Texas Tech: The Matchups

It's all about the matchups. And Saturday's Texas-Texas Tech game has plenty to keep an eye on.

Texas's offensive line vs. Texas Tech's defensive line

This is the theoretical question of what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force. Texas Tech's defensive line has been one of the great stories of early play, with the Red Raiders racking up nine sacks, tops in the Big 12. The primary offender has been Brian Duncan, a defensive end molded from a former middle linebacker, who has four sacks. But Texas's offensive line has yet to allow a sack on the season, and generally has kept quarterback Garrett Gilbert's jersey clean. Texas's offensive line could also have an advantage when the Longhorns decide to run the ball … Texas Tech has allowed 3.8 yards per carry despite facing two pass-happy teams. To run the ball though, Texas will have to block Colby Whitlock, who has been a Longhorn killer in the past.

Texas's defensive backs vs. Texas Tech's wide receivers

Another matchup where it's best-on-best. Texas's defensive back group could be the best in the country. Chykie Brown would probably be the No.1 cornerback for several other Big 12 teams, but he's arguably the team's third cornerback on a roster that includes salty cover corner Curtis Brown and future high-round NFL Draft pick Aaron Williams. Add in versatile cornerback/safety Kenny Vaccaro, and the Longhorns have a luxury most don't: they have enough cover players to play Tech's receivers straight up, especially when you add in safeties Blake Gideon and Christian Scott. But Tech's group of receivers is among the top groups in the country. Lyle Leong and Jacoby Franks are among the Big 12's leaders in receiving yards and receptions, respectfully. Then there's Tramain Swindall, Detron Lewis and Alex Torres, who combined for more than 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago.

Mike Davis vs. the Tech cornerbacks

Heading into the game, most people will finger Davis's lack of experience as a reason why he won't stand out Saturday. But if any freshman is equipped to play bigger than his age on the road, it's the ever-confident Davis. Blessed with a unique skillset that makes him arguably Texas's most explosive target, Davis is a tough matchup for a secondary that hasn't exactly excelled against the pass. Big games often swing on a few big plays, and Davis has the speed and the talent to put a few big plays on the board.

The Texas defensive line vs. Taylor Potts

The enduring image of a year ago was Sergio Kindle blasting Potts and knocking his helmet off. It seemed like Potts never really recovered. The key for Tech will be to frustrate the Texas rush by getting rid of the ball quickly and using a combination of draws, screen passes to backs and receivers and hot routes. Those can frustrate a defensive line, which can be slowed significantly by having to run sideways and hold gaps rather than getting upfield and attacking. Texas's defensive line will have to cope with the mental and physical toll those plays will take, as many times the ball will be gone before they really have a chance to get into their rush. When Potts does rear back for a downfield shot, players like Sam Acho, Eddie Jones and Jackson Jeffcoat will have to take advantage of the chance by generating pressure, and ultimately, sacks.

Fozzy Whittaker vs. Bront Bird

Sure, Texas will rotate three running backs into the game. But Whittaker can up his touches to the 15-20 mark by displaying and maintaining a hot hand. Whittaker's explosiveness is the asset that he has over fellow backs Tre Newton and Cody Johnson, and Texas may need his big plays to take the pressure off Gilbert. A prototypical middle linebacker, Bird (6-4 248) will lead the charge to try and slow down Whittaker and the running game. If Whittaker can get into space, it could be a tough matchup for Bird to win. But if Bird can play downhill and eliminate Whittaker's holes, he would put Texas into some tough situations.

X-factor: Texas third-down distance

As we showed earlier this week, Gilbert has converted 50 percent of the third-and-medium to third-and-short opportunities he has been given. Move him back to third-and-long (seven-plus yards) and that percentage drops dramatically, to 20 percent. Those percentages stand out for this game in that Texas wasn't facing a high-caliber pass rush in its first two games. With Brian Duncan and co. drooling over longer situations where they can attack the quarterback, it becomes especially important to put Gilbert, playing in his first road game, in makeable situations on third down.

The Verdict

Mike Leach has said that this was his most talented roster, and it's not hard to see why. But the Red Raiders' strengths will collide head-on with Texas's strengths. Meanwhile, Tech's secondary and its run defense, might not have enough to win those matchups. Texas's defense should also be able to slow down or stop the Red Raiders' run game, making them one-dimensional. Like all Texas-Texas Tech games, this one will be close, and probably will go down to the wire, but Texas is just a little bit more complete at this point.

Texas 28

Texas Tech 17

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