Into the fire: Shimonek taking the heat that comes with Tech quarterback territory

As the starting quarterback at Texas Tech, Nic Shimonek’s living a scenario he sketched out as a possibility seven months ago.

 

Shimonek wasn’t disillusioned, back around the end of spring practice, when he said, “At Texas Tech, the quarterback’s either the hero or the zero.

“You either win the game — everybody’s happy or everybody’s hyping you up — or if you lose, whether it was your fault or not, people are going to direct the blame toward you,” he said. “It’s a lot of unfair scrutiny both ways.”

Shimonek concluded, though, that he was quite willing to be that lightning rod.

Sure enough, for the fifth-year senior in his first year to start, the scenario he described has played out almost exactly. Shimonek’s gone from being lauded during the Red Raiders’ 3-0 start — some wondered whether he might be even better for Texas Tech’s spread-passing game than the flashy first-round draft choice Patrick Mahomes II — to being derided by others as Texas Tech’s worst Air Raid-era quarterback during a recent four-game losing streak.

Tech’s sitting at 5-5, 2-5 in the Big 12. Shimonek was reminded Monday of his statements from the spring and asked how he’s handled the heat directed at him the past several weeks.

“I think I’ve done a good job,” he said. “Whenever you start the season 3-and-0, you’re the greatest. Whenever you lose a couple, it’s like you’re the worst player on the team.

“In here, in this building, we know what we’re capable of. Usually the naysayers and things like that are people on the outside, so I don’t put a lot of stock into that. I’m not losing any sleep over it, and I’m having fun with the guys that I’ve been training with for the last three or four years.

“So no matter what they say about me, whenever I leave here, I gave everything I had and I had a good time doing it, so I won’t have any regrets.”

To outsiders who don’t live and die with Texas Tech on a daily basis, Shimonek might seem an odd target for harsh criticism. In the FBS, he ranks No. 6 in passing yards per game (average, 331.4), No. 7 in passing touchdowns (28) and No. 10 in passing efficiency (160.8 rating).

The only other quarterbacks to rank in the top 10 in all three categories are Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma, Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State and Will Grier from West Virginia. The only others who are top 10 in two of the three are Drew Lock from Missouri, Riley Ferguson from Memphis and Justice Hansen from Arkansas State.

That hasn’t stopped some Tech followers from yearning for sophomore McLane Carter or redshirt freshman Jett Duffey to get a shot.

As the season’s gone south, so has the team’s offensive production in the second half. That’s part of what brings Shimonek in for harsh scrutiny.

The Red Raiders scored seven third-quarter points each and zero fourth-quarter points in losses against West Virginia, Iowa State and Oklahoma. The Red Raiders were a little more productive in the loss to Kansas State — 14 third-quarter points, seven fourth-quarter points — and scored 10 in the third and seven in the fourth in last week’s win against Baylor.

But that’s five games in a row with zero or seven points in the fourth quarter.

Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury took the blame for that Tuesday, saying he needs to call better plays, and ones Shimonek’s more comfortable with, late. Told of Kingsbury’s assessment, Shimonek indicated it was just his coach trying to take responsibility and take the heat for his QB.

In the meantime, Shimonek says he can take the criticism that comes with the territory, though. He has people who love him, though. How do they feel?

“My mom is very protective,” he said. “My dad doesn’t have a Twitter (account) or anything, so he doesn’t know, but my mom does. She gets worked up.”

Same with his big brother and his girlfriend, Shimonek said. Big brother Jake Shimonek, no Twitter but knows the territory being a former athlete himself. Nic’s girlfriend, riled.

“Kayla, yeah, Kayla gets (angry),” Shimonek said. “I’ve got to tell her and my mom both they need to chill out.”

Shimonek saw it from the other side last season as Mahomes’ backup. When Mahomes got hurt against Kansas, Shimonek came in and threw four touchdowns. When Mahomes played less than his best in a few games afterward, Shimonek said he heard from some who wanted to see a change at quarterback.

Now Mahomes is with the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, being groomed behind veteran Alex Smith.

“Actually, I did talk to Pat about that,” Shimonek said, “and he said if they go three-and-out, he’ll get Twitter notifications that he (Mahomes) needs to be playing and should have been starting the whole time. And Alex has a chance to win MVP this year.”

College football

Who: TCU at Texas Tech

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Jones AT&T Stadium

Records: TCU 8-2, 5-2 in Big 12; Texas Tech 5-5, 2-5

Rankings (AP/coaches/CFP): TCU 11/14/12; Texas Tech unranked

TV: Fox Sports 1

Last game: Oklahoma 38, TCU 20; Texas Tech 38, Baylor 24

Last meeting: Texas Tech 27, TCU 24 (2OT) last year in Fort Worth

Line: TCU by 7

 

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