Great ready for a Big 12-Pac-12 shootout in the Sonoran Desert
Football has certainly changed since these two programs shared the Border Conference alongside such gridiron powers as New Mexico A&M and Hardin-Simmons. The evolution of offense makes this look almost like an entirely different sport, with its wide-open style.
Arizona has gone through a few different iterations of potent offenses in the past decade without losing effectiveness. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has a longstanding reputation as the breeding ground of air-raid football. First-year Red Raiders coach Matt Wells may not come from the Mike Leach/Hal Mumme tree, but his approach shows no signs of slowing Tech down.
Texas Tech at Arizona
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas Tech -2
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
One of the most unexpected stories of 2018 was the emergence of Utah State as a Mountain West Conference contender and Top 25 team. The Aggies' success came in large part due to an explosive offense. Their 47.5 points per game trailed only Oklahoma for most in the nation.
The proficiency of Wells' offense at Utah State made him an obvious fit for Texas Tech, where offense is king. Leach's spin on the air-raid offense elevated the program to then-unprecedented and still-unmatched heights, and has since been the birthing ground for coaches around the nation. Tech's last head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, is now a quick jaunt up the interstate in Glendale, where he's head coach of the Cardinals. Former Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell is overseeing an offensive evolution at USC. The list goes on.
Wells continues in that tradition (and has a reputation for coaching some good defensive teams, which Tech needs). In his first two games, the Red Raiders posted 45 and 38 points, respectively, and won handily enough that the starters played somewhat sparingly. Among those starters is Utah transfer running back Armand Shyne, who hit up Arizona for 101 yards in 2016.
Quarterback Alan Bowman has come out slinging at a nearly 72 percent completion rate, and a remarkable 12 Red Raiders have caught two or more passes. Tech's arsenal of weapons is a daunting challenge for an Arizona defense that has been bad through two games. Marcel Yates is in his fourth season with the program, and the Wildcats were hoping to turn a corner with All-Pac-12 linebacker Colin Schooler leading an experienced front seven that also includes talented Kylan Wilborn and Tony Fields. However, Arizona surrendered 45 points in Week 1 to Hawaii, a team with an offense similar to that of Texas Tech. A week after giving up 41 points to FCS Northern Arizona — mostly in garbage time with second-and-third-stringers, but still not good — another 40-point-plus yield may be on the horizon.
When Arizona Has the Ball
At July's Pac-12 media day, Khalil Tate said the ankle injury that hindered him in 2018 was completely healed. A version of the Tate who showed capable pocket passing a season ago, and who set an FBS quarterback rushing record in 2017, was likely to show up in 2019. It has. Tate shook off a slow start at Hawaii to finish with 361 yards passing and 108 rushing.
Tate played just a quarter-and-a-half against NAU and didn't run — focus in the ground game instead was on running backs — but he did go 14-of-17 passing with two touchdowns. Tate's evolving game should only continue to improve, especially as he builds chemistry with a mostly new-look receiving corps. As for the running backs, J.J. Taylor has a touchdown in each of the first two games, and Gary Brightwell returned to the lineup in Week 2 to roll off 28.3 yards per carry with a score. Add short-yardage back Bam Smith, and the Wildcats have a deep rushing rotation akin to some of Kevin Sumlin's Texas A&M teams.
Defense has long been an issue for Texas Tech. The Red Raiders held their first two opponents to a combined 13 points, but games against FCS Montana State and a UTEP program that's been at the nadir of FBS for several years aren't especially telling. Tech came into 2019 replacing Last Chance U. Season 2 success story and standout linebacker Dakota Allen; Jordyn Brooks may be up to that task. He'll lead the effort to contain Tate in space.
Call this one a coin flip. The similar identities should make for an entertaining contest, at least if you are into offense. Arizona's defensive deficiencies are cause for concern, but the offense is rolling since the second half of the Hawaii game. Considering that both universities' basketball programs employ defensive-minded coaches — Sean Miller at Arizona, Chris Beard at Texas Tech — it's not crazy to think that this football game could produce more points than a hypothetical meeting of the programs on the hardwood.
Tate has a prominent stage on which to shine, and his dual-threat playmaking could be enough to make the difference.
Prediction: Arizona 49, Texas Tech 45
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.