From Inside the Red Raiders
Texas Tech is scheduled to open the 2020 football season at home against Houston Baptist on Saturday night at The Jones. While the game and atmosphere will look very different presentation wise, the fact the Red Raiders are playing at all, given the circumstances, is a major victory.
As of Thursday morning Texas Tech was listed as a 39.5 favorite over Houston Baptist, an FCS program who performed well last week at North Texas before falling, 57-31. Though the Red Raiders are expected to roll over the Huskies this week, there are some facets of the game I’ll be watching for general improvement by Texas Tech from last season and of course what I believe to be the keys to victory over Houston Baptist.
Houston Baptist at Texas Tech
Records: HBU: 0-1; TTU: 0-0
When: 7 p..m. (CT) Saturday
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network (Satellite Radio: Sirius 98 / XM 200)
Houston Baptist quarterback Bailey Zappe sure looked in control of the Huskies offense last week against North Texas when he threw for 480 yards, three scores and zero interceptions. The Huskies run a version of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense which relies on a fast tempo and a lot of run-pass option plays. Former Texas Tech staffers Zach Kittley (offensive coordinator), Jared Kaster (offensive line) and Tyler Schovanec (special teams coordinator/running backs coach) all served under Kingsbury at Tech and have taken his offense to Houston Baptist.
They’re going to rack up some yards. What I want to see is if Texas Tech can apply consistent enough pressure on the quarterback to force Zappe into mistakes or if he’s going to be able to sit back in the pocket comfortably and run this offense we all know can be very potent. I’m also curious where that pressure is going to come from. Will it be from the down linemen such as Eli Howard, Nelson Mbanasor, Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford? How about the guys expected to play Raider, the overhanging strong side outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid?
Other questions I have is how often will they bring the inside linebackers such as new guys Colin Schooler and Krishon Merriweather? Will Tech drop eight back in coverage instead on most downs? Will this team do a better job of disguising their coverages this year? All of these factors play a hand in applying pressure on the quarterback and will be a key not only this week, but likely all season.
Sure, this is one of those keys that can be applied every week as a basic tenet of the game, but given Texas Tech’s struggles with tackling, historically, and the fact Houston Baptist is going to run a lot of receiver screens and short passing routes it will be especially key this week. No to mention all the disruptions to the practice schedule made going full speed in practice as much as usual in fall camp a difficult proposition.
I feel that overall, the Red Raiders were a much better tackling team last season under head coach Matt Wells and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson. I want to see this program take another step in that area and the first litmus test is Houston Baptist.
“How do you tackle live (is something I’m looking for)?” said Wells earlier this week. “Your linebackers, your safeties, how do you tackle when you’re in a live game.”
Considering all the new faces on defense I’m wondering the same thing heading into the season as Coach Wells.
Execute on offense
Texas Tech’s offense should have no problem executing against Houston Baptist. While I believe the Huskies’ offense will give the Red Raiders a good look, this side of the ball should be a huge mismatch in Tech’s favor. First off, Houston Baptist gave up 360 yards and four touchdowns on the ground alone last weekend to North Texas so I expect to see Texas Tech’s offensive line to push the Huskies’ defensive line around and open big holes for SaRodorick Thompson and the other running backs.
Beyond that, the hope is in Year 2 under David Yost with a healthy Alan Bowman and returning veteran receivers such as T.J. Vasher Erik Ezukanma, Dalton Rigdon and KeSean Carter that the timing with the passing game will be crisp. A low number of penalties and mental mistakes would also be a signal this offense is ready to execute and put up big numbers this season.
What I’m looking for in terms of production this week is 60-plus points and between 650-700 yards of total offense, but the eye test, how the offense looks will be just as telling.