Tom Keegan: Time to give Ryan Willis four quarters

Kansas sophomore quarterback Ryan Willis throws passes during practice on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016.

Kansas sophomore quarterback Ryan Willis throws passes during practice on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

— The Masked Rider, guns up, dressed in a Lone Ranger mask, black gaucho hat, black shirt and red cape, sits atop a horse that sprints 100 yards on turf and leads the Texas Tech football team onto the field. That’s when the adrenaline starts pumping in Jones AT & T Stadium. It’s the coolest football tradition in the Big 12.

Then Patrick Mahomes II, son of the former major-league pitcher and quite the pitcher himself, takes it from there. He keeps up the pace set by the Masked Rider, throws accurate passes, short, medium and long, to platoons of receivers, and is the coolest football player in the Big 12.

At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Mahomes is bigger than the Kansas linebackers who will try to bring him down when he takes off and runs, which isn’t often.

Mahomes has thrown 14 touchdown passes and two interceptions. The Red Raiders average 11.3 yards every time he attempts a pass and he has been sacked four times in three games.

Mahomes steadily develops, his statistics improving with each year. A year ago in Lawrence, he and then freshman Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis produced nearly identical passing statistics, a game won by Texas Tech, 30-20.

Mahomes completed 30 of 51 passes for 359 yards, one interception and one touchdown, Willis 35 of 50 for 330 yards, one interception and two touchdowns. Mahomes was sacked five times, Willis twice.

If the quarterbacks played to a virtual statistical tie 49 weeks ago, it could happen again. Why then does is sound like such a fantasy? For one, Willis hasn’t been given a shot at running the team as a starter, though tonight (7:30 kickoff) would seem like the perfect time to do so. Here’s the ball. It’s yours for the entire game, no matter what happens.

Tech starts eight newcomers to the program on defense and ranks 124th among 128 FBS schools in total yards allowed per game (531.3). Look at it this way: What quarterback do you suppose the Texas Tech coaching staff doesn't want to see sprint onto the field?