Coming off a bye-week and four consecutive losses, the Texas Tech Red Raiders still have a lot to play for in their season finale. On Thanksgiving they head to Austin to face arch-rival and evil empire, the Texas Longhorns.
First of all, this is not an insurmountable task; no one in their right mind would call the Longhorns, “football’s best offense.” Texas ranks 47th in passing on the season and 41st in rushing, using a balanced, albeit somewhat ineffective, pro-style attack. The Longhorns average 440 yards of total offense per game, with 193 on the ground and 247 through the air.
This game should be easier than most in Austin, but Tech hasn’t beaten Texas since 2008 and hasn’t left Austin with a victory since 1997, despite several down seasons for the Longhorns the last few years.
Once again, a win over a good football team is asking a lot from this banged up Red Raider squad, but it can be done. Here’s how it works.
For our purposes, we’ll call Texas’ win against Iowa State a loss.
In four losses this season, the Longhorns gave up at least 21 first-downs to opponents per contest. Conversely, in their two best wins against Oklahoma and TCU, Texas only allowed 13 and 12 first-downs, respectively.
Not only does Tech needs to score to win, they need to sustain fairly lengthy drives. Kingsbury’s guys did a great job to start games against Kansas State and Baylor, putting together five scoring drives in each first quarter combined that accounted for 60 plays, nearly 16 minutes and 30 points. In the final three quarters of each game, however, the Red Raider offense managed just 15 points on average. Tech must sustain success when they get the ball if they want to beat Texas.
Run the Ball
Part of sustaining those long, point producing drives is running the ball effectively. In four losses, the Longhorns yielded 1,206 rushing yards total (302 per game). That’s almost as many yards as Tech has rushed for all season (1,361) and more than twice as many as the Red Raiders average per game (124).
Despite having three talented veteran options at running back, Tech’s offense simply can’t find a rushing game behind a young, undersized and inconsistent offensive line. With starters like Beau Carpenter and Alfredo Morales in and out of the lineup with injury all year, the line simply can’t achieve any sort of continuity. However, They’ll have to come together and carve some running lanes if Tech wants to win on Thursday.
Don’t expect the Red Raider defense to miraculously transform into the ’85 Bears, but they can be good enough if they simply do one thing: win (most) third-downs.
Let’s get nerdy with the stats. First, to win third-down, the defense will have to force third-down. In four conference wins, Tech forced an average of 16.75 third-down tries per game. In four losses, just 13.25. In conference wins, the Red Raider defense allowed a mere 28-percent third-down conversion rate. In losses, that jumped to 45 percent.
On the other side, Texas converts 45 percent of their third-down tries on the season. In losses, however, they pickup just 39 percent of the 16.25 tries they have per game. The goal is simple: force McCoy and and the Longhorn offense into third-down situations and win. If the boys in orange find themselves in at least 16.5 third-downs, expect the scoreboard to favor the Red Raiders.