Know Thine Enemy: The Texas Longhorns are vulnerable


Tonight the Texas Tech regular season comes to an end in Austin as the Red Raiders look to eliminate the 4-6 Texas Longhorns from postseason contention. But in order to do that, the 2015 Texas Tech football team will have to overcome two decades of futility in the state capital.

In this installment of Know Thine Enemy, Wreck ‘Em Red provides a detailed look at what the Texas Longhorns will look to do on both sides of the ball.

The Texas Offense

To say that the UT offense is limited is an understatement. Charlie Strong’s team ranks 8th in the Big 12 in total offense ahead of only the two Kansas schools. After the first game of the season, a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame, Strong took play-calling responsibilities away from quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and anointed wide receivers coach Jay Norvell to lead the offense.

The results have not been spectacular because regardless of who calls the plays, a team with sub-par quarterback play is not going to have an effective offense.

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After the season-opening debacle in South Bend, Texas also switched starting quarterbacks. The absolutely inept Tyrone Swoopes was benched in favor of the marginally less inept freshman Jerrod Heard.

To say that either quarterback is a below average passer is being kind. In the pass-happy Big 12, Texas is averaging a meager 218.9 yards per game through the air and has thrown for only 8 touchdowns. Heard has thrown only five touchdown passes on the year to go along with five interceptions.

But what makes Heard dangerous is his explosive speed and ability to run the ball. Against the California Golden Bears Heard ran for 163 yards and in the Longhorns’ upset of Oklahoma he rushed for 115 yards. He is averaging 55.7 rushing yards per game this season and is a constant threat to pick up huge chunks of yards with his legs.

Texas Tech can expect to see an even heavier dose of Heard tonight because the top two running backs for Texas, Jonathan Gray and D’Onta Foreman are both out with injury. The two backs have accumulated 1,170 of the Longhorns’ 2,139 rushing yards on the season.

When Texas Tech faced Kansas State two weeks ago, everyone expected Kansas State to try to control the clock with the quarterback running game but Texas Tech limited the Wildcats’ Joe Hubener to only 9 yards rushing. Thus, Kansas State was forced to throw the ball 40 times in the game taking the Wildcats out of their comfort zone.

While Heard is far more explosive than Hubener, the Texas game plan should be similar. Texas does not want to throw the ball. Heard has thrown only 152 passes this season with his 32 passes being his most in a single game. So expect Texas Tech to key on Heard’s running game and try to make him win the game with his arm.

Other than Heard, the only explosive weapon Texas will have on the field is wide receiver John Burt who averages 20.65 yards per catch. However, he is averaging only two catches per game.

To put it simply, the Texas offense is meager to say the least. The Horns average only 368 yards per game and score 24.9 points per contest (9th in the Big 12). Texas will try to play keep away from Texas Tech because if Texas Tech’s offense is able to perform up to its capabilities, the Horns will struggle to score with the Red Raiders.

The Texas Defense

For years, Texas has fielded a fantastic defense with tremendous athletes at every level. But despite the plethora of former 4 and 5-star recruits on the Longhorn defense, Texas has struggled to stop opposing offenses, especially on the ground.

The Longhorns’ rush defense is ranked 8th in the conference ahead of only Texas Tech and Kansas. Coming off of a career high 248 rushing yards against Kansas State, Texas Tech running back De’Andre Washington should be looking forward to facing the porous Texas rush defense.

The Horns are allowing 194 yards per game on the ground and have surrendered 14 rushing touchdowns in only 10 games.

On the other hand, Texas is ranked 4th in the conference in pass defense allowing 234.5 yards per game. But this ranking may be attributed to the fact that many teams have had tremendous success against Texas on the ground.

In addition, Texas has spent the majority of the season trailing in games meaning that the opposition is rushing the ball more than usual to bleed the clock.

Unfortunately for Texas Tech, the Longhorns’ top two linebackers; Edwin Freeman (shoulder) and Malik Jefferson (stomach illness) are expected to be as healthly as they have been in at least a month following the off week. The effectiveness of these players will be a huge variable in the game. Keeping Pat Mahomes in the pocket preventing him from using his legs to pick up crucial yards on the ground, especially on third down will be the task of the UT linebackers and no one knows if Freeman and Jenkins will be up to the task.

Next: Texas Tech Basketball: 10 observations after 4 games

Texas Tech has not won in Austin since 1997 when Pat Mahomes was two-years-old and Kliff Kingsbury was 18. But this year is likely to be the best opportunity Texas Tech will have to end that streak.

Texas comes into the game needing to beat Texas Tech and Baylor to earn a bowl bid. Meanwhile, Texas Tech has already secured its bowl eligibility and can play this game with little pressure.

The Red Raiders will have to overcome their road struggles this season, especially offensively. But if Texas Tech plays a complete game and wins the turnover battle, there is no reason that it can’t emerge from Austin victorious giving Red Raider fans something to be especially thankful for this year.