Texas has been better than Texas Tech the last few years up front, a big part of the reason the Longhorns have won their last several games against the Red Raiders. The difference was especially telling in 2011, when the Longhorns rushed for more than 400 yards in blowing out the Red Raiders. The difference up front isn't as big this year, especially not with the return of Dartwan Bush to the lineup. But it bears mention that Tech has allowed at least 275 rushing yards in each of its last four games, all losses. If Texas can line up and run the ball, not only will it help the offense, it should keep the defense off the field.
And that's where these two come in. Brown and Bergeron are at least the same size of (and in most cases, bigger than) the players who have to tackle them. They could wear down those players with a power running attack. At the same time, Texas is probably going to have to be patient, as Brown and Bergeron don't have the explosiveness of the injured Johnathan Gray or the suspended Daje Johnson. That means the Longhorns will have to deliver body shot after body shot, and Brown and Bergeron will have to run physically, get what they can and avoid turning the ball over.
Texas cornerbacks versus the Texas Tech wide receivers
Heading into the Oklahoma State game, I felt that the Longhorns had a major advantage with their cornerbacks against the Cowboy wide receivers. But the game certainly didn't play out that way, with Texas struggling to cover a group that was without multiple top targets. Simply put: the Longhorns can't afford that kind of performance again on Thursday. Not only do the cornerbacks have to do their jobs on a pretty talented receiving corps, but they have to come up and make plays in the short passing game that essentially serves as part of Tech's running game. Let those short plays go for big gains, or get beaten by guys like Eric Ward down the field, and it could be a long day for the defense. Their jobs become even more important given that Tech's quick throws should take Texas's pass-rush somewhat out of the game. If they're able to cover, that's when it gives guys like Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed to get home.
Texas safeties versus Jace Amaro, Texas Tech tight end
Of course, the biggest weapon in Tech's passing game is massive, 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jace Amaro at tight end. He's a nightmare, the type of player who always seems to produce a 15-yard catch on third-and-11. Too athletic for linebackers and too big for safeties, he presents a challenge the likes of which Texas hasn't faced this season. Typically, the Longhorns have defended tight ends with their box safeties. But that could present a problem for 6-foot-2, 185-pound Mykkele Thompson and the heavier, but shorter, Adrian Phillips. On third downs especially, he'll present a nasty challenge.
Texas's wide receivers versus the Texas Tech cornerbacks
Last year, Texas ran the ball effectively against Texas Tech, rushing for 163 yards at 4.2 yards per pop. But where the Longhorns truly swung the game was in the passing game, with Texas averaging 24 yards per completion, aided by a four-catch, 165-yard, two-touchdown day from Mike Davis. The Longhorns will need those kinds of plays again, and they'll be working against a secondary starting two true freshmen. If ever there was a good day for the Longhorns to exploit their talent and depth at the receiver position, this is probably it.
X-Factor: The Running Game
Texas's biggest advantage heading into this game would appear to be the Longhorns' ability to run the ball. And if the Longhorns can slow down the Texas Tech running game, they can put Tech into third-and-long situations where Tech has to hold onto the ball longer, allowing Texas's pass-rushing defensive line to attack an offensive line that has allowed 24 sacks so far this year. The team that runs the ball the best (and we could include Tech's quick passing game in that statement) will probably win.
I think this one will be a close game, thanks in large part to the Longhorns' inability of late to lock down opposing passing attacks. At the same time, Texas should be able to run the ball well enough to control the pace a little bit, and I think that gives the Longhorns an edge in the end. I predicted 42-35 in the Texas Tech Five Questions segment, and I don't wind up far off those numbers here. Interestingly enough, this is the same score that RaiderPower.com Publisher Jarret Johnson listed his his five question segment, though it was purely accidental.
TEXAS — 38
Texas Tech — 28