Why quarterback Henry Colombi earned his chance to start at Texas Tech

Elise Bressler/Texas Tech Athletics

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Meeting someone through Zoom isn’t quite like being in the same room. But even from afar, Colombi's cool and collected demeanor projects through the screen.

“He has a calmness about himself,” Texas Tech defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “He has a presence about himself. He believes in himself and his ability.”

When Colombi got the call that he would start over the bye week, he didn't celebrate long. Immediately, he was ready to get back to work and prepare for the biggest game of his life. 

“[The talk] was pretty quick,” Texas Tech coach Matt Wells said. “He was excited, but pretty level headed. It was a fairly quick conversation.” 

Colombi was originally recruited by Wells and his staff from Hollywood, Fla., to Utah State and backed up Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love for two years. When he had the chance to rejoin the staff at Texas Tech, he jumped at the opportunity, even as he knew there were no guarantees of playing time behind Alan Bowman. 

However, his calm and poised personality has quickly shown itself on the football field during his short tenure in Lubbock and convincingly earned him the chance to start his first college football game on Saturday against West Virginia. Colombi’s numbers in relief have been good: 74.1 percent completion, 359 passing yards and three touchdowns in limited time. More importantly, the offense has played far more consistently with Colombi under center. 

“I felt the change to Henry gives us the best chance to play better on offense,” Wells said. “That’s how I evaluated it. It’s not Alan’s fault – it’s that when Henry’s gotten in, he’s moved us.” 

To compare, we analyzed all the drives both Bowman and Colombi have played against Power Five competition in 2020. To try and be as precise as possible, we did not include any drives that ended short at halftime and credited the drive Bowman was injured against Kansas State to both quarterbacks since they shared the drive. Still, the numbers were stark.

Quarterback Drives Plays Per Drive Yards Per Drive Drive Length TDs Punts
Alan Bowman 27 4.7 25.5 1:37 7 13
Henry Colombi 11 9.0 52.0 3:16 4 2

When Colombi is under center, Texas Tech’s offense stays on the field for nearly twice the number of plays, holds the ball for twice the possession length and is far more likely to score touchdowns and far less likely to punt. Two other Colombi drives ended with missed field goals. If Trey Wolff netted kicks of 33 and 35 yards, more than half of Colombi’s drives would result in points, even while playing Iowa State and Kansas State – two of the saltiest defenses in the Big 12.

Colombi has excelled at putting together long drives. Five of his 11 drives went 10 plays or more and every one lasted more than a minute of game time. He has just a single three-and-out as a Red Raider. To the contrary, 11 of Bowman’s drives ended under one minute and eight went three-and-out, which puts incredible stress on the growing Red Raider defense. 

The data clearly matches the eye test. When Colombi entered the game against Iowa State, Texas Tech put together its first touchdown drive of the game. Texas Tech’s staff repeatedly noted that the quarterbacks need to do a better job of working through progressions, and the ISU drive was a perfect example. Colombi completed six passes to five different receivers and scrambled three times to set up first downs. 

There’s many factors that have gone into Colombi’s success. His ability to scramble and keep his eyes downfield allows him to avoid negative plays. His accuracy and quick decision-making has stood out on the tape. The calmness that Colombi exudes during interviews is in full display on the field, even as the Red Raiders try to claw their way back from deficits. Colombi was also recruited to Utah State specifically to run this system. His expertise is paying off. 

“This offense is one I’ve run as long as I’ve been in college,” Colombi said. “It’s one that I’m comfortable with and one that I understand. I think it's just about trying to run the offense, do what we do every day at practice. It's not focusing on that one big play, it's putting plays together."

Granted, Colombi has the benefit of coming off the bench and facing teams that did not gameplan for his specific skill set. He was able to take advantage of Kansas State’s defense with his legs, running for 40 yards. Iowa State sniffed out the run earlier and held him to 1.8 yards per carry. 

“Certainly that’s the key now for Henry is the consistency drive after drive, the ability to sustain success and be aggressive moving the ball down the field,” Wells said. “When you put 13 or 14 series a game together then the ability to make an in-game adjustment and take what Coach Yost is telling him on the headset and taking it to the next series, it’s key for any quarterback, but especially a guy in his first start to do that.” 

Colombi’s first trial is by fire. West Virginia fields the No. 1 defense in the nation and leads the Big 12 in both passing and rushing defense. The game plan against West Virginia won’t change much with Colombi in the game versus what it would have been with Bowman, but the staff hopes clean execution can make all the difference.

“There’s certain plays that he probably feels better about in our dropback game,” offensive coordinator David Yost said. “When he has to go to a check, they kind of have a different flavor of how they get to it, but there’s a lot of similarities. He was able to add to the scramble part. There’s a lot of the same stuff in how we would be attacking West Virginia’s defense, it’s how he’ll go out and execute it.”

Texas Tech faces off against West Virginia at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2. 

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