Kingsbury the kingmaker finds another one in head coaching debut
Walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield throws for four touchdowns and runs for another in win over SMU.
DALLAS -- Baker Football doesn't roll off the tongue the same way as Johnny Football.
But more than a nickname awaits Texas Tech 18-year-old freshman walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield after the second night of the college football season. Glory for one. A scholarship, for sure, if coach Kliff Kingsbury can find one available.
"We've got to work those numbers," Kingsbury said after a wonderous 41-23 win over SMU in his head coaching debut. "We didn't envision this when he came on campus but, yeah, that's an internal issue."
It's a problem that even Kingsbury the kingmaker probably didn’t expect. Even though he got the gig at his alma mater, Kingsbury was definitely trading down, going from Heisman winner Johnny Manziel to -- according to Tech research -- the first walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season for a BCS school.
Now Mayfield is the first ever to win such a season opener. A year removed from starring for Austin's Lake Travis High, Mayfield completed 43 of 60 for 413 yards and four touchdowns, running for another. In the fourth quarter alone a kid -- who the NCAA mandates can't eat at the training table because of his walk-on status -- ate up the Mustangs completing 15 of 18 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. The 43 completions were a school record.
"Quite honestly, I kept looking for a mistake from a true freshman and he didn't make one," said SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, a Lake Travis alum and friend who played in the BCS title game for Texas four years ago. "He played outstanding. It's hard to find the words for it."
That's how quickly things changed for freshman quarterback, Kingsbury and Texas Tech. For three quarters they struggled with the Mustangs before a sold-out crowd at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Now Mayfield is suddenly the hottest young quarterback for the hottest young coach in this hot (101 degrees at game time), young season.
As you may have already surmised, there's a huge difference in Kingbury's last two first-time starters . Last season Manziel already had a redshirt year and an arrest under his belt before winning an August battle for the starting job. Things went fairly well from there. Great story, right?
Mayfield’s may be better. No one’s even hinting at a Heisman yet but there suddenly is a tangible future. What he had in common with Manziel is virtual anonymity before playing his first game.
"They are very similar in their mentalities," Kingsbury said. "Johnny's a phenom athletically. He does stuff with his feet we've never seen anybody do on a college football field. It's tough to make that comparison [but] as far as that fearlessness, attacking, not being up and down and flustered, I saw that same look in Baker's eyes."
Mayfield wasn't great for a large part of the game, fumbling twice and getting sacked four times. More than anything, though, he was available to Kingsbury. The new coach needed Mayfield to step up Friday after sophomore Michael Brewer was declared out with a back injury. Meanwhile, Mayfield needed a team. Kingsbury welcomed him after a preferred walk-on after mentor Mike Leach had recruited him at Washington State.
After the game in the modest Ford Stadium setting, Mayfield took a victory lap greeting friends in the stands and with SMU. It was like high school Friday Night Lights where he was already a hero going undefeated as a Lake Travis junior.
"I've been in this situation before," he said. "I played in a high-profile offense at Lake Travis, in the spotlight a lot. Obviously it's a bigger stage."
Sure, the kid's a longer shot than Manziel. He's out as soon as Brewer is healthy. Thing is, that may be a while. Mayfield, Gilbert and Brewer actually huddled together after the game, giggling like school girls.
"I love Michael," Mayfield said, "but I don't know when he'll be back."
The circumstances aren't far off from what Kingsbury experienced this time a year ago when he was Texas A&M's offensive coordinator.
"With Johnny we knew we had a good player ...," he said. "[But] if you coach them like freshmen they're going to play like freshmen."
Tech's controlled passing game looks similar to Leach's that produced an average of 8 1/2 wins a year for a decade at Tech. No one is saying the Red Raiders are going to upset No. 1 on the road, go to a Cotton Bowl and improve by four games in a season like Texas A&M did last year. But if some of that Kingsbury command, cockiness and charisma rubs off, well, those are significant reasons why he was hired in Lubbock at the tender age of 33.
Tech's sweat-drenched win over SMU will have to do for now. Kingsbury isn't the first rock star coach with a magic touch, just the latest. And damn, is it ever fun to watch. The Red Raiders ran 87 plays. Receiver Eric Ward caught 13 balls for 150 yards.
