The moment Kliff Kingsbury’s been waiting for — coaching the team for which he starred a little more than a decade ago — is at hand. The dream scenario would be complete if only he had an experienced quarterback.
The third-youngest coach in the FBS debuts today when Texas Tech, 8-5 a year ago, visits SMU, which finished 7-6. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas. Both teams are trying to pick up where they left off with bowl victories, but Tech administrators and fans believe their biggest victory came last
December when they hired Kingsbury.
They’ve had to wait eight months to find out.
“That’s why we came here was to play the games,” Kingsbury said. “I think the players are ready. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. The five years I’ve been coaching, we’ve played SMU. I know the type of talent they have and the coaching they receive, so we know the challenge we’re up against.”
ESPN will televise the game. Tech is a seven-point favorite, despite an iffy quarterback situation. The Red Raiders are likely to start true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield, who two years ago threw 45 touchdown passes while leading Lake Travis to a 16-0 state-championship season.
The Red Raiders are left with no experience behind center because Jacob Karam and Scotty Young transferred after the 2011 season, and heir apparent Michael Brewer has been out since early August with a back injury. Kingsbury has been purposely secretive, not saying whether he’ll start Mayfield or second-semester freshman Davis Webb.
“I think the guys we’re working with, fortunately enough, have had great high school coaches and played in big-time high school games,” Kingsbury said, “so you hope that carries over to the college level. From what I’ve seen in practices, I think it will.”
SMU is a dangerous first opponent for the Red Raiders. The Mustangs’ offense is led by two former University of Texas signees: Quarterback Garrett Gilbert once was the nation’s top recruit, and running back Traylon Shead was one of the most prolific rushers in schoolboy history. SMU has program continuity with June Jones having led the Mustangs to four straight bowl appearances, winning three.
The Mustangs were third in the nation last year with 37 takeaways and tied an NCAA record returning eight interceptions for touchdowns.
“For a young quarterback, that concerns you,” Kingsbury said, “because you want him to be able to take care of the ball.”
While Kingsbury has kept his quarterback plans quiet, the Tech staff has been wondering what shape the SMU offense will take, now that “Air Raid” patriarch Hal Mumme has hired on as passing-game coordinator for Jones, the run-and-shoot practitioner.
Tech’s defensive staff studied video from Mumme’s time as head coach at New Mexico State (2005-08).
“We broke down both guys,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith said, referring to Mumme and Jones. “We have to prepare for both to see what we’re going to see — if it’s going to be June, if it’s going to be Hal, which is great.
“It’s Kliff’s stuff with the Air Raid, so we’ve seen it all spring, we’ve seen it all training camp. I feel like we’re prepared whichever way they go.”
And Tech coaches believe they’ll know not long after kickoff.
“I think we’ll know in the first couple of series what they’re going to do, if it’s going to be Hal or June,” Smith said. “I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a mixture of both. I don’t see them completely going to Hal Mumme’s stuff. I think June is going to have his system and his style.”
Kingsbury replaced Tommy Tuberville, who resigned after three seasons. And while the attention since the changeover naturally has focused on the head coach, the Red Raiders hope people soon will be talking about their drastic shift in defensive philosophy.
New coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has promised a scheme “aggressive enough and confusing enough to make the quarterback earn his scholarship and keep the offensive linemen guessing.”
Coaches on both sides say they’re grateful Tech’s players, who have been through so many coaching changes during their careers, are still listening.
“It’s the first game,” Kingsbury said, “so until you get out there under the lights, you really don’t know what you have. But I appreciate how hard our kids have worked and adjusted to new coaching.”
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