No. 8 Longhorns expecting Red Raiders’ best shot Saturday in Lubbock

25 Sep By
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Texas Tech barely edged Houston Baptist in its season opener, but the Red Raiders have a pair of dangerous offensive weapons in quarterback Alan Bowman and running back SaRodorick Thompson (photo courtesy of texastech.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — There’s nothing pleasant about a trip to Lubbock for anyone involved with Texas football, and it would be foolish, and downright preposterous, to think Saturday afternoon’s game against Texas Tech will be anything but a slugfest that comes down to the final series.

Yes, the No. 8 Longhorns should win if they play anywhere close to the level they did Sept. 12 in a season-opening 59-3 victory over UTEP, and, yes, the Red Raiders might not be a bad as they were in squeaking out a two-point home win that same day over Houston Baptist, a program that only has fielded a football team since 2014.

But the Longhorns should consider this game as it would a trip to the dentist: they might not have had tooth pain when they flew to Lubbock, but are likely to have plenty when they leave, even if they come out with a clean cavity report.

The Longhorns are keeping their eyes on the bigger prize and are determined to put their initial success in the rear-view mirror when they squares off against Texas Tech Saturday afternoon in Lubbock, Texas, for the each team's Big 12 Conference opener.

UT and Tech both come in to Saturday’s game off an open week and games that were their lone non-conference contests of the year. From now until mid-December, it’s all Big 12 games with each of the other nine teams in the league.

Texas coach Tom Herman knows the Red Raiders will be a challenge for his team, even though the Longhorns (1-0) totally dominated UTEP in their easy win and after Texas Tech struggled to put away Houston Baptist, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Herman said Monday that his team’s game against UTEP was “our scrimmage,” with the Texas starters getting in for about 30 snaps. UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw for 426 yards and touchdowns to five different receivers, all in the first half, in the blowout victory.

"We understand this is a huge, huge test on the road,” Herman said. “The level of competition ratchets up significantly. Just because a team won by two points in Week 1 doesn’t mean they’re not capable of beating you by 21 either. 

“Let’s not jump to too many conclusions here after one game and the craziest offseason in the history of college football. We haven’t done anything yet. But our guys know what they’re capable of — I do think there’s a lot of confidence in (our) locker room.”

Ehlinger said Covid-19 restrictions that will have Jones AT&T Stadium at 25 percent capacity will have an impact on how he can communicate with his teammates at the line of scrimmage.

"It'll be interesting to see the differences and the nuances that come with social distancing on the road,” Ehlinger said. “It's definitely a plus that we're not going to have to face a full capacity stadium. I guess there will be a quarter of the amount of tortillas thrown per game on Saturday.”

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Texas Tech always plays the Longhorns tough and is a much better team than it showed in its opener. The Red Raiders lost four games by three points or fewer last year and limped to a 1-6 finish, but return their own impressive signal-caller in Alan Bowman, who missed the second half of last season with shoulder injury. Bowman blitzed Houston Baptist for 430 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Texas Tech's season-opening victory. 

Texas Tech coach Matt Wells said his team’s goal is “get to November and compete for a championship. We don’t really talk about bowl games much.” The Red Raiders used the open week to get a little more physical in practice in preparation for the Longhorns.

“I like the response of our players — we came in and really put in some good work,” Wells said Monday. “We've got to make some strides this week and obviously improve a lot between Game 1 and Game 2.

The Red Raiders, who had a more than a dozen players miss the Houston Baptist game because of Covid-19, expect to be closer to full strength against Texas. 

Possibly overlooked in Texas Tech’s victory last week was when wide receiver T.J. Vasher tied a single-game career high with eight catches for 79 yards.

“I felt good,” he said. “I felt fluid, felt like we were a working machine. I’m ready or us to stretch the ball some more and start making those big plays, those explosives that we look for.”

Three years ago in Austin, Tech beat Texas, 27-23, with Vasher catching five passes for 127 yards, which is still his career high. 

Texas Tech running back SaRodorick Thompson was arrested Monday on a charge of racing that stemming from a June 27 incident in which he’s accused of fleeing the scene while a fellow teammate was arrested.

Thompson was the Red Raiders’ leading rusher last season as well as in the season-opening win over Houston Baptist, when he rushed 22 times for 118 yards and two scores. Tech announced Monday that Thompson can play in Saturday’s Big 12 opener against Texas.

Texas holds a 52-17 advantage over Texas Tech in the all-time series between the schools, and has won two of the past three matchups. The Longhorns have won five straight times in Lubbock, last losing in 2008.

Prior to last year's meeting in Austin, a 49-24 Texas win, the in-state rivals went to the wire the previous four seasons, with four of those games determined by a touchdown or less.

Texas head coach Tom Herman said that despite opening the season with a 59-3 rout of UTEP, the Longhorns "haven't done anything yet" after what he called "the craziest offseason in the history of college football" (photo courtesy of texassports.com).
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Steve Habel is a senior contributing writer for Horns Illustrated. He has covered Texas sports since 1989 and was this magazine’s senior editor for 24 years. You can follow him on twitter @stevehabel .