If you’re looking for two teams with completely contrasting styles this is the game for you. Texas Tech is well-known for running an up tempo offense that is built to score quickly and often, while UTEP’s offense is built to have prolonged scoring drives that grind down a defense. Last year these contrasting styles made for an exciting 30 to 26 Tech victory that wasn’t decided until UTEP failed to convert a 4th down with just 1:23 left in the fourth quarter. This year the Red Raiders looking for a more decisive victory.
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 12th at 12:00 PM CST
WHERE: Jones AT&T Stadium (Lubbock, Texas)
FORECAST: Cloudy, Wind 8-10 mph, Game Temp 68°F
TV: Fox Sports Net
BETTING LINE: Texas Tech -21 (O/U 64.5)
UTEP opened their 2015 campaign with a mistake-filled 13 to 48 loss on the road to the 18th ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. Unfortunately the Miners schedule doesn’t get any easier as they head to the South Plains to face Texas Tech this Saturday. In their debut UTEP gave up 490 yards which isn’t all that surprising, the fact that 308 of those yards came through the air is somewhat shocking. The Razorbacks used their running game to set up their play action passing game which was extremely effective. The Miners held the ball for 35 minutes and 43 seconds which is astounding when you consider they only ran 53 plays for a total of 204 yards, which is one play every 40 seconds.
If they want to survive their game against Texas Tech, UTEP cannot afford to get into a shootout with the Red Raiders. In order to avoid letting the Tech receivers run loose UTEP fans will have to hope that their young secondary will be aided by the return of Traun Roberson and that the coaches have solved some of the glaring issues that Arkansas revealed. UTEP will need to get their offensive attack on track and Aaron Jones is the most likely candidate to lead that charge.
UTEP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Aaron Jones – Last year Jones had a field day against the Texas Tech defense rushing for 144 yards and two touchdowns while also adding 10 yards on two receptions. UTEP will need a similar effort in this game to help the Miners keep the Red Raiders offense on the sideline. Last week Jones amassed 153 total yards on 83 receiving yards and 70 rushing yards against a good Arkansas defense, that equates to 75% of the Miners offensive yardage production. This week he should find a few more holes and missed tackles to make some big plays which should loosen up the defense for the passing game.
Mack Leftwich – The red shirt sophomore went 9 of 14 for 120 yards and one interception last week against Arkansas. Aaron Jones will undoubtedly be Texas Tech’s focus on defense and Leftwich will have to do his best to sell the play action passes and make the Tech defense pay if they start to focus too much on stopping Jones. In his limited play action opportunities Leftwich cannot afford to make any mistakes with the ball.
Roy Robertson-Harris – The senior who started in all of UTEP’s games last season and was the defensive leader of the team in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles only had two assists on tackles last weekend against Arkansas. The Miners have a very young and inexperienced defense this year, they will need Roberson-Harris to step up in a big way if they expect to slow down a Red Raider attack that looked good last weekend.
UTEP’S KEYS TO THE GAME
Slow it down – UTEP’s best defensive strategy for Texas Tech might be having their offense stay on the field for as long possible. In order for the offense to stay on the field for as long as possible they’ll want to duplicate last weekends 40 seconds per play average, and add in as many long and grinding drives as possible.
Win the turnover battle – The Miners lost 2 fumbles and threw an interception last week while Texas Tech managed four takeaways. Survival for UTEP will start with protecting the ball and forcing as many turnovers as possible to keep Tech’s offense sidelined.
Relieve Aaron Jones – As long as Aaron Jones is the only viable threat on offense opponents will continue to flood the box with defenders and focus on him. In order for defenses to back off a UTEP has to develop other offensive weapons so Jones can get relieve and some breathing room. It will be a long game and season if Jones is the rushing and receiving leader, he’s a special talent no doubt but he needs help from his teammates to truly flourish.
