By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN – No. 19 Texas and unranked but dangerous Texas Tech will square off on Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock in a key Big 12 contest. Here are a few of the things to watch for when the long-time rivals battle on the South Plains:
NOTES, QUOTES, PLAYERS TO WATCH
• QB Sam Ehlinger, a sophomore, has become the unquestioned leader of the Longhorns’ offense. He went toe to toe with likely Heisman Trophy finalist Will Grier of West Virginia last week and acquitted himself very well, going 25 of 36 for 354 yards and three touchdowns while adding 52 yards and another score on the ground. He continues to build on his school-record 246 consecutive passes without throwing an interception, besting Major Applewhite’s previous school record of 156 set in 1999.
• WR Collin Johnson, a junior, had four catches for 47 yards against West Virginia. With every game Johnson is continuing his role as the go-to receiver that the Longhorns have been looking for. Johnson is the huge, intermediate target that the Texas needs to help open up the offense because the 6-foot-6 receiver can go over or through most of the defensive backs that are covering him. He now has 50 receptions for 675 yards and five TDs combined in the first nine games.
• LB Gary Johnson, a senior who came to Texas last year after playing in junior college, has already asserted himself as the Longhorns’ do-everything linebacker and be one of the team’s leaders. Johnson registered just two tackles and a pass breakup in the loss to West Virginia. At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Johnson might be a little undersized to be a constant run stuffer, but he plays bigger than his size and hits as hard as anyone in college football. Johnson will make some plays this season where he will come from the far side of the field to force a turnover.
• CB Kris Boyd. No player on the Longhorns has been harder to predict over the past three seasons than Boyd, and continues his enigmatic play and actions three-fourths of the way into the 2018 campaign. Boyd has the skills to be a true shutdown corner – as long as he can keep his emotions in check. At 6-foot and 195 pounds, he has the size to take on and stop most of the receivers that will line up across from him. Boyd had six tackles and three pass breakups in the loss to West Virginia. He has 36 stops, a sack, 1½ tackles for a loss, an interception, and 13 pass breakups for the season.
• Texas and Texas Tech meet for the 68th time on Saturday night. The Longhorns own an all-time record of 50-17 against the Red Raiders. Saturday’s matchup will be the 31st meeting in Lubbock, with Texas owning a 20-10 advantage. The Longhorns have won seven of the past nine in the series and 12 of the last 15 overall. Since the start of the Big 12 Conference, the Longhorns are 16-6 against the Red Raiders.
• The last time these two programs met in Lubbock, D’Onta Foreman ran for 341 yards and led the Longhorns to a 45-37 win over Patrick Mahomes and Texas Tech granting Texas a fourth straight win in Lubbock.
QUOTE TO NOTE
• “There's been a lot of bright eyes, chins up, all that good stuff walking around the facility today. That's a good sign. I think our guys are ready to go back to work. We know that there is no rest for the weary in this conference. We don't have time to pout, to wallow in self-pity about losing a ballgame. We're moving on. We're 0-0 this week against Texas Tech.” – Texas coach Tom Herman
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
• The Texas defense versus Texas Tech’s high-powered offense. The Longhorns have not stopped either Oklahoma State or West Virginia the past two weeks and have lost both games. Tech has been one of the best running teams in the Big 12 this season and Texas has had trouble slowing the run. With the slew of injuries on the Texas D, expect the Red Raiders to try to wear down Texas before going up top for the big play.
• WR Collin Johnson has the size (6-foot-6, 215 pounds), athleticism and speed that the NFL loves, but he needs to be more aggressive. Texas coach Tom Herman has ordered his quarterbacks to go to the go-route to Johnson anytime and every time he draws single coverage, and that strategy worked for a 22-yard TD in the loss to Maryland. He now has 50 catches for 675 yards and five TDs combined in the first nine games.
• QB Sam Ehlinger has now attempted 246 consecutive passes without an interception, surpassing Major Applewhite’s school record of 156. He is on the watch list for the 2018 Manning Award.
• DE Marqez Bimage dislocated his shoulder against West Virginia and will the rest of the season.
• WR Collin Johnson tweaked his knee in practice on Wednesday and was seen Thursday leaving practice on crutches. Herman said a final decision on whether Johnson will play against the Red Raiders will be made at game time.
• DE Breckyn Hager, who dislocated his radius early in the game against the Mountaineers, has been cleared to play against the Red Raiders but is likely to be limited in his action.
• DB Brandon Jones, who reinjured his ankle at the team hotel prior to the West Virginia game in what Herman keeps calling “a freak deal,” is doing everything he can to try to get back. “He’s still day to day and will be evaluated Friday and then Saturday morning,” the coach said. “He will make the trip.”
• Herman said the Longhorns would likely employ difference defensive packages to try to counter the strengths of the two Texas Tech quarterbacks that they will likely see on Saturday.
• UT has had four turnover-free games so far in 2018 (TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State). The Longhorns’ lone turnover last week versus West Virginia was on a last-play series of laterals.
• Texas is one of just seven teams in FBS to have two receivers with 50-or-more catches (Lil’Jordan Humphrey, 55; Collin Johnson 50.
• After missing a combined 36 games along the offensive line in 2017, UT's starting offensive linemen have missed just three combined games so far in 2018.
ON TEXAS TECH
• John Bonney will be familiar with almost every player on the Longhorns’ roster as the senior came to Texas Tech midway through preseason practices in August. Bonney transferred from the University of Texas where he recorded 87 career tackles along with an interception, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and 14 pass breakups over 37 games, including 15 starts.
• Texas Tech continues to rank among the nation’s offensive leaders as the Red Raiders are second in passing offense (375.6 yards per game) and then ninth in both scoring (42.7 points per game) and total offense (522.1 yards per game). Tech is also second nationally with 256 first downs.
• The Red Raiders are averaging 42.7 points per game, which ranks ninth nationally and second in the Big 12. Texas Tech is currently on pace to average at least 40 points per game for the third time in a four-year stretch and the sixth time in school history.
• WR Antoine Wesley ranks among the top breakout performances from the first half of the season as the junior currently ranks second nationally with 1,176 receiving yards and receiving yards per game (130.7) this season. Wesley entered this season with 12 catches for 146 yards over his first two seasons. He was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list earlier this season, which is presented annually to the nation’s top receiver regardless of position.
• DB Adrian Frye has easily been among the top freshmen in the country this season as the Houston native ranks among the NCAA leaders for interceptions (4) and passes defended (16). Frye is tied for fourth in the FBS with his four interceptions, which is also tied for the most among freshmen nationally.
• Despite ranking among the nation’s passing leaders through the first eight games of the season, Texas Tech has proven to be quite effective on the ground as the Red Raiders rank tied for 15th nationally with 25 rushing touchdowns. Texas Tech’s 25 rushing touchdowns are its most through nine games in a season since moving to its wide-open attack prior to the 2000 campaign.