The newly bowl eligible Longhorns are ready to host the Texas Tech Red Raiders this Friday. The Red Raiders are looking to add a sixth win to their resume which will send them to a bowl game. The Longhorns are looking to add a seventh win, finish the regular season strongly, and prepare for their yet to be announced bowl game.
There’s still plenty to play for and a lot seemingly hangs in the balance. After a quick start, Texas Tech has stumbled in five of its last six games. For Tech it’s simple, win and you’re in the postseason…lose and we’ll see you next season. The Longhorns already know they’re going bowling but they’re looking to seize the chance at finishing with an 8-5 record with a victory here and in their upcoming bowl game.
DATE & TIME: FRI, NOV 24, 7:00 PM CT
LOCATION: Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium
FORECAST: 66 Degrees, Winds S 5 MPH, 0% Chance of Precipitation
BETTING LINE: Texas -9
TEXAS TECH (5-6, 2-6)
The Red Raiders are trying to become bowl eligible with a victory this week after last week’s disappointing 27-3 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs. Speculation is running rampant that Kliff Kingsbury is on the proverbial coaching hot seat for his team’s disappointing showing this season. Whether or not that’s the case remains to be seen. What we do know for sure is that the Red Raiders still have an opportunity at compiling a .500 record and securing a bowl bid with a victory against the Longhorns on Friday night.
The most consistent aspect of Tech’s team has long been the offense. Unfortunately, the offense uncharacteristically sputtered a week ago against the robust TCU defense. Quarterback Nic Shimonek didn’t seem like himself in producing a paltry 17/33, 137 yard, 1 interception performance. Where the usually reliable Shimonek faltered, senior running back Justin Stockton shined. Stockton finished with 124 yards on 21 carries while averaging 5.9 yards per carry.
There’s no need to panic, Kingsbury’s Raiders just need to return to their bread and butter. The offensive line must provide Shimonek with enough time to connect with dangerous receivers like Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Keke Coutee. Coutee has 71 catches for 1,064 yards on the season and averages 15 yards per catch. Those are huge statistics going up against an aggressive Texas defense whose main weakness has been their proclivity to give up big pass plays.
Establishing a complimentary running game will benefit the passing game greatly. Forcing the Longhorn defense to respect the threat of the run will no doubt open up check down options for Shimonek. The Red Raiders would be wise to go back to the well and provide Justin Stockton with plenty of early carries to provide offensive balance. Elongating early offensive drives, while wearing down the Texas defense, will prove to be worth its weight in gold as the game progresses.
Defensively, the Red Raiders have been aggressive and defensive coordinator David Gibson makes no qualms about this. In theory, this scheme may sound like a good strategy when your team’s offense is as explosive as Tech’s can be. Unfortunately, this defensive mindset hasn’t stopped Tech from allowing an average of over 30 points per game. The simple fact is that Gibson’s aggressive defensive schemes often leave the Red Raiders in very vulnerable positions.
We’ll abstain from speculating further on Kingsbury’s status. But one cannot help but wonder whether the scuttlebutt concerning this matter will have an impact on the Red Raiders. The impact of this kind of perceived instability can either motivate this team, or hinder their efforts to keep fighting. At this point this season’s ending is up to the Red Raiders to decide in Austin.
TEXAS (6-5, 5-3)
Texas is coming off of a huge road win against the West Virginia Mountaineers in which the Longhorns became bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. After several narrow losses against tough opponents, Texas finally has an impressive conference win on which to hang its hat. The Longhorns cashed in on their opportunities after WVU quarterback, Will Grier, was knocked out early in the game. They now stare down the possibility of earning another win before heading into bowl season if they are able to strike down the beleaguered Texas Tech Red Raiders at home.
To put it mildly, the Longhorn offense has been sub par this season. However, last week’s return of All-American lineman, Connor Williams, seemed to spark an ignition. Texas racked up 233 rushing yards on 42 attempts to average 5.5 yards per carry. Though the Horns didn’t have a 100-yard rusher on the day, they did have four rushers average over 7 yards per carry. Sure, the Mountaineers have had a rough go of it against the run this season, but this was still an impressive effort from what had been an anemic Texas rushing attack.
Shane Buechele started last week at quarterback, but only completed 4-of-7 passes for 28 yards before being replaced by Sam Ehlinger in the first quarter. Ehlinger responded by going 12-of-19 for 136 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, to go along with 68 rushing yards. The only real blight on the day for Ehlinger was a very poor decision which led to an interception and pick-six while Texas was in the red zone. While Buechele is a fine quarterback, it’s a palpable feeling that this Texas team responds to Ehlinger as a leader.
