One of the first things first-year head coach Joey McGuire will have to do is decide Texas Tech’s starting quarterback.
The Red Raiders’ quarterback room includes senior Tyler Shough, sophomore Donovan Smith, and redshirt freshman Behren Morton. Last season, all three appeared in games, with Smith playing the most at nine.
Shough was Tech’s starter to begin the 2021 season, starting four games before suffering a season-ending collarbone injury against Texas on Sept. 25. Smith started his first game against Iowa State on Nov. 13 after making sporadic appearances throughout the season. Morton made just one appearance against Oklahoma State on Nov. 20 after Smith was benched.
With spring practice underway, here’s a look at all three quarterbacks:
Shough recorded a team-high passer rating of 164.3 last season, albeit with a small sample size of four games. He threw for 872 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions, completing 70 percent of his passes.
Shough’s performances were up and down last season, always following a good performance with a bad one. However, when Shough was good, he was electric. He began the season with a 231-yard and two-touchdown performance against Houston before throwing one touchdown and two interceptions in Tech’s next game against Stephen F. Austin. Shough followed that up with a four-touchdown performance against FIU, completing 74 percent of his passes and throwing for a career-high 399 yards. Before suffering his injury against the Longhorns, he went 9-for-11 with 68 yards and one interception.
Despite these inconsistencies, Shough probably best fits new offensive coordinator Zach Kittley’s scheme. His offense at Western Kentucky relied heavily on the pass, with WKU quarterback Bailey Zappe passing an FBS-leading 687 times last season. Shough is the most mechanically sound quarterback on Tech’s roster and arguably has the best arm out of the three as well.
Shough’s quarterback rating was a team-high 71.4 last season. Not only is he the most efficient Red Raider quarterback, but he’s also the guy who can make Tech’s offense run efficiently. This isn’t to say he’s the most gifted of the three, but his experience and passing ability make him the favorite for the job.
While Shough has the intangibles, Smith has the athleticism. A dual-threat quarterback, Smith logged 1,336 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns last season. He got his first chance at extended playing time against Oklahoma on Oct. 30, passing for 192 yards and one touchdown. After replacing Henry Colombi, the offense showed improvements under Smith.
His first start against Iowa State was his best, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns, completing 79 percent of his passes to help Tech secure bowl eligibility. When the Red Raiders got to that bowl, Smith played an important part in helping them win it. He scored two total touchdowns, throwing 15 completions for 252 yards against Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.
Smith possesses a scrambling ability unmatched by any other Red Raider quarterback. He can improvise when a play goes awry, an essential skill considering Tech will be replacing key offensive linemen like Dawson Deaton this year. Smith gets physical when taking off and can make things happen with his legs.
However, his passing leaves much to be desired. An example was his game against Oklahoma State on Nov. 20, when he was held to under 100 passing yards. Smith completed just nine passes and looked lost for most of the game. The Cowboys had a great defense last season, but the game exposed some of Smith’s worst weaknesses.
He’s a great athlete, but his shortcomings in the passing game aren’t what Kittley will want in his offense. Kittley is the quarterbacks’ coach and can develop Smith into a pure passer. However, this isn’t the case now, giving the advantage to Shough.
Let’s not forget about Morton, a heavily hyped four-star recruit from Eastland, Texas.
An alumnus of the famous Elite 11 quarterback competition, Morton passed for 3,613 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Eastland High School, adding 893 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He was one of 11 finalists for the National High School Quarterback of the Year Award and earned High School All-American honors from Sports Illustrated.
Many describe him as the “future” of the program, and he still has four years of eligibility remaining. Because we haven’t seen much of him at the college level, analyzing Morton can be challenging. However, his high school tape is very impressive.
Morton was a consistent passer at Eastland High, throwing the ball with precision and accuracy. He can also throw on the run well and possesses an exceptional deep ball.
Morton has massive potential and plenty of skill. While he might be the third guy on the depth chart in 2022, he gives Tech much-needed depth at the position. He will be Texas Tech’s starter one day, but it probably won’t be this season.