The nonconference schedule had ups and downs for Texas. Games against Louisiana and Rice were thought to be surefire wins and turned out to be true. Arkansas, on the other hand, was a disaster from the get-go despite being nearly a touchdown favorite on the road.
Now, Steve Sarkisian can turn the page to conference play with a home game against Texas Tech. It will mark the second consecutive season the two schools will open up their Big 12 seasons against one another.
Texas Tech enters Darrel K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium undefeated with the most impressive win being over Houston. Saturday will mark their first true away game of the year, however.
We know the offense is going to be solid under Matt Wells, but the Red Raider defense has performed nicely three games in. Texas will have to prepare as they did against Louisiana and Rice to start conference play 1-0.
Here are five things to watch for in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Texas Tech on Saturday.
Texas Tech's run defense
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Yes, Texas Tech plays defense. And to the surprise of many, at a high level. Opponents have not enjoyed running the ball in Lubbock three games into the season, only averaging 54 yards per game. Stephen F. Austin and Florida International being on the schedule may have helped, but Houston ran for 77 yards on 35 carries in the season opener. Bijan Robinson is the strength of Texas' offense and proved so against Rice on Saturday. If the running back is not able to get going, much like he could not against Arkansas, the Longhorns could be in trouble. Texas Tech is second in the Big 12 with 19 tackles for loss. Keith Patterson's group will get in the backfield. A good offensive line display will be key to the Longhorns' offensive success.
Wide receiver distribution
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Three games in, Xavier Worthy is the leading receiver with 10 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. Jordan Whittington is close behind with 152 yards and a touchdown on 13 catches. However, the issue is a majority of the production has come in one big game, not spread out evenly. Whittington dominated in the season opener against Louisiana, while Worthy had a big game against Rice. Casey Thompson will need to distribute the ball more evenly between the two, plus Joshua Moore and occasionally Kelvontay Dixon. Now, if a receiver is hot, get him the ball at all costs. But seeing more than one receiver have a decent day would build confidence in the offense. Especially once somebody like Troy Omeire recovers from injury is plugged in.
Texas Tech RB Tajh Brooks
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Steve Sarkisian was not shy to compliment Texas Tech's run game. He mentioned how everyone thinks of the air raid in Lubbock because of Mike Leach but "these guys will run the ball and run it right at you." Tahj Brooks has been the main back for Matt Wells, going for 284 yards and four touchdowns on 35 attempts. Those numbers are on par with Bijan Robinson. Xavier White is just as physical, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Quarterback Tyler Shough was brought in for a good reason. That does not mean Texas Tech is going to shy away from running the ball. Brooks is going to get his fair share of touches on Saturday. Texas' front seven must be ready to crash and make consistent tackles.
Close games over the years
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Texas Tech has been far from an easy out over the past six years. Except for the 2019 matchup, every game has been decided by one score. Texas has come out victorious on three of those occasions. All three games so far this season have been determined by the time the fourth quarter began. If Texas Tech can keep playing Texas tough, watching how Sarkisian handles the pressure of a late, tense game will tell us a lot about this football team. Especially on the offensive side of the ball. Sam Ehlinger is no longer available to use the get out of jail free card. Somebody else will have to step up and play hero ball if needed.
Coverage against WR Erik Ezukanma
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Erik Ezukanma is by far Texas Tech's top receiver. He and Shough have gotten off to a great start. To make matters worse, he has a successful track record against the Longhorns in the previous two seasons. Fourteen receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns is how Ezukanma stat sheet reads vs Texas. The 6-3, 220-pound receiver is just as much of a deep threat as he is with the ball in his hands. D'Shawn Jamison/Josh Thompson will have the task of covering him all night. Shutting Ezukanma down and forcing Shough to find it other receivers would be considered a win for Pete Kwiatkowski's secondary.