Texas Tech football: It is time to have a serious discussion about OC Zach Kittley

Texas Tech football: It is time to have a serious discussion about OC Zach Kittley

We are four games into the 2023 Texas Tech football season and with the team sitting at just 1-3 on the year, everyone from the head coach to the assistant water boy needs to have their performance examined.  One person who is sure to come under heavy scrutiny this week following Saturday’s dreadful 20-13 loss at West Virginia is offensive coordinator Zach Kittley.  In fact, it may be time for Joey McGuire to start to insert himself into the offensive game planning.

The problem is that McGuire is not known as a strategic guru on either side of the ball.  Rather, his specialty is motivating players and building relationships both inside and outside of the football building.

Regardless, McGuire knows enough about football to have an offensive philosophy and it is time that he starts to assert some of his authority when it comes to how this team’s offensive attack is designed.  That’s because letting Kittley have free reign isn’t working.

Unless something catastrophic happens, Kittley is going to keep his job for the remainder of the season.  There is no mid-season replacement who is going to save the day given that changing an entire offensive philosophy during the season is impossible.  However, the 32-year-old Kittley does seem to need some guidance because his side of the football is failing in 2023.

The Texas Tech offense seems to have regressed under Kittley in year two

Despite bringing back all of last season’s playmakers outside of running back SaRodorick Thompson, and despite adding pieces such as receiver Drae McCray and two new offensive linemen, and despite having two QBs that the coaches believe have NFL talent, the offense has taken a significant downturn from last fall under Kittley’s watch.

Last year, despite having to rely on three different starting QBs for multiple games, Tech finished 22nd nationally at 461.4 yards per game.  This year, the offense is putting up only 405.9 yards per game after a 321-yard showing against a WVU team that many believe has one of the most suspect defenses in the Big 12.

What’s more, Tech is scoring 3.7 fewer points per game this year (31) than a season ago.  If that doesn’t seem like much, think about how different three points would have made the Wyoming and Oregon games in the 4th quarter.

Also, remember that 13 of this year’s points were scored in overtime against the Cowboys.  That means that Tech is averaging only 26 points per game in regulation.  Last year, Tech averaged 32.7 points in regulation.

We could belabor the point with more statistics but that isn’t necessary.  Even the most novice fan can see that something is broken when it comes to Kittley’s offense this year.

Kittley’s hesitancy to run Tahj Brooks is baffling

The way that Kittley structures his offense gives his quarterbacks the absolute freedom to change plays at the line.  He trusts his QBs to know the offense and to make the reads rather than having them look over to the sideline to get signals from the coaching staff as many schools do.

Thus, the fact that this offense is not running the ball with Tahj Brooks as much as it should is not completely the coordinator’s fault.  With that said, though, Kittley is guiding the offense and he should have more influence than anyone over what is being run.

Make no mistake, Kittley is a proponent of using Shough in the power run game despite the QB’s injury history.  That philosophy backfired once again in Morgantown as Shough suffered a broken leg while running the ball, the third year in a row that he has sustained a broken bone as a ball carrier.

Then, even after Shough was lost and Tech was down to Behren Morton and true freshman Jake Strong, Kittley still didn’t rely on his best offensive player, Tahj Brooks.  Even as Morton missed on his first six pass attempts of the game, Brooks was an afterthought for Kittley who gave his senior RB only three first-half carries as Tech fell into a 13-3 hole, a deficit that would never be overcome on the afternoon.

Sure, some of that could have been Morton changing the plays at the line but at some point, doesn’t Kittley need to pull Morton aside in those circumstances and tell him to give the freaking ball to a player who came into the game averaging over seven yards per carry?  Isn’t that what a coach is paid to do?

Meanwhile, Kittley’s game plan also seems to be failing.  He was out-schemed by the Wyoming and West Virginia defensive coordinators as the Tech offense appears to struggle after the 15-play game-opening script has been exhausted.  In fact, the Red Raiders have scored just nine total points in the second quarter this year.

That’s a time when the script is no longer guiding the offense and adjustments are being made on both sides.  Thus, it is concerning that this offense can’t seem to maintain any semblance of momentum after the first drive or two and the responsibility for that falls on the man calling the plays.

Kittley may not be a guru after all

What should concern us most about Kittley is that he’s never had wild success at this level of the sport.  He was seen as a guru when he was coaching at FCS school Houston Baptist or at Western Kentucky in Conference USA but at both of those stops, he had a future NFL QB in Bailey Zappe running his offense.

However, life in the Big 12 is a different animal.  Kittley is learning on the job as well given that this is just his sixth season as an OC at any level and his second at a Power 5 program.

Therefore, it is fair to wonder if Kittley is capable of putting his offense in the best position to succeed against top-flight Big 12 defenses.  Thus far, the answer is trending toward “No” given that in his 17 games as Tech’s OC, his offense has on six occasions failed to top 25 points in regulation.

Again, Kittley’s job should not be in jeopardy until this offseason at the earliest.  However, it is time we start acknowledging that the Texas Tech alum and former sounding board for Patrick Mahomes might not be the genius offensive dynamo that he was thought to be when he was hired.  If that is the case, then someone on the staff, preferably McGuire, needs to step in and help get this struggling offense out of its season-long rut because leaving Kittley to his own devices isn’t working.