The regular season concludes with the No. 7 Texas Longhorns hosting the Texas Tech Red Raiders one last time back at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Friday night. Texas has faced some difficult situations in the past three weeks, but they have found a way to win each time. With the conference championship within reach, along with a shot at the playoffs, I expect the Horns to walk into this week’s game swinging for the fences.
While Texas struggled to gain any momentum in the first half against Iowa State, running back CJ Baxter was able to lead the ground game sufficiently with 117 yards on 20 carries, and quarterback Quinn Ewers went 23-of-33 passing for 281 yards and two touchdowns. This week I wanted to revisit the Big 12 quarterback comparison. Below is a graph displaying the number of completions each quarterback had sorted by depth. The depth zones are categorized by PFF as follows — deep is 20-plus yards, intermediate is the 10–20-yard range, short is the 0–10-yard range, and behind the line of scrimmage (most often on screens). The percentages inside each bar represents their completion percentage.
The first caveat when assessing this information is that Ewers did miss two games which affects his total completion numbers. You will immediately notice that Texas passes behind the line of scrimmage far more than other Big 12 teams. These play calls are ones that frustrate many Texas fans when the opposing defense immediately recognizes and blows them up, but the accuracy of Ewers on them is moderately good.
A big stand out is that Ewers has the best completion percentage in the intermediate range in the Big 12. Even better, that number ranks first in the nation. On the other hand, his completion percentages in the short or deep zones are just below average compared to all other quarterbacks who have played a significant number of games.
Texas Tech uses a 3-3-5 package with one of the linebackers frequently rushing. Their defensive line ranks about average in run stopping but look out for defensive tackle Tony Bradford Jr (34 tackles, 3 sacks), nose tackle Jaylon Hutchings (44, 3.5), and edge Steve Linton (22, 3). Hutchings and Linton have both suffered injuries and are questionable for Friday. Tech ranks decently well in run stopping thanks to linebackers Jacob Rodriguez (24, 0) and Ben Roberts (87, 0.5).
Strong safety CJ Baskerville (64, 0) is sometimes sent in on the blitz and ranks well as a run defender. Free safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (62, 1) is also rated highly but his availability also remains a mystery as well due to injury.
The Red Raiders are better in pass coverage, ranking 36th in yards per pass allowed. This is led by corners Malik Dunlap (4 pass breakups, 3 interceptions) and Rayshad Williams (6, 0), along with safeties Taylor-Demerson (5, 4) and Baskerville (5, 1).
Following last week’s notes on first down conversion rate, I wanted to repeat the analysis for the defensive side. Below are charts showing the total number of first downs allowed and separated by what the current down was prior to the conversion. The numbers inside again represent the conversion percentage. I included all Big 12 teams as well as consensus top-15 teams per the CFP rankings.
I anticipated Texas to have a top rushing defense as we have seen them display their strength through a variety of other metrics so far this season. But Penn State ranking one spot higher was still surprising given the way they played against Michigan. The Longhorns seem to still allow a chunk of running second downs to be converted but their staunch third-down defense is what separates them from the pack and the team has been able to lean on them when it matters most. I also want to point out that Texas Tech, along with Washington, Houston, and Mizzou, have the worst third-down run defenses. Next is the same graph but for passing defense.
And now here is the gut-wrenching reality. I suspected that Texas would not rank as high in passing first downs allowed, but to be second only to Houston was disappointing. We can argue all we like about Oregon’s strength of schedule versus ours, but we shouldn’t be this far down the list. Luckily, the completion percentage allowed for Texas improves, relative to the rest of the nation, as we move to second and third down. The first-down passing scenario seems to be the Horns’ biggest weakness, but killing those plays would help establish defensive dominance earlier on. This would put them in better situations, maybe even encouraging the offense to have to run on second/third and short.
The Red Raiders had a high-powered Air Raid offense last year led by quarterback Donovan Smith, but they have not seen the same success in passing this year due to starting quarterback Tyler Shough having to leave early in the season with a broken leg. Behren Morton has been under center for the Red Raiders for most of the season and hasn’t been as turnover-prone as quarterbacks Texas has faced in recent weeks. He has 12 touchdowns and four interceptions on the season with a 63.3-percent completion rate overall.
Morton does best in the short game, keeping the tempo up for their fast-paced offense. I would like to see more aggressive press coverage since he is not accurate in the deep game. This would be a great opportunity to see how the Texas secondary can stop the passing game up front and prevent those early first downs.
They rotate through many receivers, but their go-to targets include outside threat Jerand Bradley who at 6’5, should be able to dominate the 50/50 ball, but only has caught 55 percent of his targets. Next is dangerous slot receiver Myles Price who has been out (shoulder) but is expected to return this week. Xavier White is often used on the other side to create space underneath for Price. Coy Eakin and Jordan Brown are also outside guys with a lot of potential given their size and speed but haven’t been too impressive this year apart from grabbing quick slants, outs, and fades.
Because the quarterback situation has been difficult this year, Tech has become a run-heavy offense and are extremely reliant on Tahj Brooks. He should not be overlooked as he is graded better than Jonathon Brooks, Audric Estime, and Bucky Irving this season. Their offensive line struggles to create line yards which speaks volumes to the production of Brooks despite that. The Longhorns will continue to dominate the line of scrimmage, but Brooks is shifty and can break tackles. A breakout run for him is never out of the question and could easily open up the game for Tech.
Texas will have to go back to a strong running game behind Baxter to set the tone. It looks like Ewers was able to establish a rhythm in the second half of the Iowa State game and he shouldn’t be intimidated by Tech’s passing offense. The Horns run defense has been a pillar of the team’s overall character and they are now going up against a perennial talent in which I expect them to deliver again. If they take that away from the Red Raiders, they are left to create yards behind a quarterback without much experience and limited range. Texas is a 14-point favorite according to Draft Kings.