Interviews, Analysis, and SGA silencing emails aside, Saturday's matchup between No. 4/6 Texas and the Texas Tech Red Raiders will come down to which team can force its strength over the strength of its opponent, while not letting its biggest unknown become a victim of the uncertainty of the unknown of its foe.
Tech offense vs. Texas Defense
The strength of Tech's offense is clearly the quarterback and receivers. Potts, Leong and company have to find a way for an effective attack against the strength of the Texas defense, its secondary. In the first two games, the Red Raiders have had a lot of success with slant and post routes through the traffic of the defense. They have also been money in the end zone with the Potts to Leong fade route becoming a weekly norm. And though he's thrown to tune of 669 yards and seven TDs, Potts has been lucky that he hasn't thrown any interceptions. But as Coach Tuberville said on Monday, they aren't going to complain that the passes that could and possibly should have been intercepted were not, they just hope to improve Potts' decision making.
The Red Raiders are also at full strength at receiver for the first time this season as Alex Torres and Austin Zouzalik returned last week at New Mexico for a handful snaps, Zou taking the first pass of the night for a 55-yard touchdown and Torres catching a couple of passes as well. Both should see significant action against the horns. Couple that with the biggest story of the 2010 that no one is talking about and that's Lyle Leong, who has16 catches 217 yards and 5 touchdowns through two games (and also 6 for 80 and two TDs versus the horns in Austin a year ago) from the X receiver position and the Longhorns are going to have to pick their poison.
To combat the Red Raiders' passing arsenal, the Longhorns boast one of the top secondaries in the country. While the hard hitting Earl Thomas got first round money with the Seattle Seahawks, there is still plenty of talent back there. Aaron Williams, Chykie and Curtis Brown rotate the corners. Williams, being the one prone to making the dynamic play and the one most highly rated on the NFL radar. Curtis Brown, who had the best seat in the house for the college play of the year in 2008, still has plenty of speed and cover ability. Blake Gideon returns to Jones AT&T stadium, the site of probably the most famous dropped interception in Longhorn history, and is still a physical player you have to account for and could be a factor in the running game. This unit has a lot of experience and gives the longhorn front seven a little breathing room as while talented, they adjust to life without Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston and Rod Muckelroy.
Key matchup: With the success the Red Raiders have had with the in, slant and post routes, Potts will not have the luxury of making a poor decision out there with a guy like Aaron Williams playing nickel for the horns. Williams can clog up a passing lane very quickly and he will intercept the football if he gets a chance. The Red Raiders have to make quick strikes and turn up the tempo. They also have to be aware of the Texas' keen ability to fake an injury to slow down the pace of the offense if it gets going.
Texas Offense versus Tech Defense:
This is the unknown part of the equation. No matter who starts at running back for the horns, Fozzy Whittaker, Tre' Newton and Cody Johnson have proven they can all get tough yards in big games. Texas has 364 yards on the ground in 2 games and has at least verbally made a commitment to re-establish the running game in Austin and try to make it easy for new QB Garrett Gilbert, but with 3 new starters on the offensive line, the longhorns are going to have to wait and see if they can protect a QB and run block against Big 12 competition. The o-line is yet to give up a sack this season, but at the same time they will face a much more difficult task facing a team coached by a man that helped knock out the longhorn QB when he faced the horns in January.
The most speed and talent for the longhorns seems to be at receiver with Malcom Williams, James Krikendoll and leading a talented group. This group is also unproven, and right now, there is not a "chain mover" like Jordan Shipley, who continued many drives and made most of the key catches for the horns the last few seasons. Tight end also seems to be a question for the horns, as Dan Buckner, a lanky TE who carved up the Red Raider defense last season is no longer on the team.
That said, the Red Raider defense is still adjusting to James Willis' new attacking scheme. Results have been good in the sack and turnover department, but growing pains have also existed as teams have moved the ball at times. Colby Whitlock leads a defensive front seven. Horn fans will remember him, as he sacked McCoy for a safety two years ago that set the tone of a physical first half in 2008. With 4 sacks in two games, Brian Duncan is learning the art of rushing the passer. I'd be willing to hand him a sack master degree if he gets to Gilbert 2 or more times on Saturday night.
The Red Raiders are very young in the secondary and its most experienced player, senior safety Franklin Mitchem injured a knee last week and may not be 100%. There is plenty of talent in the Red Raider secondary, though, as each of the cornerbacks in the rotation has picked off at least one pass. Cody Davis, a freshman All-American a year ago has also had 3 interceptions go through his hands, and has also been all over the field on defense.
The key matchup here is in the trenches. With so many new players and a couple of position switches in the Tech front seven, they will have to neutralize a running game that will be used to keep Tech's offense off the field. I think it's also in the Red Raider game plan to have the young quarterback try to beat you. If West Texan native Mason Walters and company start to dominate up front for the horns and the pressure isn't there from the front seven, the little bit of experience and speed the horns receivers have over the Red Raider secondary could win out.
So to sum it up, we know what one half of each team brings to the table, and that will be an epic chess match between Neal Brown and Will Muschamp. But I think it will be the battle of the Tech defense versus the Texas offense that will decide this one. If Texas' talent lives up to the hype and overpowers the Red Raider defense, then they might be able to outscore the Red Raiders, but if the Tech defense can put pressure on Gilbert, stop the run and create turnovers, then the Red Raiders win and it may not be close.