Texas Tech and Houston both enter this Lone Star State tussle after starting the season 2-0. The Red Raiders had an early bye in Week 2 while Houston had its opener against UTSA cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey. This will be just the third meeting between Texas Tech and Houston since the Southwest Conference closed up shop following the 1995 season. They did face off in 2009-10 when Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the Cougars' quarterbacks coach.
But seven years later, Kingsbury is arguably coaching for his job at his alma mater. A bowl game goes a long way toward keeping him safe, and a 3-0 non-conference slate goes a long way toward reaching the coveted six-win mark. Meanwhile, first-year head coach Major Applewhite is looking for a second Power 5 conference win to put an early stamp on his tenure in Houston.
Texas Tech at Houston
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Houston -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Houston’s defense vs. Texas Tech’s offense
This is the marquee matchup in this game. Even without Patrick Mahomes, a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft, Texas Tech’s Air Raid has still put up more than 50 points in each of its first two games this season. Quarterback Nic Shimonek has fit right into Kingsbury’s system in Lubbock — 927 passing yards, 79 percent completion rate, nine touchdowns, no interceptions. The receiving corps has been led by a couple of upperclassmen who were expected to shine in Keke Coutee and Dylan Cantrell, with the running game balanced between Desmond Nisby and Justin Stockton.
So, now it’s up to Houston’s defense, led by defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a Freshman All-American last season, to slow this group down. Last week, Houston had the highest defensive efficiency in the country at 99.6. Granted, it was against Rice (a 38-3 win), but the Cougars held the Owls to 242 total yards on the day. In Week 2, Houston held Rich Rodriguez’s high-octane Arizona offense to a mere 16 points. The Wildcats have scored a combined 125 points in their other two games.
Houston had to replace linebackers Steven Taylor and Tyus Bowser, who combined for 24 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. But so far, senior Matthew Adams, whom Athlon Sports named to its preseason All-AAC second team, has filled one of those linebacker spots impressively, leading the team with 19 tackles and 2.5 TFL.
2. Don’t forget about Houston’s quarterback
Kyle Allen was once considered the top high school quarterback in the nation. After a falling out at Texas A&M, Allen transferred to Houston, where he sat last season behind Greg Ward Jr. Through three games this season, Allen has thrown only three touchdowns to two interceptions, but he is completing better than 86 percent of his passes. Both interceptions came in the opener against Arizona, where he didn’t look sharp. In fairness, it had been a couple years since he had seen live bullets.
Allen has a solid 1-2 punch on the outside with Linnell Bonner and Steven Dunbar. Bonner had more than 1,000 receiving yards last season and has 19 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown through two games this season.
3. Is Tech’s defense really improved?
This is David Gibbs’ third season as defensive coordinator at Texas Tech (coincidentally after two seasons at Houston), and he is desperate to get this unit to turn the corner. Through two games, Texas Tech ranks 100th in the country in passing yards allowed but has fared better against the run, ranking in the top 50. The secondary, led by Jah’Shawn Johnson (second in the team in tackles), needs to step up its game against a Houston team that would prefer to sling the ball around the field.
Also, Tech would be well served to improve its red zone defense, which currently ranks 111th in the nation.
Yes, the Houston defense has been great statistically through two games, but it has yet to see an offense anywhere close to what Texas Tech is bringing to town with Kilff Kingsbury calling the plays, Nic Shimonek throwing the ball and wide receivers such as Keke Coutee and Dylan Cantrell on the other end. Houston’s defense has capitalized on 15 tackles for a loss in the early part of the schedule, but that should be negated by Texas Tech’s ability to get the ball out of Shimonek’s hands very quickly.
Also, Houston’s offense has been solid, but far from the fine-tuned machine it needs to be to keep up with the Red Raiders. Maybe this is the game in which Kyle Allen finally starts to feel comfortable and has a breakout performance, and if there is ever a defense that should allow him to get going, it’s Texas Tech’s.
But, this game means much more to Kingsbury, who is desperately fighting to keep his job. The Red Raiders, who have struggled in recent seasons, are not about to be caught looking ahead to Oklahoma State next week.
Prediction: Texas Tech 41, Houston 35
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.
(Top photo courtesy of @TexasTechFB)
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