Who: Texas Tech (6-5, 3-5) versus Texas (4-6, 3-4)
Where: Austin, Texas, Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium
When: Thanksgiving, 6:30 (CT)
Media: Fox Sports 1 (TV); Texas Tech Sports Network (radio)
Coaches: Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury (18-18); Texas, Charlie Strong (47-29)
Series: Texas leads 47-15; most recent, 2014, Texas 34, Texas Tech 13
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Texas Tech’s defense—to no incredible surprise—has been lackluster in 2015. But Texas’ defense—doubtless to the shock of many—hasn’t been a great deal better than Tech’s. While Texas Tech is known as an outpost of outstanding offensive football, Texas has consistently fielded excellent defenses. Not in 2015, though.
The Longhorns are No. 86 nationally in scoring defense, No. 97 in rushing defense, No. 100 in pass efficiency defense, No. 94 in total defense, No. 120 in third down conversion defense, and No. 98 in red zone touchdown percentage defense.
And that rushing defense ranking is particularly surprising. Historically the Longhorns have bullied opponents with dominant defensive lines, utterly stonewalling rushing attacks in the process. But in week two, when Rice—Rice!—shoved the Texas front four all over the field and rushed for 228 yards, it was quite clear that this wasn’t your father’s Texas rushing defense. So for the first time since 2008 at the latest, the Red Raider offense should have an advantage over the Longhorn defense along the line of scrimmage and with their running backs.
The one area where Texas is still formidable is rushing the passer. The Horns rank No. 13 in total sacks and No. 9 in sacks per game. Linebacker Peter Jinkens, who has 6.5 sacks on the season, heads up the Longhorn pass rushers.
And speaking of linebackers, true freshman Malik Jefferson has lived up to advanced billing. He is currently second on the team in stops with 59, and also has six tackles for loss.
Texas has also done reasonably well in forcing turnovers, and hard-hitting ex-walkon safety Dylan Haines leads the Longhorns in picks with four.
The current Red Raider offense will definitely go down as one of the greatest in school history. Tech is pushing for top national rankings in scoring offense, passing offense, and total offense. But the significant revelation this year is that the Red Raiders also field one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks. Thanks to DeAndre Washington and a very good offensive line—not to mention creative play-calling and play-design from Kliff Kingsbury—Texas Tech is No. 8 nationally in rushing yards per carry, with an average of 5.6. The Red Raiders are also No. 1 in third down-conversion percentage.
Current weather forecasts show a very good chance of thunderstorms in the Austin area at game-time. If the weather-heads are correct, conditions will be far from optimal for passing the football. Look for Kingsbury and the Tech offense to minimize the chance for offensive error by running the football with Washington and quarterback Pat Mahomes.
When Texas Has the Ball
The Texas offense isn’t a great deal better than the defense, but is still good in one very important area—running the football. Hence, the Longhorns are No. 25 nationally in rushing offense.
But there is a caveat. The Red Raiders appear to be catching a break inasmuch as top running back D'Onta Foreman, a highly impressive freshman, will likely not play because of recent surgery on a finger. What’s more, Johnathan Gray (son of Texas Tech running back James Gray), is also questionable. This leaves true freshman Chris Warren, who has carried the ball all of 18 times for 88 yards as Texas’ likely lead back for this game. Warren is talented—he was widely regarded as the best high school running back in Texas last year—but is obviously not yet at the level of Foreman and Gray.
But the news is not all good for Texas Tech. The Longhorns still have running quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to call upon. The massive Swoopes (6-foot-4 and 245 pounds) is an extremely physical runner who plays quarterback like a gifted tight end. Swoopes won’t start against Tech—that honor will go to redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard—but given the likely weather conditions and Tech’s historic weakness against the run, look for Swoopes to play an unusually large role in the Longhorn gameplan.
So, as has so often been the case, a Red Raider defense that has few true statistical strengths, but has been particularly weak against the run, will once again pin its hopes on creating turnovers, and doing better than usual against the run. Because of all of the variables at work here, the matchup between Texas’ offense and Tech’s defense will be an intriguing one.
The Pick: Texas 33, Texas Tech 31