LUBBOCK (AP) – There’s a new gun-slinging quarterback at Texas Tech and no one saw him coming.
Baker Mayfield, the Big 12’s offensive player of the week, appeared poised throughout the Red Raiders 41-23 win at SMU last week. In the fourth quarter alone, he completed 15 of 18 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
Mayfield’s 43 completions were the most for a Texas Tech quarterback in his first start. In all, he threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, and also had an 11-yard run for a score.
And he is a walk-on freshman.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury, one of the more famous Texas Tech quarterbacks in its history, said Mayfield was “reckless” with the ball. He twice recovered his own third-quarter fumbles and came close to getting picked off a couple of times. Still, Kingsbury thought Mayfield held his own.
“You turn the tape on and there is lots of room for improvement, but the way he just held steady,” Kingsbury said. “There were some plays that weren’t great and times it wasn’t going very well, but he never blinked. He just kept pushing forward and got better as the game went on.”
The first-year coach who threw for 12,429 yards and 95 TDs for the Red Raiders from 1999-2002 also said he saw a well-managed game from Mayfield, who arrived on campus in July after scholarship offers elsewhere “didn’t work out for him.”
Kingsbury recruited Mayfield when he was at Houston with Kevin Sumlin. He wanted to bring him to Texas A&M after he and Sumlin went to College Station but there was another player already committed, Kingsbury said.
Mayfield came to Lubbock after talking with Eric Morris, another former Texas Tech player on Kingsbury’s staff. Morris had recruited the former Lake Travis standout “hard” while at Washington State under former Red Raiders coach Mike Leach.
Sonny Cumbie, also a former Texas Tech quarterback now coaching outside receivers for Kingsbury, found Mayfield’s on-field demeanor impressive.
“He’s got just a charisma about him on the field,” Cumbie said. “He’s kind of like a gunslinger out there. There wasn’t a time you looked out there and he looked like a freshman. He wasn’t wide-eyed at all. The moment wasn’t too big for him.”
The Red Raiders had never had a true freshman start a season opener and the last time one started any game for Texas Tech was in 1984.
Mayfield is the first freshman quarterback at Texas Tech to earn a Big 12 player of the week honor in his debut since Kingsbury, who got his in November 1999 following 38-28 win over Oklahoma.
Kingsbury on Monday would not say if Mayfield would start the home opener against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday night but there’s little reason to think otherwise. Mayfield threw to 11 different receivers as the Red Raiders ran 87 plays, their most since a win over New Mexico last season.
The Mustangs’ defense had Mayfield scrambling at times and sacked him four times. If Texas Tech wants to keep its quarterback healthy heading into Big 12 play, the offensive line needs to improve.
“We’ve got to get better,” Kingsbury said. “There are some young guys playing that haven’t played a lot.”
Kingsbury, who prohibits freshmen players from doing media interviews, got specific about what in Mayfield’s technique needs work.
“Footwork is a constant battle with the young kids,” he said. “When they get in the game, it kind of reverts back to what they’ve always done.”
Eric Ward, Mayfield’s favorite target in the win over SMU with 13 catches for 150 yards, said the 18-year-old is consistent and confident, has a fast release and throws it hard.
At first, Ward said, it was hard to notice Mayfield’s talent. He was third behind red-shirt sophomore and presumptive starter Michael Brewer and Davis Webb, a freshman from Prosper.
When Brewer’s back injury flared during fall camp, Ward started to notice Mayfield’s “phenomenal” talent, he said.
“Baker is a different type of player,” Ward said. “You should see him in practice. He’s not your average walk-on. I know the media refers to him as a walk-on, but to us, he’s not a walk-on. He goes out there and tears the defense up.”
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