Texas picked up its biggest win of the season last week in upset fashion. The 35-34 last-minute victory over previously undefeated No. 8 Baylor pushed the Longhorns to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in Big 12 play, and perhaps helped to take a tiny bit of heat off of head coach Charlie Strong, who has battled speculation surrounding his job status all season.
Texas Tech also improved to 4-4 this season and 2-3 in conference play after picking up its own dramatic victory over rival TCU. The Red Raiders trailed most of the afternoon, but overcame Patrick Mahomes’ least prolific passing performance of the season (24-for-39, 206 yards, 2 TD, INT) to beat the Horned Frogs 27-24 in overtime.
Of course, Mahomes is still the nation’s leader with 3,519 passing yards and heads up a Texas Tech offense that has averaged 47.4 points per game, leads the FBS at 603.4 yards per contest, and picks up 6.92 yards per play (10th). Meanwhile, the struggles of the Texas defense have been highly publicized and the Longhorns surrendered 624 total yards to Baylor a week ago.
Needless to say, it appears Texas and Texas Tech will find themselves in yet another shootout, perhaps similar to the 48-45 Red Raiders victory last season.
Texas at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Texas -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
Texas has produced some of the greatest running backs in college football history, including Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. However, the Longhorns had not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Jamaal Charles in 2007 until Foreman surpassed the plateau last week with a career game against Baylor. Foreman gained 259 yards on 32 carries against the Bears – both career highs – and tied his personal best with two touchdowns.
A 6-foot-1, 249-pound junior, Foreman enters this game with 1,105 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He ranks second in the country with 157.9 rushing yards per contest and has rattled off nine straight 100-yard games, the longest active streak in the nation and just two shy of Campbell’s school record.
Foreman’s accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider he sat out the game against UTEP in Week 2 because of a minor groin injury. His 1,015 rushing yards are the fourth-best output for a running back in the first seven games of the season in program history.
2. The Line of Scrimmage
Foreman is great, though he has succeeded in large part due to a young, improving Texas offensive line that has opened up holes for him and others to run through. And the Longhorns appear likely to have another big game Saturday against a Texas Tech defense that has surrendered 213.8 rushing yards per game and 5.41 yards per carry this season. The Horns rank second in the Big 12 in rushing offense (226.5 ypg) and average 4.7 yards per attempt.
In addition to their struggles stopping the run, Texas Tech has had trouble putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Last week, the Red Raiders failed to record a sack for the fourth consecutive game. Tech ranks last in the Big 12 with just 10 sacks this season – half of which came in the season opener against FCS member Stephen F. Austin.
On the other hand, Texas is tied for the Big 12 lead with 31 sacks. The Longhorns have recorded at least one sack in every game this season, have sacked the opposing quarterback at least three times on six different occasions, and got to Baylor’s Seth Russell six times last week. Texas also posted an amazing eight sacks in the 27-6 win over Iowa State last month, a performance that saw the unit hold the Cyclones to just 98 rushing yards (2.3 ypc) and 280 total yards of offense.
It’s been a collective effort. No Texas defender ranks among the top six in the Big 12 in sacks, though four players – Breckyn Hager (5.0), Naashon Hughes (4.5), Malik Jefferson (4.0) and Charles Omenihu (3.0) – have recorded at least three this season.
Simply, the Texas front seven matches up well against a Texas Tech offensive line that has surrendered 21 sacks. To be fair, the Red Raiders are forced to protect Patrick Mahomes more than any other quarterback in the nation and the unit has allowed sacks on only 4.6 percent of the 456 passes Tech has attempted this season. For comparison’s sake, Texas has surrendered a sack 18 times in 246 pass attempts (7.3 percent). Still, the more Mahomes drops back to pass, the more opportunities the Longhorns will have to get after him.
3. Which Defense Will Step Up?
Despite its success rushing the passer, Texas (461.9 ypg) ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 in total defense. The Longhorns have allowed 203.4 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks No. 96 nationally. And, despite showing some signs of improvement against Iowa State, Texas still surrendered an average of 507.2 yards per game and 6.2 yards per play in the month of October.
Texas Tech (518.4 ypg) is the worst defense in the conference statistically. Tech also ranks dead last in the league in yards allowed per play (6.67), which is No. 125 nationally, while the Longhorns have allowed 5.91 yards per play (No. 86). Though the Red Raiders came up with a crucial second half interception in last week’s overtime win against TCU, Texas Tech ranks among the nation’s worst when it comes to forcing turnovers. Only one FBS program has created fewer takeaways than the Red Raiders’ six. Therefore, Tech has won the turnover battle just once this season (plus-2 in the season opener against Stephen F. Austin), and has been in the negative in turnover differential in four straight games, three of which were losses.
Texas also struggles to force turnovers. The Longhorns have 11 takeaways (No. 79 nationally), and have won the turnover battle twice this season. Nevertheless, the Texas defense forced a key first quarter turnover last week against Baylor that set up a touchdown and also forced a fumble and recorded a safety in the first half against the Bears. The Longhorns will likely need a similar big play again this week.
For Texas Tech to win, the Red Raiders must build off of last week’s strong defensive performance. Texas Tech played arguably its best game defensively last week, holding TCU to just 24 points and 418 yards in the overtime victory. While Tech has had better games statistically, the defense had to step up to cover for an uncharacteristically mediocre performance by the offense (27 points, 345 total yards).
However, despite last week’s performance, it’s reasonable to expect Texas Tech to struggle to slow down D’Onta Foreman and a talented, young Texas offense. Even if Tech has some success stopping the run, unless the Red Raiders can be more effective in pressuring the quarterback, freshman Shane Buechele should have enough time to find his receivers, including emerging explosive playmaker Devin Duvernay. Even though he had just one catch last week, Duvernay posted touchdowns of 63, 72 and 80 yards the three games prior.
And, since the strength of the Texas defense is rushing the passer, Patrick Mahomes is likely to be under duress early and often. Therefore, the Longhorns have a better chance of forcing a key fumble or interception that could be the difference in this game.
Prediction: Texas 42, Texas Tech 41
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.