<
>

Patrick Mahomes makes his case to be "the man" at Texas Tech

Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb entered the season as the Big 12’s second-best signal-caller.

Now, there’s no guarantee he’s the future behind center for the Red Raiders.

That is partially because true freshman Patrick Mahomes is making his case to become the man under center for Tech. With Webb ailing with an ankle injury, Mahomes could be staking his claim as the man to run Kliff Kingsbury’s offense in 2015 and beyond after delivering a solid performance in a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.

Placed alongside the numbers put up by Tech quarterbacks in recent history, Mahomes' statistics don’t stand out. He finished 27 of 50 for 393 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-30 loss to the Sooners. But it was one number in particular, his zero interceptions, that did stand out.

“That was huge,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “That’s what we’ve been missing, really the entire year. We haven’t been good enough offensively to turn it over then make up for it. I think that was the key stat that jumped out to me.”

It was the Red Raiders' first game without an interception since their Sept. 6 win over UTEP. The Red Raiders’ 16 interceptions are tied for 119th among FBS teams, and their 3.4-percent interception percentage is tied for 85th.

“He protected the football,” Kingsbury said. “I asked him to do that and he did a great job of it against a very good defense. He was under duress most of the evening but continued to make great plays with his feet and threw some balls away, had a couple big plays called back.”

Mahomes' poise under duress really stood out against the Sooners, as the true freshman showed unusual calm amidst the chaos of the pocket and repeatedly turned Sooners pressure into Red Raiders opportunities.

“He was throwing on the run, escaping rushers and still delivering the ball with great accuracy and touch on the ball,” receiver Bradley Marquez said.

Mahomes, who spurned the opportunity to play professional baseball to play at Tech, also showed a toughness and willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit to deliver the ball.

“The maturity to stand in there, know you’re going to get hit and still deliver the ball was awesome to see,” Marquez said. “It’s kind of the composure you have to have.”

It’s a maturity that Marquez, who also has a baseball background as a former outfielder in the New York Mets organization, thinks might have been honed on the diamond. While Marquez is a outfielder and Mahomes a prized pitcher, both have been toughened up by their baseball backgrounds. Mahomes made an adult decision in turning down the money that professional baseball could have provided him and exposing himself to physical punishment on the football field. It's likely made him mentally tougher and more mature than the average true freshman quarterback.

“That’s exactly what I think has helped him,” Marquez said. “I’ve gone through the same process as him so I know first hand the maturity it takes to do those things. I think it’s definitely something that benefited him and his game.

“In baseball, you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed, so you have to have the maturity to move on when you do something bad so it doesn’t disrupt you later on in the game. It’s helped me be mentally strong, and I think Pat would agree it’s helped him as well.”

The maturity, poise and ball protection by Mahomes has put him in the position to continue to run the Red Raiders attack, even with Webb inching closer to full health. On Monday, Kingsbury said he would name his starter “at kickoff” when Tech faces Iowa State on Saturday, a thought would have been unthinkable before the season. And no matter who starts the final two games of Tech’s season, Kingsbury says all bets are off heading into the spring.

“Going into the spring, it will be an open competition,” Kingsbury said. “Anytime you have a record of 3-7, you have to re-evaluate some things.”

And what a competition it could be with the rapidly improving Mahomes, the experienced Webb, and ESPN 300 quarterback Jarrett Stidham among several quarterbacks ready to battle it out in the spring.

But, make no mistake, Mahomes has taken a step toward convincing Kingsbury he can be the answer at a position that has been unstable since he took over. Mahomes' development and ability to excel while protecting the ball in a game against a defensive front full of athletes will be remembered once the competition begins.

“He’s just a gamer,” Marquez said. “There’s something you can’t really see until he plays a game. I see how hard he plays and how hard he works, he’s going to be a great player for years to come.”