Tom Herman announced earlier this week that he plans to start Sam Ehlinger against Texas Tech. It also appears that freshman running back Daniel Young will be getting the bulk of the carries after scoring a touchdown and gaining 85 yards on 12 carries a week ago. Fellow freshman, Toniel Carter, and sophomore Kyle Porter should receive plenty of carries as well if last week’s rotation is any indication of what’s to come. Establishing the run game will do wonders to alleviate the pressure on Ehlinger trying to keep up against what’s usually a quick-strike Red Raiders offense.
There’s no disputing that the best unit on the field in this game will be the Texas defense. While looking suspect in spots against the Kansas Jayhawks a week prior, the Longhorns looked much sharper against the Mountaineers. The Longhorns surrendered a season-low 295 yards of offense to WVU. While the defensive front of the Horns didn’t garner gaudy stats, they did make their presence felt which in turn assisted a secondary which recently lost one of its biggest playmakers.
If the loss of Holton Hill for the season made opposing offensive coordinators salivate, that optimism should now be muted a bit. Despite allowing a touchdown against WVU, defensive back Davante Davis looked much more comfortable than the week prior as he racked up 7 solo tackles. Fellow defensive backs Antwuan Davis, DeShon Elliot, Brandon Jones, and Jason Hall also made a big impact in helping fill the void. The Longhorns will need this kind of production from its defensive backfield to help stymie Nic Shimonek and the Texas Tech offense.
TEXAS KEYS TO THE GAME
Breathing Lightning – Nic Shimonek doesn’t need much time to pick you apart. Let him get comfortable and he will absolutely carve up defenses. Though the Longhorns have produced a solid defense this season, they have been prone to giving up big pass plays at times. It is imperative that the Horns produce a consistent pass rush to aid their secondary. If the likes of Malik Jefferson and Poona Ford can help do this, they may keep Shimonek from finding his groove and force him to make rare and costly mistakes.
Run To The Hills – The return of Connor Williams was huge. The presence and production of Williams appeared to turn a maligned group into one that seemed to possess some grit and nastiness last week. If Williams can help the Longhorns replicate their running game from a week ago, this will be most beneficial to their overall offensive effort. Run the ball, run it effectively, and take pressure off of Sam Ehlinger by keeping Shimonek and the Red Raider offense on the sideline.
Sam I Am – Tech’s defense has shown a tendency to struggle against mobile quarterbacks. Sam Ehlinger doesn’t need to try to force anything in this game. He simply has to make the most of what the Tech defense will give him. And from what we’ve seen lately they’ll give him quite a bit to work with. Make the run when the opportunity presents itself and make the safe pass. Don’t press and give Tech any more chances to convert on any mistakes.
TEXAS TECH KEYS TO THE GAME
Fire Your Guns – Despite last week’s offensive undoing, all is not lost. Consider last week’s 3 point output an aberration. The Red Raiders still possess plenty of offensive weaponry which can strike quickly and change the outlook of this matchup. If Tech can play efficient offense and convert on big-play opportunities, then the onus will be on the inconsistent Texas offense to play keep up. Get Shimonek going early.
Delivering The Goods – Tech needs to avoid letting outside factors cloud their vision. The bowl game is still there for the taking. The explosive offense must avoid making offensive mistakes against this opportunistic defense. Winning the turnover battle, or keeping it even at the very least, will maximize their chances of winning, and the Raiders have shown the ability to make these kinds of things happen. The Red Raiders also need to minimize harmful penalties which will impair momentum building drives. If they can do these things, then the Red Raiders can set the tone for the game and force Texas to play by its rules.
The Third Of The Storms – Tech’s defense may still leave quite a bit to be desired, but it has shown improvement. Their defensive focus must be in stopping the Longhorns in third down situations and forcing them to punt. The Texas offense appears improved with Sam Ehlinger under center, but he’s still a freshman recovering from recent injuries. The Tech defense needs to exploit Ehlinger’s shortcomings and keep him from converting crucial third down situations and extending drives.
The Texas offense won’t set the world on fire like Tech’s, that’s for sure. However, the Texas defense is a solid group which will frustrate and confound Nic Shimonek on a consistent basis. I fully expect the Red Raiders to put up a fight for a good portion of this game before the Texas defense and running game take control.