WHAT UTEP FANS WANT TO SEE
A football game from long ago. UTEP fans will want to see a lot of long drives that take as much time off of the clock as possible. If UTEP can find even one big play maker in their receiving corps it will make their offense better for this game and for the season. The biggest thing to look for is positive movement towards getting better on both sides of the ball and that should be enough for most Miner fans.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS
Texas Tech opened 2015 with a 59-45 victory over FCS opponent Sam Houston State. The Red Raiders offense came out firing on all cylinders amassing 611 yards on 437 yards passing and 174 yards rushing. This is the Air Raid offense that Red Raider fans have been waiting to see since Kliff Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock. Patrick Mahomes cemented his status as the starting QB after a 425 yard and 4 TD passing day that went along with 48 yards rushing which earned him Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
The David Gibbs era as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator did not start out as well as most fans had hoped. Texas Tech’s defense currently ranks 122nd in FBS for total yards which is only a slight improvement from their 125th ranked defense last season. To his credit Gibbs has said that the defense would be focused on holding opponents scoring down and turnover creation instead of yardage totals. The Red Raiders accomplished one of those missions with 4 takeaways last weekend but they failed to keep scoring down as the Bearkats scored 45 points and amassed 637 yards. Turning around a defense that was as bad as Tech’s might take more than one-off season and based on last Saturday’s results it certainly looks like it will.
TEXAS TECH PLAYERS TO WATCH
Patrick Mahomes – Could Patrick Mahomes be the most important recruit that Kliff Kingsbury ever reels in? As of right now it seems that head coach Kliff Kingsbury has finally found the quarterback he’s been looking for to run his offense. With just the right mix of knowing when to stick with the play, when to extend the play, and when to take off, Patrick Mahomes and coach Kingsbury seem to be on the same page. If Mahomes plays his best, UTEP’s young and inexperienced defense will be in for a long afternoon.
DeAndre Washington – Washington was effective in the Red Raiders season opener rushing for 74 yards on 13 carries, but it felt as if he never really hit his stride. Last season Washington rushed for over 1,000 yards and this year he is expected to continue to contribute at that high of a level. If Texas Tech gets up big on UTEP they’ll definitely need to rely on their best running option to help finish off the game.
Rika Levi – For months Tech fans had been hearing about how great Levi looked after shedding weight and working hard all summer. Last Saturday the Levi looked about the same as he did for most of 2014, over matched and worn down. In order for Tech to have any hope of slowing down Aaron Jones they’re going to need more production from their defensive line and it starts with Rika Levi.
TEXAS TECH’S KEYS TO THE GAME
Stop Aaron Jones – Until UTEP can demonstrate that someone on their team other than Aaron Jones is capable of making big plays there is no reason for teams to stop focusing all their energy on stopping him. This game should provide the Red Raider defense with an opportunity to focus solely on stopping an opponents rushing attack which they struggled with in 2014 as well as their opening game last weekend.
Reduce the mistakes – Last week the Red Raiders defense missed a lot of tackles and had blown assignments throughout the game. For the first half of the game Tech’s receivers seemed to have resolved their issue with dropped passes and the team didn’t have the normal penalties. When the second half arrived the drops and flags came storming back to life. The drops and missed tackles represent a far larger issue as they both can affect a teams ability to create big plays or stop them. As for penalties last year Baylor, Oregon and Texas Tech all ranked in the bottom 10 in the country in penalty yardage per game. Penalties alone won’t make or break a team but missed tackles and dropped passes in conjunction with penalties certainly will help to lead to things like a 4 and 8 season.
Three and out – To avoid getting worn down as the game goes on the Red Raider defense must get as many three and out stops as possible. Against Sam Houston State the defense looked completely exhausted by the start of the 4th quarter which resulted in a couple of late game touchdowns. If the Tech defense can keep the Miners’ drives as short as possible they should have a good day.
WHAT TEXAS TECH FANS WANT TO SEE
A high-powered offense with a defense that is able to shut down their opponents best weapon. Any kind of progress on the defensive side of the ball will be greatly welcomed by the Tech faithful. Overall Kliff Kingsbury chided his team after the game and earlier this week for lacking a killer instinct, lets see if Tech can get up a put an opponent away early.
Texas Tech’s offense is going to have a field day with a secondary that is short on experience. The Miners offense brings hope back to the Red Raiders as the defense focuses in on Aaron Jones and holds him to less than 100 yards rushing. It should be a good warmup for the Raiders prior to their trip to Fayetteville next week. Provided they don’t get caught looking ahead.