Baker Mayfield, a true freshman and a walk-on, has started at quarterback in five games for unbeaten Texas Tech.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On the surface, it would appear that the Texas Tech team that West Virginia faces this afternoon at Mountaineer Field should be having even more quarterback problems than the Mountaineers.Consider that both teams went into the season facing the task of replacing entrenched starters - Geno Smith for WVU and Seth Doege for the Red Raiders. The Mountaineers were doing so with a veteran backup, a tested transfer and a redshirt freshman who had been in the system more than a year. Tech was doing so with a sophomore and two true freshmen - one of them a walk-on - learning the system of a first-year head coach.A funny thing happened on the way to Tech's quarterback meltdown, though. It didn't happen.In fact, while West Virginia continues to search for the answer at the position, the Red Raiders seem to have multiple options. And they're all good ones.Baker Mayfield, the walk-on, has started five of the six wins for No. 16 Tech (6-0, 3-0). When he's been injured he's been replaced by Davis Webb, the other true freshman. Each has been named the Big 12's offensive player of the week this season.And now the sophomore, Michael Brewer, has returned from a back injury that sidelined him the first four games of the season. He's played just once in relief and hasn't thrown a pass, but a year ago showed his promised by going 34 of 48 for 375 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in relief of Doege.So now as West Virginia (3-3, 1-2) goes into yet another game waiting for juniors Clint Trickett or Paul Millard to emerge as a quarterback able to elevate the offense - and with redshirt freshman Ford Childress sidelined indefinitely - Tech has its pick. Webb and Brewer are expected to be healthy for today's game and Mayfield could be back from a knee injury he suffered two weeks ago against Kansas.
All of which presents a rather enviable problem for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury of choosing between three good options."It's hard to have a [quarterback] competition in week seven, which makes it tough because you don't have enough reps. You're trying to get one guy ready for the game,'' Kingsbury said. "But they've been very supportive of each other. We'll get as many reps to each guy as we can and play the one that we feel gives us the best chance to win a game every week.''For West Virginia, the issue isn't so much which quarterback gives the Mountaineers the best chance to win, but rather just finding one healthy enough to play. A bye week no doubt helped that situation as far as Trickett goes and hurt it for Childress, but whether Trickett's recovery did anything to raise the level of play at the position remains to be seen.
And with all the uncertainty at the position, West Virginia has trouble even nailing down a game plan from week to week because the quarterbacks are different."It does change things a little bit. There are certain things that each guy does well,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We have to get to a point where it doesn't matter who the guy is, we have to be able to execute. We've had enough snaps with each of them to know what they do and don't do well, to where everybody else around them has to identify that and execute the play that's called.''For Tech, the offense doesn't change much no matter who the quarterback is. The Red Raiders rank third in the country in passing behind the two true freshmen. In his first start last week, a 42-35 win over Iowa State, Webb threw for 415 yards, three touchdowns and one interception."I do think our team will be prepared for what Texas Tech brings to the table,'' Holgorsen said. "Offensively, it's something that we know very well.''Indeed, given that Kingsbury played quarterback at Texas Tech while Holgorsen was an assistant there, and that Holgorsen got Kingsbury his first coaching job, at Houston, there are few secrets about the two teams' offensive styles.
"Obviously, [I have a] history with Kliff and I know what he's done offensively and how he operates. We're both cut from the same cloth,'' Holgorsen said. "So we're going to know what they do offensively. Obviously, the challenge is to stop it.''The last time West Virginia's defense was on the field it stopped nothing - Baylor had 73 points and 864 yards two weeks ago. But the Mountaineers were much better in the five games prior to that, so that's what Kingsbury is expecting to see today."The biggest deal is how multiple they are,'' Kingsbury said. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. I know they had a rough night in Waco, but aside from that they've played really good defense. They've turned people over, lots of negative plays wreaking havoc. You never know where they're going to line up."Week in and week out they look like a completely different team as far as games go. That obviously is a challenge for a young quarterback.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.