The Texas Longhorns will open Big 12 play on Saturday against the tortilla-throwing Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock. Texas head coach Tom Herman is 2-1 against Tech since taking the job in Austin, including a 49-24 victory last year on Thanksgiving. Here’s a preview of what to expect from the 1-0 Red Raiders.
What to expect from the Red Raiders offense
Texas Tech features another high-powered passing attack this year that put up a staggering *checks notes* 35 points against FCS opponent Houston Baptist in Week 1? Don’t let the Red Raiders 35-33 victory over HBU totally deceive you. Matt Wells brings back an offense that was seventh in the nation passing last year and 11th in total yards. Tech is at its best when sophomore QB Alan Bowman is running the hurry-up offense and spreading the ball around to his explosive wideouts.
Everything Tech will do will come out of this shotgun formation that will feature a tailback alongside Bowman.
Bowman’s biggest weapons are senior wide receiver T.J. Vasher, who I swear was at Texas Tech when Crabtree was still playing, and sophomore wide receiver Erik Ezukanma. Vasher led Tech with eight receptions last week and overall against Texas has had 256 yards on 18 receptions with two touchdowns.
Vasher will usually line up in the boundary and Tech loves to use him in various play designs. Here you’ll see Bowman isolate him in one-on-one coverage and throw to him on an in route.
Tech offensive coordinator David Yost will use Vasher in a lot of quick action throws, trying to isolate the 6’6 playmaker. On the other side is the sophomore Ezukanma, who lit up the Texas secondary for 135 yards and a touchdown last year.
Ezukanma and junior wide receiver KeSean Carter combined for almost 300 yards receiving in last years loss to Texas. Carter, Ezukanma, and Vasher led Tech in receiving last week but another name to watch out for is freshman wideout Ja’Lynn Polk. You’ll probably hear the announcers tell you he’s from Lufkin, Texas every time he touches the ball. They’ll also point out that Dez Bryant is from Lufkin as well. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Anyways, Tech loves to run those quick outside screens and used Polk in that design numerous times against HBU.
The Texas corners didn’t consistently press the UTEP wideouts and if Chris Ash has his corners playing off the line of scrimmage, I would expect Tech to run some running back and receiver screens that can do some damage.
It’s Bow Time
For three years we have heard all the hype surrounding Alex Bowman, but Texas fans have truly never gotten a look at the Grapevine product due to injuries. Barring a positive COVID test or some other unforeseen event, the Longhorns finally will on Saturday. Bowman’s game against Texas will be his first matchup against a Big 12 opponent since Nov. 3, 2018 against Oklahoma. Bowman suffered a shoulder injury in the third week of the 2019 season and consequently redshirted.
Even with all of his injuries, Bowman has shown promise and if he can string together a healthy season, he’ll be able to put up some impressive numbers. In their Week 1 victory over HBU, Bowman threw for 430 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also attempted 52 passes overall. This is the part where I remind you that Jett Duffey had 58 passing attempts in last year’s game against Texas. Expect Bowman to throw 50-60 times on Saturday.
Bowman is a pretty accurate passer with a career 68.7% pass completion percentage and a 151.4 QB rating. Watch him throw this ball into a perfect pocket for Ezukanma.
He’s also not afraid to take off running from the pocket if he’s forced.
Having said all of that, Bowman is far from perfect. It’s hard to get a sense on how much he’s improved since he was injured for most of last year, but Bowman is prone to some head-scratching throws. In his last three collegiate games, Bowman has tossed four interceptions.
He also struggled with his deep ball against HBU, missing wide open receivers multiple times on long throws which would’ve been six.
Texas Tech — power rushing offense?
After ranking 100th in rushing attempts last season and 84th in rushing yards, Matt Wells may be trying to focus on the running game a little bit more this season. Tech had 43 rushing attempts against HBU in Week 1 with Sa’Rodorick Thompson finishing with 118 yards and two touchdowns. The Red Raiders also used Tahj Brooks and Chadarius Townsend against HBU with 14 combined carries. In last years 49-24 loss, Thompson (who is expected to play after being arrested on Monday) had 16 carries with Jax Welch the only other running back to receive one (literally one).
Big game for Ehlinger?
I’m obligated here to tell you that Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 3,811 yards last year and led the FCS with 35 touchdowns. Having said that, Zappe torched (insert joke about Zippo lighter) Texas Tech for 567 yards on 30 completions (almost 19 yards per completion) and four touchdowns. Yes, you’re reading that right. In comparison, Ehlinger threw for 426 yards on 25 completions against UTEP. He also only played basically the first half. What I’m trying to say here is that Ehlinger should absolutely light up Texas Tech.
The middle of the field was basically open all night for HBU and Zappe.
Zappe also flamed the Red Raiders with the deep ball, with three of his touchdown passes coming off long throws.
Ehlinger threw for 348 yards against Tech last year and I expect him to top that under Mike Yurchich’s passer-friendly offense.
Keys to a Texas victory
Houston Baptist only lost by two, but they easily could have won against Tech. An empty red-zone possession, two field goals, an interception in the end zone, and the failed 2-point conversion late is what held back the Huskies. Matt Wells’ squad showed sloppiness with 13 penalties for 104 yards and its offense at times was rather lethargic. Nonetheless, the Red Raiders enter this week 1-0 and should be a better team this Saturday after missing about a dozen players against the Huskies. But so will Texas.
If Ehlinger can put up similar numbers to what Zappe did, I expect the Texas offense to reach 50 points. Remember the Longhorns gouged Tech for 262 rushing yards last year, so the running game may be open for Texas.
Much like last year where Texas held the running game in check and forced Duffey to beat them with his arm, the Longhorns need to do the same on Saturday. While they’ll face a better offensive line than that of UTEP, the Miners only had 43 rushing yards on 33 attempts.
This may turn into a duel between Ehlinger and Bowman, but Texas without a doubt has the talent in the secondary to slow down the Red Raider offense. I expect the score on Saturday to be similar to last year’s 49-24 result. If Texas truly wants to be a contender this year, it starts with a sixth consecutive victory in Lubbock.