Big 12 Bowl games are about to get underway, and it starts with Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders received and invitation to the Birmingham Bowl, where they will face defending Birmingham Bowl winner, South Florida. And while the Bull’s win over South Carolina last season may not have been enough for the Bowl to get USF’s name right on the official t-shirts, Texas Tech cannot overlook the Bulls.
DATE & TIME: SAT, Dec 23, 11:00 CT
LOCATION: Legion Field (Birmingham, Alabama)
FORECAST: High 50s, 90% chance of rain
BETTING LINE: USF -3
It will be the first ever meeting between these two programs. Although Texas Tech has never seen South Florida before, the Red Raiders are very familiar with their first year head coach Charlie Strong. Kliff Kingsbury was 1-2 against Strong during his short tenure in Austin.
Charlie Strong was treated poorly at Texas, but he was never a great fit. After being forced out, Strong returned to the state of Florida. Picking up right where Willie Taggart left off, Strong has gotten things rolling quickly in Tampa, leading the Bulls to a 9-2 record behind the arm of Quinton Flowers.
Flowers is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the game. A true dual threat, Flowers has thrown for 2,600 yards and 21 touchdowns while also adding nearly 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Flowers is the motor of this Bulls offense and he is a nightmare matchup for almost every defense.
Luckily for Texas Tech, the Red Raiders hail from the Big 12 and they have a lot of experience in facing elite quarterbacks.
Texas Tech snuck into this bowl after pulling off an upset of the Texas Longhorns to boost the Red Raiders to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. That gutsy win in Austin may have saved Coach Kingsbury’s job. A win against South Florida will leave no doubt that Kingsbury is the right guy heading into the 2018 season.
The Red Raiders are led by senior quarterback Nick Shimonek. However, McLane Carter started the season finale against the Longhorns before being pulled in favor of Shimonek. Shimonek may have very well saved Kingsbury’s job with his clutch performance in the fourth quarter. Thus, we fully expect Shimonek to start his last game as a Red Raider as he clearly gave Texas Tech their best chance to win against Texas. Shimonek enters this matchup with 3,500 passing yards this year, adding 31 touchdowns to only eight interceptions.
Shimonek is flanked by a talented receiving core led by Biletnikoff finalist Keke Coutee. Coutee is one of the fastest players in the country. He has 1,242 yards receiving along with 9 touchdowns on the year.
Perhaps the biggest story of the season for Texas Tech is the evolution of their defense. David Gibbs unit has turned a corner this season. The Red Raider defense is led by Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks. Texas Tech prides themselves on forcing turnovers as they currently lead the Big 12 with 27 takeaways. The South Florida offense versus the Texas Tech defense will be the key matchup to monitor in this game.
Texas Tech Keys To The Game
CONTAIN QUINTON FLOWERS – It cannot be stressed enough that Flowers is the heartbeat of the USF offense. If Texas Tech is able to slow down Flowers, they will have a good shot at pulling off the upset. Easier said than done, but the Red Raider defense must at least take Flowers out of his comfort zone to avoid the full onslaught of the Bull offense. Look for David Gibbs to dial up a few early blitzes to disrupt Flower’s rhythm.
FEED COUTEE – Keke Coutee is the best offensive player for the Red Raiders. The junior wide out is a threat to go to the house every time he touches the ball. Kingsbury must be sure to get the wide out the ball in space and let him work. South Florida doesn’t see speed like his very often in the American Athletic Conference.
START FAST – Texas Tech needs to set the tone early on and try to take an early lead. You don’t want to have to play from behind against this prolific South Florida offense. Texas Tech will score their share of points, but the defense must get off the field in the first quarter and create some stops if the Red Raiders want to truly have a shot at winning this game.
South Florida is favored by Vegas by three and, to be frank, I view that as quite generous for Texas Tech. South Florida is the better team, and I don’t expect any miraculous performance from the Red Raiders to spark an upset. Although, I expect this game to be competitive. Weather could play a factor, but USF will pull away in the second half to win comfortably in a high scoring game.