The No. 9 Texas Longhorns are dealing with some firsts this week.
The first conference game. The first road game. The first travel week with the new COVID restrictions to name a few.
What isn’t new is the matchup against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, which in spite of the one-sided record, is often a tight game. Four of the last five matchups were decided by one score, with an eight-point average margin of victory for Texas under fourth-year head coach Tom Herman.
The Red Raiders struggled in the second season opener of the Matt Wells era, but can right many wrongs by pulling off a big upset on Saturday.
To gain some insight into what the Red Raiders bring to the table, we reached out to Michael Macon (@mikemacon23) of Viva the Matadors (@VivaTheMatadors) to give us insider information.
Burnt Orange Nation: We have to start with what those on the outside see as the biggest storyline for Tech thus far, the opener against Houston Baptist. The Huskies had massive success through the air and nearly tied the game late. What did they find in the Tech defense that led them to be successful?
Viva the Matadors: The answer, being brutally honest, is wide open receivers running in the secondary. Tech kind of gets laughed at for bad defense, but what most people don’t know is that Tech’s linebackers have probably been the best in the conference for three straight seasons. Last year the team was a ton improved, specifically against the run. Want to know why that story isn’t talked about more? As good as the linebackers have been, the secondary has been as bad. I didn’t think we could be worse than last year’s pass defense, but with Demarcus Fields out and the COVID camp, I don’t think they successfully managed a single covered receiver. Just an awful showing.
BON: How has Tech addressed it in the off week?
VTM: The short answer is you can’t. The long answer is that getting Fields back and linebacker transfer Collin Schooler will boost the defense. However, even that influx of talent can’t fix what happened against HBU. New defensive coordinator Patterson is going to have to dramatically re-scheme his defense to try and bring pressure and probably accept that teams will move the ball. The success for this defense will be keeping the ball in front of them and creating sacks/turnovers. If Texas can go over the top as easily as HBU did, this game will be over by halftime
BON: We are in the second year of the Matt Wells era at Texas Tech, coming off of a 4-8 season marred by injury issues. After the struggles of last year as well as Week 1, what is the opinion of Wells right now?
VTM: Going into this season, I think opinion was already mixed. A bad result year one, plus the feeling of disappointment by many who wanted someone else to replace Kliff had this year already kind of sour. The COVID season was supposed to be a bye for coaches really, but after Week 1 Wells has lost the fan base. I mean that, I don’t know of anyone who still supports him. It was that bad of a performance that can’t really be explained. Wells better hope this team shows something against Texas and over the length of the season. If not, next year will be a hot seat year.
BON: Quarterback Allan Bowman had a solid showing against the Huskies after missing a big portion of last season due to health issues. Is he back to 100 percent and what are expectations for him now that the grind of Big 12 play is starting?
VTM: Depends who you ask really. I am a Bowman fan, and I think he’s probably the second or third best quarterback in the conference. He was rusty against HBU, but despite people claiming otherwise I didn’t see a kid playing scared despite some serious injuries. After the bye week and Texas week of practice, I expect a guy who’s feeling warm and motivated Saturday. If he fixes the timing issues from HBU, he is going to light up the Big 12.
BON: Running back Sarodrick Thompson got a ton of touches against HBU and turned it into 122 yards and two scores. Do you expect Tech to be as run-heavy against Texas and do you think they’ll be able to find success?
VTM: Yes, but to a lesser degree. Techs back’s this season are really, really good. Thompson and Tahj Brooks received the bulk of the carries but Townsend, an Alabama transfer, looked incredibly explosive. David Yost got into a bad habit against HBU of trying to run into a very full box, as HBU was desperate to stop the run. Against Texas with more time to grow the playbook, I suspect you won’t see as many runs called period. But I do expect Tech to clear four yards a carry easy.
BON: With the COVID restrictions, what will the tortilla situation be like on Saturday?
VTM: I saw a few Saturday, and word just came out the students are being given additional tickets so I suspect tortillas will still hit the air. Hopefully, they’ll cover them in Lysol before hurling them.
BON: What’s your prediction for the game?
VTM: I think Texas struggles early against Tech. Every offensive coordinator will start every single game thinking, “let’s establish the run.” Once they stop thinking that, and start letting Ehlinger throw at will, I suspect Texas will score every series in the second half or thereabouts. Tech’s offense will be good, but it’s facing a far better defensive unit. Give me Texas in a game that’s not close after the third, 51-38.