Texas wrapped up non-conference play with a 58-0 blowout win over Rice and will now turn their attention to conference play. The first Big 12 test will be welcoming Texas Tech to Austin. The Red Raiders are 3-0 after opening the season with wins against Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Florida International. Matt Wells entered 2021 on the hot seat but is off to a good start and has some intriguing pieces to work with. Let's take a look at what to expect from the Red Raiders:
Wells opted to shake up the core of his offense this past offseason by firing offensive coordinator David Yost and opting to look into the transfer portal to find a new quarterback. Yost was replaced by TCU offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, a former player at Texas Tech. Wells was also able to bring in former Oregon QB Tyler Shough as his new starting quarterback.
Shough has had some up-and-down moments to start the season. After opening with a solid performance against Houston, he was held to 12 of 22 passing while tossing 2 interceptions against Stephen F. Austin. He was able to rebound last week with a big game against Florida International. As with most quarterbacks who have come through Tech, he has the arm talent to make pretty much every throw on the field, although his decision making can be questionable at times.
The biggest difference the Red Raiders have seen so far with Cumbie calling the plays is more success running the football. Sophomore running back Tahj Brooks is averaging over 8 yards a carry and already has 4 touchdowns on the season. A big storyline for Saturday's game will be the availability and workload of SaRodorick Thompson, who had a huge game against the Longhorns a season ago. Thompson sat out the first two games this year while recovering from a shoulder injury, but he returned last week and carried the ball 4 times for 11 yards. It is unknown if Thompson will be close to full strength on Saturday or if he will be on a pitch count.
At receiver, Erik Ezukanma is to-go man and someone Texas will need to keep track of at all times. Ezukanma already has 16 receptions for 350 yards and a touchdown in 3 games. Interestingly, the only other player with double digit receptions so far is TE Travis Koontz, who had a good game last week and will targeted frequently in the red zone.
The Red Raiders have a veteran offensive line that features 3 senior starters. LT T.J Storment transferred in from TCU after starting the majority of the games in 2020 at Left Tackle for the Horned Frogs. Center Dawson Deaton has started 26 career games and is one of the best centers in the Big 12. Overall, the unit probably ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to Big 12 offensive lines. The Texas defensive line is going to have to work to make an impact on Saturday.
Transfers and experience are the best two ways to describe what the Red Raiders have defensively.
All 11 starters are juniors and seniors, and 9 of the 11 made their way to Lubbock via the transfer portal or junior college. The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where the Red Raiders have Colin Schooler, brother of Texas safety Brenden Schooler, and Riko Jeffers. Schooler leads the team with 21 tackles on the season.
The biggest question marks for Texas Tech is along the defensive line. The Red Raiders are experienced up front, but lack true difference makers and often lean on their linebackers to assist with generating a pass rush. Stephen F. Austin was able to throw for 343 yards a few weeks ago, so if the Texas offensive line can provide some protection, Casey Thompson could be in store for a big game.
It has been a long time since there has been even average defensive play in Lubbock, and it remains to be seen if this year will be any different. The Red Raiders have certainly looked improved through 3 games, but they have faced some shaky offenses and still have a tendency to blow assignments from time to time. The Longhorns should be able to move the ball consistently if they limit negative plays and penalties.
Texas Tech is a tough team to figure out. Entering the season, people had the Red Raiders finishing anywhere from 5th all the way down to 9th in the Big 12 standings. This is a game Texas can absolutely lose if they do not come ready to play. The Red Raiders present some matchup problems offensively with Ezukanma on the outside and if Texas allows multiple explosive plays in the passing game, the game is likely to become a nail-biter. If the Longhorns limit big plays and are able to build on the rushing performance they had against Rice a week ago, Texas is likely to start Big 12 play at 1-0.