The Texas Tech Red Raiders and Kansas Jayhawks are set to meet up in a Big 12showdown in Lubbock Saturday. The Red Raiders, fresh off a 17-14 upset victory on the road against TCU, come in 4-2 overall and 2-1 in league play. A win over the Jayhawks would put Tech on the doorstep of bowl eligibility.
Kansas picked off Will Grier three times to increase its FBS lead in turnover margin, but the Jayhawks still suffered a 13th consecutive Big 12 loss two weeks ago, losing at West Virginia 38-22. With the Jayhawks now 2-4 overall and 0-3 in conference play and searching for their first Big 12 road win in a decade, the odds of KU making a bowl game — and of head coach David Beaty keeping his job — are growing longer by the day.
Kansas at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 20 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Texas Tech -18
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
Quarterback has been a revolving door for Texas Tech. McLane Carter started the season atop the depth chart for the Red Raiders, but an ankle injury in the season opener cleared the way for Alan Bowman. The freshman racked up huge passing numbers before suffering his own injury (a collapsed lung) against West Virginia, which forced him to miss the upset win over TCU. The starter against the Horned Frogs, and the expected starter Saturday, Jett Duffey led the charge in Bowman’s absence. The most mobile of Tech’s QB options, Duffey has 250 rushing yards and three touchdowns in three games. He has struggled with accuracy at times, but Duffey is also a capable passer and has completed 60 percent of his passes for 455 yards and two TDs with four interceptions.
Kansas has also started multiple quarterbacks but chose to do so because its offense has struggled. The Jayhawks rank dead last in the Big 12 in total offense (347.5 yards per game) and ninth in passing (180.8) — a big reason why offensive coordinator Doug Meacham was relieved of his duties last week. Peyton Bender, who has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 681 yards with six touchdowns and one interception, started each of the first four games but gave way to Carter Stanley ahead of the Oklahoma State contest. Stanley provided a spark, throwing for 247 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against the Cowboys. However, Stanley started slowly against West Virginia and was replaced with Bender. The position remains unsettled, and an exciting third option, Miles Kendrick, could eventually be a factor.
2. Talented tailbacks
The bright spot of the Kansas offense this season has been true freshman running back Pooka Williams, who ranks second in the Big 12 in rushing (107.8 yards per game). Williams is an explosive runner and leads the conference with 7.49 yards per carry — 0.88 better than No. 2 Kyler Murray — and he also leads the team with four touchdowns on the ground.
Texas Tech hasn’t often relied on its running game under Kliff Kingsbury, but the Red Raiders have had to diversify their offense in the wake of injuries to Carter, Bowman and wideout T.J. Vasher. Plus, Tech has a talented freshman ball carrier of its own. Ta’Zhawn Henry exploded onto the scene with 111 rushing yards and four touchdowns against Houston, and he leads the team with 274 rushing yards and seven rushing TDs overall. But, like Williams, Henry hasn’t broken the century mark since Sept. 15.
3. Top tacklers
Neither Texas Tech nor Kansas has a reputation for great defense, and both rank in the bottom half of the conference in total defense. In fact, Texas Tech sits at the bottom of the league, having allowed 441.5 total yards per contest. Nevertheless, both defenses have excelled at times. The Red Raiders held Oklahoma State and TCU to 17 and 14 points, respectively, and shut out Lamar in Week 2. Kansas leads the league in interceptions (11) and is tied for the FBS lead in takeaways (18). Both also have highly productive tacklers to lead their respective units.
Kansas linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. leads the team and ranks No. 2 on the Big 12 leaderboard with 74 total tackles. Dineen has made 53 solo stops, which leads the Big 12 by a wide margin and is tied for the most in the country. A well-rounded playmaker, Dineen also has 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one interception. Tech’s leading tackler, linebacker Dakota Allen, is nearly as active. A fellow senior, Allen has tallied 45 total tackles (26 solo) with 3.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks and two pass breakups.
Kansas will be playing its second straight road game, but last week’s bye should offset the disadvantage of back-to-back road trips. Similarly, Tech’s Thursday night victory over TCU gives the Red Raiders two extra days to prepare for the Jayhawks, limiting the advantage KU gained from having an extra week and also allowing the afterglow of a big win to die down.
Both teams have quarterback questions. The Red Raiders look different with Duffey behind center, but that’s not a bad thing since his athleticism adds diversity. Kansas might also look different with a new play-caller. Williams should see a heavy workload, though Tech’s defensive strength has been its play against the run, and Allen and Co. have been solid in Big 12 play. Expect the Jayhawks to keep it close early, but for Texas Tech to pick up its fifth win.
Prediction: Texas Tech 38, Kansas 21
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.