Proof Kliff Kingsbury Is the Quarterback Whisperer

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Proof Kliff Kingsbury Is the Quarterback Whisperer

Kliff Kingsbury is to quarterbacks what Robert Redford is to horses. It seems as though every gunslinger that Kingsbury gets his hands on turns into a superstar that puts up video-game numbers.

Maybe it's Kingsbury's history in West Texas that makes him the perfect guy for the Texas Tech job. 

"I told them, 'I've done everything you've done on and off the field,' so there's no place you can go or do that I haven't done," Kingsbury said at Big 12 media days. "So maybe that provides me some street cred." 

The new head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders has his team at 7-0 and ranked No. 10 in the BCS standings. Kingsbury is also the first coach in Big 12 history to start his career 7-0, per Athlon Sports

Most of the Red Raiders' success this season has been a result of Kingsbury's prolific passing attack. Texas Tech ranks second in the country with 416.4 yards through the air per game, according to ESPN

What's even more fascinating about Texas Tech's aerial assault in 2013 is who's been at the reins. Baker Mayfield, a freshman walk-on quarterback, started the team's first five games and won them all. His best showing was in Week 1 against SMU, where he racked up 413 yards and four passing touchdowns with no interceptions. 

But in Week 6, Mayfield went down with a knee injury in the third quarter against the Kansas Jayhawks, a game in which he had already thrown for 368 yards. That forced Davis Webb, another freshman, into the game. 

Since then, Webb has started the last two games in Mayfield's abscence. And Webb hasn't skipped a beat. In his two starts, he threw for almost 900 yards and tossed five touchdown passes.  

Texas Tech's Passing Numbers
Player Starts Comp Att Comp % Yards TD INT Rating
Mayfield 5 132 201 65.7 1,488 8 5 136.0
Webb 2 107 176 60.8 1,427 11 5 143.8

ESPN

Nobody saw this type of season coming, not even Kingsbury. 

At the beginning of the season, Kingsbury wasn't even sure how his quarterbacks would react to the pressure of prime-time football.

"You don't know how they're going to react when the lights come on," Kingsbury said at Big 12 media days. "How do they keep plays alive?  How do they lead when things are going bad?  There's definitely a lot of those elements. Hopefully, it turns out like it did last year for us and makes it a lot of fun."

Kingsbury is a magician, especially with first-year signal-callers. Just go back one year, when he was the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin coaching up the Heisman Trophy-winner. 

In his one season at College Station, he turned Johnny Manziel into the first ever freshman to win the Heisman. Kingsbury had such an impact on Manziel that the quarterback invited his offensive coordinator to New York City for the trophy presentation. 

/Getty Images

It was Kingsbury's experience in developing Manziel that he says helps with turning Mayfield and Webb into great field generals. 

"Having worked with a younger guy last year, first-time starter, you learn the good and bad and how much he can handle, how much you can put on him," Kingsbury said. "Obviously, he was an exceptional case, but it definitely helps dealing with a first-time starter last year."

Manziel is certainly one of Kingsbury's greatest accomplishments as a coach. But what might be more impressive is his work in his first stint at Houston. 

Former Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum is the NCAA's all-time leader in passing with over 19,000 yards during his illustrious career. He's not just the only quarterback in college history to break 19,000 yards. 

What's most noticeable about Keenum's tenure with the Cougars is his jump in production from 2007 to 2008, Kingsbury's first year as an assistant at Houston. 

Case Keenum's Career Stats
Year Yards Comp % TD Int Rating
2007 2,259 68.5 14 10 147.6
2008 (Kingsbury's first year) 5,020 67.4 44 11 159.9
2009 5,671 70.3 44 15 154.8
2010 (Only played in 3 games) 636 65.6 5 5 159.3
2011 5,631 71.0 48 5 174.0

Sports Reference

And what really stands out about Kingsbury's time in Houston isn't Keenum's success. It's the play of his backups in 2010 after Keenum tore his ACL three games into the season. 

Houston Cougars 2010 QB Stats (Min. 30 pass attempts)
Player Yards Comp % TD Int Rating
David Piland 2,641 58.3 24 14 137.4
Terrance Broadway 424 71.4 3 1 175.0
Cotton Turner 180 74.2 2 0 144.3
Case Keenum 636 65.6 5 5 159.3

Sports Reference

Despite finishing the 2010 season just 5-7, Houston still possessed one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the nation.  

According to ESPN, the Cougars ranked ninth in the NCAA that year in passing yards (3,927) and eighth in passing touchdowns (34). 

Kingsbury's NCAA Offensive Ranks
Year Team Total Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank
2008 Houston 2 2
2009 Houston 1 1
2010 Houston 11 5
2011 Houston 1 1
2012 Texas A&M 3 14
2013 (through 7 games) Texas Tech 6 2

ESPN

Kingsbury's success shouldn't surprise anybody, as he's done it as a player. From 2000-02, Kingsbury was the star of the Texas Tech offense as its quarterback. His best year was his senior season, when he aired it out for 5,017 yards, the fourth-most in school history according to the team's media guide

/Getty Images

Kingsbury is still second in Texas Tech history in career passing yards with 12,423, trailing only Graham Harrell in that category. 

After college, Kingsbury was drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. But his pro career fizzled out after spending time with five different NFL teams, as well as stints in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League. 

But Kingsbury's NFL legacy lives on through Keenum, who just started his first game with the Houston Texans.  

/Getty Images

Just this past Sunday, Keenum nearly upset the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, losing 17-16. In that game, he actually looked pretty good, becoming just the second quarterback to throw for over 270 yards against the Chiefs this year. The only other guy to do that was Tony Romo in Week 2. 

Kingsbury attributes his success to the spread offense. 

"I think it's a great equalizer," Kingsbury said. "If you're playing against pure athletes, then it's a great equalizer. We'll take any advantages we can get." 

One of the criticisms of the spread offense in college is that the quarterbacks often can't translate that talent to NFL. Colt Brennan from Hawaii and Texas Tech's own Graham Harrell are examples of guys that couldn't make it professionally after playing in the spread offense in college. 

But Keenum's showing against the Chiefs, along with the success Colin Kaepernick and Chip Kelly's jump to the NFL, proves the scheme is slowly translating to the pros. 

For now, all Kingsbury wants to do is keep his team's dream of a Big 12 title going. 

And as Texas Tech looks to build its BCS resume, one thing is for certain: Kingsbury will continue to mold his signal-callers into superstars, which could potentially turn the Red Raiders into one of the elite teams in college football for years to come.  

 

*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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