"Baker Football" doesn't exactly fit, but so what? Johnny Football was barely off the police blotter last summer when he hit it big. If Mayfield causes even remotely similar national tremors, we've really got ourselves that next big story.
Maybe not a Heisman but a fresh narrative. Three years ago Kingsbury helped some guy named Dave Piland at Houston become the No. 3 passer in the country. As offensive coordinator at Houston in 2011, he sent Case Keenum off as the No. 1 passer in NCAA history.
That got him his shot joining Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. We know how that turned out.
"I think he'll be better," Kingsbury said of Manziel's second season. "They [defenses] have a year to watch him but he has a year to watch film and progress. With all the guys coming back on offense, he'll be better than ever."
That's the mantra preached by Kingsbury and Sumlin and West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen, all coaching buddies whose quarterbacks typically blow up in their second season. What has happened to wise old heads that used to dominate this game? Kingsbury was replaced by 27-year old Jake Spavital at A&M. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit largely led the Irish into the national championship game. Diaco is all of 40. Even Nick Saban, at 62, looks 20 years younger.
Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, 32, is the nation’s youngest FBS coach in 2013. Kingsbury at 34 is the youngest among BCS coaches and third-youngest overall, which presents all kinds of possibilities at the Hollywood-on-the-Plains known as Lubbock. Shortly after he was hired, a booster drew up a marketing game plan for King Kingsbury that still embarrasses him.
"That was way over the top," the coach said. "I know the guy who wrote it. He's a good guy. He was just throwing it out there."
Kingsbury's game plan calls for throwing it out there, a lot, perhaps reviving the wild, wild West Texas days of Mike Leach. That's the intent isn't it, to go so fast that no one can keep up?
"In the SEC," he said referring to the Aggies’ pace of play that has been installed at Tech, "there were some old-school chain gangs that had a rough time last year."
Kingsbury was Leach's first quarterback. Today he is the well-coifed, well-dressed, well-paid Great American Bachelor Dream. Back then, Kingsbury got his first start as a freshman in 1999, following a Texas Tech loss to Texas by 51.
"I got the nod that Tuesday," he said. "I couldn’t sleep."
He then threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns in a 10-point win against Oklahoma. Leach arrived the next season. Kingsbury took off becoming only the third player to throw for 12,000 yards, have at least 11,900 yards in total offense and complete almost 1,200 passes (1,199).
There was that time as a sophomore when Kingsbury knew he was going to make it. After Kansas State smashed him one week, a letter from Bill Snyder showed up at the football office.
"I've never had a coach do that," Kingsbury said. "It was very complimentary about 'hanging in there and competing.' When you're a sophomore and you have Bill Snyder write you a letter, you gain a lot of confidence from that."
He talks openly about his cup of coffee with the Patriots and lessons learned -- or at least observed -- from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and a certain irascible offensive coordinator.
"Just watching him work with Tom on a daily basis," Kingsbury said of Charlie Weis, "that guy is an incredible coach and incredible quarterback mentor."
Just six years ago Kingsbury was a 28-year old quality control guy at Houston. Two years later, he was the position coach for Piland. A year after that in 2011, he had Keenum, who threw for 5,600 yards and 48 touchdowns in his final season.
There are issues at Texas Tech. Some of the seniors are on their third head coach. Even under Leach, the Red Raiders never reached a BCS bowl. The Big 12 is fluid but Tech conspicuously was one of only four schools not to get a first-place vote in the media’s preseason poll.
"We've got to get those kids being proud of Texas Tech again," Kingsbury said. "How fortunate they are to be part of that program. We don't owe them anything, they owe Texas Tech."
Now they are locked in behind their rock star. Practices are punctuated with music. Mostly rap but the offensive linemen prefer country. The only time they turn down the music is during special teams drills.
"I did the playlist during the spring," Kingsbury said. "I don't have time to stay up on the trends during the season. I'm going to have to pass it along to a GA I think."
One of the team's favorites speaks to their mindset: "Starting From The Bottom," by Drake. With a walk-on quarterback and a first-year head coach, it seems about fitting. Ask Kliff Kingsbury and the risin’ Red Raiders if they care.
"I love playing for him," Ward said. "This is what college is about."
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