Bowl hopes, bragging rights within the state of Texas and finishing the season on a high note are just a few of the goals in mind for Texas Tech and Texas when the two programs meet on Thanksgiving night in Austin. The Red Raiders clinched a bowl bid after a 59-44 victory over Kansas State on Nov. 14. The Longhorns need two wins to reach a postseason game in coach Charlie Strong’s second year. That’s a difficult task with Texas Tech on Thursday, followed by a road date at Baylor on Dec. 5. Even if Texas doesn’t reach the postseason, finishing the year on a high note and building momentum for 2016 is a must for Strong and this staff.
Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns have had one strange season. As a quick recap: Texas opens the season with high expectations, only to be dominated in their opener against Notre Dame 38-3. The Longhorns lose a heartbreaker against California 45-44 on bonehead special teams play. Texas is thoroughly dominated by No. 4 TCU, and athletic director Steve Patterson is promptly fired afterward. The Longhorns pick up a huge win for Texas against chief rival Oklahoma in improbable fashion, allowing Strong to breathe a little easier. Texas splits the next four games as rumors of Charlie Strong departing to the University of Miami begin to hit a fever pitch. Strong and interim Texas athletic director Mike Perrin both confirm that Strong will not be leaving Texas for Miami. What's next? Who knows. But Strong is committed to the program and has good support from Perrin.
With the above factors in mind, the Texas Longhorns at 4-6 may be the most drama-filled team in the country. Week in and week out, they have filled the Longhorn Network with plenty of 24-hour news and speculation, but not with wins. The Longhorns hope that they have finally put the rumors to rest and can get back to the certainty of their upcoming matchup with the Texas Tech Red Raiders (6-5) at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Thursday night. The Longhorns have not found the consistency they have desperately needed on both sides of the ball, and the constant uncertainty has held them back all season. Quarterback Jerrod Heard has gone through the usual growing pains of a young player, and the team has experienced the offensive ups and downs with him. The biggest surprise of the season has been the inconsistency of what many thought would be the strength of this team - the defense. The Longhorns are giving up 29 points and an average of 428 yards per game.
Texas Tech's defense is struggling, but their offense is very, very good. The Red Raiders average 588 total yards offense and 46.5 points per game. The Red Raiders are allowing 42 points per game, which means their offense is their defense. The Longhorns will have a difficult time slowing down quarterback Patrick Mahomes and this high-flying speedy offense. Mahomes has thrown for 31 touchdowns this season and shows no signs of slowing down.
Things could get even stranger for Texas on Thursday night.
Texas Tech at Texas
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX Sports 1
Spread: Texas -2
Three Things To Watch
1. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Texas Defense
Texas Tech sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes is having a standout season and should get consideration for All-Big 12 honors in December. He is not intimidated by location, the name on the jersey, or the reputation of the opponent. Through 11 games this year, Mahomes has passed for 31 touchdowns against 13 interceptions, and he is completing passes at a 65 percent rate. He simply runs the offense the way it was designed, and is learning to take advantage of the defensive weaknesses he sees. That should be huge against a mistake-prone Texas. The Longhorns have allowed 23 passing scores this season but have not allowed an opponent to pass for more than 234 yards in each of the last five games. Can Texas generate pressure up front and disrupt the timing of Texas Tech's potent air attack? In addition to Mahomes, the Red Raiders have plenty of talent at the skill positions, including with running back DeAndre Washington and receiver Jakeem Grant. Washington averages 6.5 yards per carry, while Grant is one of four Big 12 receivers to reach 1,000 yards this season.
2. Consistency, Where For Art Thou?
The staple of Charlie Strong's Louisville teams was consistency on both sides of the ball. There were not a lot of sweeping mistakes in games, and each week the mistakes that were made seemed to be corrected for the following matchup. At Texas, Charlie Strong's team are still searching for overall consistency. One week they achieve great balance, the next they are back to their old ways. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere and it is showing up on the field, as the Longhorns have yet to play a complete game. The question is which team will show up this week?
3. Charlie Strong and Texas Have To Focus On JUST Football
The biggest distraction in Austin this season has been Texas itself. It is impossible as a young 18-21 year-old player to focus on doing your on the field job when there are so many off the field distractions. The Texas inability to find consistency could be directly related to the weekly challenge to block out the media, fan, and internal noise that seems to chase this team. Just this week, the athletic director and head coach have reaffirmed their commitment to growing this program. Hopefully, that is enough to now help this team focus on just the things on the field.
Texas Tech is explosive offensively, and coach Kliff Kingsbury's team will put up big numbers on Thanksgiving night. Texas has potential to put up numbers if it can run the ball and control the time of possession with quarterbacks Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes and the ground attack. Running back D'Onta Foreman is doubtful to play with a finger injury, and senior Johnathan Gray is also dealing with an ailment that may sideline him on Thursday night. If Foreman and Gray can't go, Texas will turn to Chris Warren III and Kirk Johnson. But here's the real question - can Texas put up enough points to keep up with the Red Raiders? The answer to that is probably no.