The Texas Longhorns (7-3, 6-1) are still alive in the race for the Big 12 title, but they are virtually handcuffed to a share of the championship, should the right pieces fall into place.
Following the 'Horns worst home loss in the Mack Brown Era, Texas licked its wounds during a bye week in preparation of a Thanksgiving Night showdown against Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders are coming into the contest with the top-ranked passing offense in the FBS, which means while the college football landscape will be full of turkey, the Longhorns will have their hands full in dealing with Texas Tech's spread offense.
Since beginning the seasons 7-0, the Red Raiders have lost four straight by an average margin of 19.5 points per game. But with four players with at least 43 catches on the year, Texas will be challenged to make plays on both sides of the football.
If Texas really intends on securing its share of the Big 12 title, it begins with a win over Texas Tech and stopping the spread offense.
Winning the Trenches
Disruption in the backfield will be the biggest difference-maker in this game.
Texas Tech is allowing just over two sacks per game, and for a Texas team that registered no sacks and no quarterback hits against Oklahoma State, getting into the backfield often will be a priority in stopping the Red Raiders' air attack.
(1) Jackson Jeffcoat and (2) Cedric Reed are Texas' best pass-rushers, and they will have ample opportunities to impact the game at the line of scrimmage.
The two have combined to post 14.0 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss, and coming off a poor performance against the Cowboys, all eyes will be on Jeffcoat and Reed to make plays in the trenches.
The Defensive Backfield
Just as causing disruption in Texas Tech's offensive backfield, protecting the defensive backfield will be a daunting task for a veteran Texas secondary that has been inconsistent over the course of the season.
(3) Quandre Diggs is the obvious talking point as Texas' most dynamic defensive back. The junior has seemingly underperformed from a numbers perspective, but if there is one DB to pick to make a play, Diggs has to be the favorite playing the nickel.
(4) Carrington Byndom had a memorable 2012 appearance against the Red Raiders, posting three pass break-ups and a blocked kick in a 31-22 win in Lubbock. The senior has fallen far below his expected production, but he is still Texas' top cornerback.
|2013 Season Stats - Texas Secondary|
|NB Quandre Diggs||47-3||0||5||0|
|CB Carrington Byndom||45-2||0||4||0|
|S Adrian Phillips||62-2||2||2||0|
(5) Adrian Phillips has come a long way since his forgettable 2012 season. The senior safety, who has become a critical piece at the back end of Texas' secondary, is third on the team in tackles with 62 and is tied for first with two interceptions.
The flashiest numbers come up front on this Texas defense, but the Longhorns are definitely formidable in the back if the front four are doing their thing.
Texas Tech comes into this game ranked 104th in rushing offense with 123.7 yards per game. Texas has the physical, downhill run-stoppers in (6) Steve Edmond and (7) Dalton Santos, but their coverage skills are definitely lacking.
Red Raiders TE Jace Amaro leads his team with 92 receptions and 1,157 yards and has been a matchup nightmare for almost every opponent. Amaro is averaging nine catches per game in the Big 12.
The Bottom Line
In Texas Tech's last four games, it is averaging 60.75 passing attempts and 29.25 rushing attempts over that span. It is no secret what head coach Kliff Kingsbury will try to do.
The Longhorns need to win the early downs to set up obvious passing situations. From there, if Jeffcoat and Reed can be disruptive, the rest should fall in place.
It starts up front.