our center (Dennis Wilburn) was coming back, but his first time playing center in his life was this year, so now we get to move him to his position at guard. So I think the biggest thing for us, is we’re going to be a lot better up front in the o-line.
Needless to say, the staff has to be pleased with how the offensive line looked on Saturday. Both Shough and Morton faced filled pressure for most of the game, even with the defensive unit running multiple blitz/stunt packages against them. They also were a force in the running game as they consistently re-established the line of scrimmage. It showed in the production by the running back position. McGuire said about his two backs, “I think Tahj (Brooks) and (Cam’Ron) Valdez got behind the pads and ran the ball, excited to see those guys.” It is worth noting that many of the defensive line starters were held out of the Texas Tech spring game. But it was positive to see the offensive line perform well together.
Excellent Showing By The Defense
Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter had to be pleased with the showing by his defensive squad. His defense was able to force an offensive unit returning 10 starters from last year into a bunch of turnovers. C.J. Baskerville, linebacker Ty Kana, and defensive back Dadrion Taylor-Demerson each had interceptions. Both quarterbacks struggled from an accuracy standpoint, and that was in large part to the coverage by the linebackers and secondary. Even when the defense blitzed, the offense did not have easy check-downs/open receivers to get the ball to.
The major thing that stood out was how well the defense tackled all game. Only the running backs were able to break the occasional tackle in the hole. But none of the running backs got loose for big gains. The open-field tackling by all three levels of the defense was superb. This Texas Tech spring game performance, combined with a defensive unit bringing back 10 “super seniors”, should inject plenty of confidence into this team.
Ended The Spring Healthy
The glorified final practice of the spring season gave Red Raider fans plenty to be happy with. But most importantly, when the Texas Tech spring game ended, no major injuries occurred. In fact, the players that were held out of the game were predominately out of precaution. So when fall camp opens in about four months, this team will be as healthy as possible. The next major challenge that awaits this team will be carrying the weight of local and national expectations.