The Texas linebackers seem to get better every week, but now they're back to facing the kind of challenge they've struggled with all season: a spread team that can gash you with the running game. Kenny Williams is a 220-pound back with home-run ability, and he averages 6.1 yards per carry. Stephens was one of the Big 12's top backs last year, and while he isn't quite performing at that level, he's still dangerous. This is a tough matchup for the Longhorns.
It has been somewhat of a surprise, but Hyder and Simmons have emerged as one of the Big 12's top defensive tackle units. Simmons is less of a shock, as a former five-star recruit, but Hyder, an Austin native, has been outstanding as a gap-jumping tackle, making almost double-digit tackles for loss in eight games. They provide a big part of the Tech pass rush as well, with Hyder leading the team in sacks. So if the Longhorns can handle those two, they'll have a chance to succeed at running the ball, a huge step forward to winning on the road.
All quarterbacks have their struggles, and if Texas is going to close out the season on a high note, the Longhorns need Ash to find his early-season form. He'll face a challenge today in the instinctual Davis, who leads the Red Raiders in both tackles and interceptions. Ash will have to throw the ball well to keep Davis honest, because if he's allowed to creep up into the box, the Longhorn running game could really struggle.
This will be the biggest challenge on the outside that the Longhorns have faced since Baylor, and potentially all season. Many years, the Red Raiders have slot receivers who can eat you alive, but this year, most of the big plays have come courtesy of the outside guys. Ward and Moore have combined for a whopping 18 touchdowns between them, and Moore is one of the most physically talented receivers in the league. If Byndom and Diggs can hold strong, that will severely limit what Tech is able to do.
Texas defensive line versus the Texas Tech offensive line
This could wind up deciding the game. Last year, the Longhorns just overwhelmed the Red Raiders up front on both sides of the ball, pressuring and sacking Tech sharpshooting quarterback Seth Doege over and over again. An All-America performance from Alex Okafor would go a long way here, while the Longhorns will again be forced to use all of their depth on the defensive line, with guys like Reggie Wilson and Shiro Davis becoming that much more important. Tech has given up 13 sacks this year, so teams have been able to get after Doege at times.
X-Factor: Keeping it Simple
Texas had one of its best defensive halves of football against a capable Kansas team with momentum, holding the Jayhawks to 75 second-half yards and just three second-half points. And they did it by removing many of the stunts and movement that were being exploited early on. It sounds simple, but Texas is typically more talented in its defensive front than its opponents. And in simplifying things and just letting the guy whip the man in front of him, it allows players to play fast and with more confidence.
Malcolm Brown was upgraded to probable, and even if he's somewhat rusty, this is a game that the Longhorns could use him for. The gameplan likely won't be that different from last year's plan: get after Doege defensively and pound the ball offensively. If Texas doesn't try to get too cute, and if the Longhorns can get more touches for speed threats like Marquise Goodwin, D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson, the Longhorns have the ability to pull out a close game here.
TEXAS — 28
Texas Tech — 24