The road to the Big 12 title continues Thursday, when the Texas Longhorns play host to the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Thanksgiving night.
The hype surrounding the Longhorns' Thanksgiving game changed when Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. Texas struggled to adjust to playing a different team on turkey day and lost to TCU last season. But Mack Brown's Longhorns have been perfect at home against the Red Raiders, winning seven consecutive games in Austin. A win Thursday will put the Longhorns one step closer to clinching a Big 12 title.
A win will not come easy against Texas Tech's uptempo offense. Kliff Kingsbury's offense leads the nation in passing offense, averaging 400 yards in the air against opponents. The Red Raiders looked unstoppable in the first half of the season, winning seven straight games. But Kingsbury's fairytale start of the season came to a crashing halt, and the Red Raiders have lost their past four games.
Can the Red Raiders snap the losing streak and crush the Longhorns' Big 12 title dreams?
When: Thursday, November 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
TV: Fox Sports 1
Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300
SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 117; Sirius 202; Internet 969; Spanish 970
Spread: Texas (-4.5), per VegasInsider.com
Last meeting: November 3, 2012; Lubbock, Texas
Last outcome: Texas 31, No. 20 Texas Tech 22
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Prepare to call an offensive audible
Texas Tech is known for slinging the ball down the field, but it may be difficult to rack up 400-plus yards in the air against the Texas secondary. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 55 percent of passes against the Texas defense, and the Longhorns have only given up nine passing touchdowns in 10 games.
After showing signs of progress through six conference games, the Texas defense went back to its old ways and struggled to stop the quarterback run against Oklahoma State. Texas Tech should not abandon the passing attack, but it needs to be prepared to test the Longhorns on the ground if the passing attack is not effective.
Stop the run
It is no secret Texas Tech's defense has struggled against the run. The Red Raiders rushing defense ranks No. 9 in the Big 12 against their conference opponents' run game and have allowed 24 touchdowns on the ground. In order to be successful in this game, Texas Tech's defense has to stop the stacked Texas backfield.
Pressure Texas Tech's quarterback
The Red Raiders have not announced which quarterback will start Thursday's game, but regardless of who is under center, the Longhorns defense needs to be prepared to face a pass-heavy offense.
The Texas defense racked up 24 sacks and pressured opposing quarterbacks 40 times in the first six Big 12 games. But the defense ended its game against Oklahoma State with a goose egg in the sack column and one quarterback hurry. The Longhorns have to up the pressure Thursday to contain the Red Raiders' passing attack.
Run the ball
The Texas run game took a major hit when sophomore Johnathan Gray sustained a season-ending injury against West Virginia. But the backfield is arguably the deepest position for the Longhorns. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron will carry a lot of the offensive load against the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech has struggled against opponents' ground game, allowing 221 yards per game against conference opponents. Texas will need to pound the rock against one of the worst run defenses in the Big 12.
No. 22 Jace Amaro
Texas Tech has one of the best tight ends in the country, even if the John Mackey Award does not agree. Junior Jace Amaro leads the Red Raiders receiving corps, averaging 12.6 yards per reception and 105 yards per game. He ranks No. 2 nationally in receptions, No. 5 in receiving yards, No. 6 in receptions per game and No. 10 in receiving yards per game.
"He's not as tall as Rob Gronkowski, but he affects the game similarly," Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said of Amaro. "He catches deep balls, he catches short balls, he cracks backs on screen passes, he does it all."
In other words, Amaro is a defensive coach's nightmare and will be a key player for Texas Tech Thursday night.
No. 44 Jackson Jeffcoat
Thursday night will be the senior Longhorns' final appearance at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat has faced a lot of adversity in his four years at Texas, but he persevered and is one of the most valuable playmakers on the Longhorns defense.
"It has been a roller-coaster ride, with a lot of ups and downs," Jeffcoat said of his career at Texas. "I have learned a lot from the struggles we've had and the success we're currently having. Really, we have to finish and make this right."
In order to finish the season right, Jeffcoat and the Texas defense have to bring the heat Thursday and constantly put the pressure on Texas Tech's quarterback.
Texas head coach Mack Brown on Texas Tech's offense
"They are very similar to what they were with Mike Leach. They don't have that many concepts, but they are better at executing their concepts than you are defending it. A screen to them is a run. They're going to spread you out and throw it. They will take chances and are confident in everything that they do."
Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Greg Robinson's changes on the Texas defense, via TexasTech.com.
"Schematically, it's a lot different. He's been around a lot of football. They're playing really good defense since he's taken over and won a bunch of games. So very talented group."
Senior Texas safety Adrian Phillips on Texas Tech testing the Longhorns secondary
"It is a pride game because it feels like they are testing your unit directly. Some teams are balanced, some like to run the ball and test the front seven. When we face a team like Tech that is going to challenge your secondary, you can't take a play off, no matter what."
Junior Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro on how the Red Raiders offense can help their defense, via TexasTech.com
"We have to put the defense in good position. We've had too many penalties kill our drives and put us in bad situations. We need to make sure we control the ball. We have moved the ball very well in every single game this season. Nobody has been able to stop us when we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."
For the second straight year, the Longhorns' Thanksgiving game will not be a breeze.
Texas Tech's Air Raid offense poses a threat to any opponent's secondary. But the Red Raiders' struggling defense, which has allowed 221 rushing yards and 36 points per game against Big 12 opponents, will struggle to contain the Longhorns ground attack.
Thursday's game has the chance of being a shootout, but in the end, the Texas Longhorns will prevail.
Texas 35, Texas Tech 31
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