Texas Tech's Symons erases doubts, records

Football: The senior quarterback who played just 18 games the previous three years is now the top passer in Division I-A.

October 18, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

B.J. Symons wants to personally thank everyone who thought the Texas Tech offense was going to suffer from some sort of post-traumatic syndrome with the departure of record-setting quarterback Kliff Kingsbury after last season.

Symons sat out as a redshirt his freshman year, barely played the two seasons after that, and in 2002 was used basically to finish blowout games. This season, he has made those who doubted him develop a medical condition of their own: amnesia.

Many have forgotten what they said.

Others can't seem to remember that Kingsbury ever came through Lubbock.

In leading the Red Raiders to a 5-1 record going into today's game at No. 23 Oklahoma State, Symons is not only the nation's leading Division I-A passer, but he has also already obliterated several school and Big 12 records set by Kingsbury. Symons even set a four-game NCAA record, then broke it the next week.

"I've always been underestimated," Symons said earlier this week. "Every time we take the field, we take the field with a chip on our shoulder, we take the field with an attitude that we have something to prove. I personally feel like I have something to prove."

Symons, who grew up in Houston watching Oilers quarterback Warren Moon execute the run-and-shoot, has proved that he is just as effective as Kingsbury in the high-scoring offense Mike Leach brought to Texas Tech four years ago.

Completing 222 (67.3 percent) of the 330 passes he has attempted for a computer-glitching 2,954 yards, Symons has thrown 27 touchdowns passes and has been intercepted only six times.

When Leach was asked to compare Symons to Kingsbury and some of the other quarterbacks he has coached - including Tim Couch at Kentucky and Josh Heupel, who led Oklahoma to a national championship in 2000 - Leach didn't blink.

"He compares to any of 'em," Leach said on the Big 12 teleconference this week. "He's smart, he's a good student of the game, just constantly trying to improve. ... I think he's got a good overall package."

But given what Kingsbury accomplished under Leach, including throwing for a school- and conference-record 45 touchdowns last season, could Symons simply be a product of an offensive system that features multiple passing formations, most out of the shotgun?

The question chafes the coach and the quarterback - a lot.

"If B.J. is a product of the system that means that he's not getting any of those touchdown passes or yards. That means that our coaching staff is," said Leach, who doubles as offensive coordinator. "That would also mean that we could go down to 7-Eleven and get the clerk behind the counter and let him play quarterback."

Preseason magazines didn't mention Symons among the nation's top 60 quarterbacks - one even suggested that prized recruit Phillip Daugherty would start as a freshman. But the 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior has used those slights to his advantage.

"Basically, that kind of stuff is more motivation for me," said Symons. "I already had doubters coming into the season, even with the success I'm having and we're having, we still have doubters. If it were that easy, everyone would do it."

Symons threw for a school- and conference-record 661 yards against Mississippi in Oxford on Sept. 27, then tossed eight touchdown passes without an interception the next week against Texas A&M. His 2,170 yards in one four-game stretch broke an NCAA record. His current stretch of four games is 2,239 yards.

Recruited by several other big-time programs - Leach, then an assistant at Oklahoma, tried to get his current quarterback to commit to the Sooners - Symons came to Lubbock knowing that Kingsbury was only a year ahead of him but confident he would get a fair shot at a starting job.

It didn't happen. Symons got into 18 games over his first three years in uniform, playing only once (against Baylor as a sophomore) when the outcome was still in doubt. Not only did it leave fans and media questioning how good Symons could be, it left Symons wondering, too.

"There was a little bit of doubt in myself going into the season, that I hadn't been out there and been in the heat of the battle for a full game," he said. "My first game there was some nervousness and hesitation and wanting to do all the things that everybody was telling me. I was listening to too many people rather than just going out there and playing my game."

Symons knows that as the Heisman hype heats up - right now he is considered one of the favorites along with Virginia Tech tailback Kevin Jones, N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White - more teams will be trying to slow him down.

Given that the Red Raiders play the No. 23 Cowboys and vastly improved Missouri in the next two weeks, and close the season next month with Texas and Oklahoma, Symons is realistic enough to know that his current run can't last. Or can it?

"The outside perception going into the season was that we were going to fall off a little bit. Offensively and as a team, we were thinking completely the opposite, that we were only going to get better," said Symons.

One question: On which shoulder does Symons' chip reside these days?

"I think," he said, "it might be on both."

Bursting onto Heisman scene

Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons has thrown himself into the Heisman race with five games in a row of more than 400 yards passing.

Date Opponent Att. Com. Pct. Yds. TD Int.

8/30 SMU........... 38 23 60.5 297 3 1

9/6 New Mexico 54 37 68.5 418 5 1

9/20 at N.C. State 63 39 61.9 586 2 1

9/27 at Miss. ....... 64 44 68.8 661 6 1

10/4 Texas A&M 46 34 73.9 505 8 0

10/11 Iowa State .... 65 45 69.2 487 3 2

Tot. ................... ....... 330 222 67.3 2,954 27 6

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