Brooks, Thompson give Tech run game one-two punch

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Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks breaks loss against Mississippi State during the Red Raiders' 34-7 victory at the Liberty Bowl. Brooks finished the night with 107 rushing yards and finished the season with 568 yards, making him Tech's leading rusher.
Texas Tech running back Tahj Brooks breaks loss against Mississippi State during the Red Raiders' 34-7 victory at the Liberty Bowl. Brooks finished the night with 107 rushing yards and finished the season with 568 yards, making him Tech's leading rusher.

Texas Tech football coach Joey McGuire and offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, when it comes to their skill-position personnel, have plenty to ponder in the month between now and preseason practice.

Among the topics to be hashed out: Whom to play at quarterback. How to keep three tight ends involved while also feeding an array of wide receivers. Even how to use two running backs and how often to put SaRodorick Thompson and Tahj Brooks in the game together.

"That's something we've been talking about," McGuire said recently, "because we do feel like those two guys are two of our better guys on offense, and so we have (discussed it) some. We put a little bit in in the spring, but it's something they've been meeting on: Do we want to do more 20 personnel (two running backs, zero tight ends) at times to get those two guys in the game."

Texas Tech senior SaRodorick Thompson is on the brink of 2,000 career rushing yards as he begins his fifth season with the Red Raiders in 2022. Thompson rushed for an even 500 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, his third consecutive season with at least 500 yards and eight rushing TDs.
Texas Tech senior SaRodorick Thompson is on the brink of 2,000 career rushing yards as he begins his fifth season with the Red Raiders in 2022. Thompson rushed for an even 500 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, his third consecutive season with at least 500 yards and eight rushing TDs.

Running back is among the least of the new staff's concerns. Other than Texas, with Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, Tech is the only team in the Big 12 that returns two running backs who each rushed for at least 500 yards last season.

Brooks, a 5-foot-10, 223-pound junior, carried 87 times for 568 yards and seven touchdowns. Thompson, a 6-0, 212-pound senior, carried 107 times for 500 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, increasing his career numbers over four seasons to 1,980 yards and 33 rushing TDs.

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Their finest hour together came in Tech's 34-7 conquest of Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, where they took turns in the tone-setting first half carving up the Bulldogs' previously staunch rushing defense. Brooks finished the night with 107 yards, Thompson with 80.

"The two old guys had really good springs," McGuire said. "SaRodorick, I felt, really bought in to ... He's a physical guy, but really bought in to, I was calling it the 'dirty four': Just get between the tackles and be physical when we have to be."

Brooks averaged only 3.7 yards per carry two years ago as a true freshman, giving the appearance of a productive back with limited ability to make big plays. Last season, he popped four runs of longer than 40 yards. He broke out in the first two games of the season, rushing for 134 yards at Houston, 103 against Stephen F. Austin and scoring two touchdowns in each game.

He would have had bigger season totals, but missed the first four Big 12 games with an injury.

Texas Tech running back Cam'Ron Valdez (27) came out of spring third team at running back behind junior Tahj Brooks and fifth-year senior  SaRodorick Thompson.
Texas Tech running back Cam'Ron Valdez (27) came out of spring third team at running back behind junior Tahj Brooks and fifth-year senior SaRodorick Thompson.

"Tahj is key, I think, to this team," McGuire said. "I think everybody knows when he's healthy, he brings a different running back back there. He's a very complete back. When we play teams like North Carolina State (on Sept. 17), it's key because they're going to bring a lot of pressure and that back's going to have to be able to protect. He's really good in protection.

"SaRodorick is coming on with that. So I feel really good at running back with those guys."

Defensive line outlook: Texas Tech defense counting on Tyree Wilson, Jesiah Pierre to bring heat off the edge

The presence of Brooks and Thompson freed the new staff to return Xavier White to receiver after two years at running back. White, a 1,000-yard receiver his senior year at Monterey, rushed for 436 yards at 7.0 yards per carry in 2020 and for 310 yards at 4.6 yards per carry in 2021.

White's move leaves Cam'Ron Valdez to pick up what carries remain. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound redshirt freshman from Rockdale was a career 4,000-yard rusher in high school. He's a different style of back compared to Brooks and Thompson.

"The guy that really surprised me from the start to finish of spring was Cam'Ron Valdez," McGuire said. "Cam'Ron brings a totally different dynamic than those (other) two because he's really your scatback and a speedster. I think the majority of reps will run through those other two guys, but I feel good about whenever he's in there."

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Tech football: Brooks, Thompson give Red Raiders run game a double tap