Who: Texas Tech (0-0, 0-0) vs. Sam Houston State (0-0, 0-0)
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
When: Saturday, September 5, 2:30 (CT)
Media: Fox Sports Net (TV), Texas Tech Radio Network (radio)
Returning Starters: Texas Tech (16), Sam Houston State (21)
2014 Records: Texas Tech (4-8, 2-7), Sam Houston State (11-5, 7-1)
Coaches: Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury 12-13), Sam Houston State (K.C. Keeler 185-79-1)
Series History: Texas Tech leads 1-0 (80-21, September 17, 2005)
When Sam Houston Has the Ball
It will come as a shock to exactly nobody to know that Sam Houston State will test Texas Tech’s run defense immediately, and if proves lacking, will pound the Red Raiders on the ground for as long as possible. For as shaky as Tech was against the pass last season, they were positively hopeless against the run. Until the Red Raiders prove that they have improved dramatically in run defense, every opponent will endeavor to gouge them there.
Count Tech cornerback J.J. Gaines as one who gets the photo.
“We was bad on the run last year and bad on the pass last year, but if you can’t stop the run nobody will pass, so run is the first and foremost and then we gotta stop the pass too. We gotta eliminate the big plays.”
And the Bearkats have the weapons to run the pill very effectively. Sam Houston State is three deep in respectable tailbacks with Donavan Williams (658 yards and 5.3 YPC last year), former Texas Longhorn Jalen Overstreet (729 yards and 6.9 YPC last year), and Kansas transfer Cory Avery. Factor in dual-threat quarterback Jared Johnson who trucked for 999 yards last season and the Red Raiders have their work cut out for them.
Sam Houston has other reasons to keep it on the ground. For while quarterback Johnson is a respectable passer, he is not yet big aerial dynamite as evidenced by his 21-12 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio from a year ago. Furthermore, SHSU allowed 41 sacks in 2014, not a terribly impressive number, and one that may have Tech’s Pete Robertson (reigning Big 12 sack king) licking his chops.
So this could be a test of wills as much as anything. Sam Houston will seek to cram the ball at Tech, and the Red Raiders will devote particular attention to repulse the battering rams. This battle will go a long way toward deciding the outcome.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
The Red Raiders have made noises about running the ball more in 2015, and with 1,000-yard rusher DeAndre Washington, along with most of a very good offensive line back in the fold, will be tempted to start straight away against the Bearkats. But passing has been Tech’s bread and butter since 2000, and the airways may actually be the home team’s best bet against SHSU.
“[They] bring a bunch of different looks. Not the biggest group, but they’re all over the field, a very athletic group, make a lot of plays, fly around, well coached, obviously," Kliff Kingsbury said. "And they’ve had a lot of success. They play confidently. They attack. The corners get down in your face, they challenge you so it’ll be a confident group when they come in here.”
Sam Houston State returns an All-Southland cornerback in Trenier Orr, but still look a bit vulnerable against the pass. In 2014 Sam Houston surrendered 237 yards per game through the air, and gave up 31 passing TDs against 14 interceptions.
A Red Raider passing attack that began clicking late in 2014 when Patrick Mahomes took over at quarterback, will not be daunted by what Sam Houston State trots out on pass defense. Washington could still get his 100 yards on the ground in this one, but the bet here is that presumptive starter Mahomes and a fleet of quality receivers will put up very big numbers against the visitors.
In fact, Sam Houston’s best pass defender is probably defensive end P.J. Hall who absolutely tore it up as a freshman, recording 30 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, eight pass breakups and five blocked kicks as a freshman. Tech will want to chip and occasionally double Hall to ensure he isn’t too disruptive.
The Pick: Texas Tech 48 Sam Houston State 41