Longhorn players said again this week they like playing on the road because the hostile crowd can really bring them together.
David Ash needs to be able to work through it if he has a few early struggles on Saturday.
This is one of those deals where you'd better be careful what you wish for, because there isn't a beehive in the Big 12 that gets as riled up as it does in Lubbock.
No. 23 Texas travels to 18th-ranked Texas Tech in need of a win to prevent team confidence and fan morale from dipping further. This is a big Saturday on the South Plains, and I'll set the table for you right now with two storylines you need to follow, four key match-ups, and seven things I'll be watching from the press box in this Texas Tech preview edition of The 2-4-7.
2: Storylines to Follow
1. The length of David Ash's leash
Mack Brown has never been accused of going to a quarterback too soon (apologies to those who just had a flashback to the 2001 Big 12 title game). But where will the line be drawn between needing to let Ash work through a struggle and feeling Case McCoy gives you your best chance to win?
Unless one of two things happens – Ash becomes a turnover machine or the offense is completely inept and unable to move the football – then Ash should stay in the game. McCoy is good in his relief role, but if you go to him too early then there's no turning back.
This is something the Longhorns can easily manage, but it's also something that can become a headache in a hurry if it's not handled right.
2. How the Longhorns start
The first storyline coincides with the second. It's imperative that Texas starts fast to get some confidence rolling early and try to take the crowd out of it in the early going.
When the Red Raiders can jump on someone early, as they did against West Virginia at home earlier this season, they've shown they can roll. However, Iowa State, TCU and Kansas State all kept pace with Texas Tech and while the Red Raiders beat Iowa State by nine, the TCU game went to overtime and Kansas State took over in the second half last weekend.
Quandre Diggs will have a tough task covering the 6-foot-4, 216-pound Darrin Moore.
The first quarter has been a struggle this season for Texas. The Longhorns are outscoring their opponents only a combined 75-71 in those eight quarters, and Oklahoma State and West Virginia both had Texas working from behind early.
That can't happen tomorrow.
4: Match-ups to Watch
1. Quandre Diggs vs. Darrin Moore
Moore isn't the most talented receiver Diggs will have checked this fall, but the 6-foot-4, 216-pound playmaker who leads the Red Raiders in receptions will wind up being the biggest. Diggs has battled all season long, and despite his playmaking ability and will to compete for four quarters, it wouldn't be surprising to see Seth Doege try to go up top to Moore early in an effort to take advantage of the size mismatch.
2. Alex Okafor vs. LaAdrian Waddle
Texas has got to put pressure on Doege, and Okafor's team-leading seven sacks will have to be a total that increases after Saturday if the Longhorns are to win. It won't be easy against Waddle, a multiple year start for the Red Raiders and a preseason first team All-Big 12 selection. This will likely wind up being Okafor's toughest one-on-one battle of the season.
3. Dominic Espinosa vs. Kerry Hyder
For a center who has had his issues in the past with active defenders over the ball, the Austin-area product Hyder poses a more than formidable challenge. Of his 27 tackles this season, 24 are solo stops and he leads the Red Raiders with 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Penetration will be the quickest way to kill the Texas run game, and it's up to Espinosa to help cut Hyder off and prevent him from getting into the backfield.
4. The Texas Running Backs vs. The Tech Linebackers
This is probably the one matchup – at least on paper – that seems to really favor the Longhorns. Everyone has been clamoring for Bryan Harsin to try and get his running backs into space and let them work, and for the second week in a row the Longhorns will face a linebacking corps that should facilitate play calls to make that happen. It would be a good week to let Daje Johnson and Johnathan Gray work in the passing game, as getting one-on-one situations against these linebacker should be something Texas can exploit.
7: Things I'll be Watching from the Press Box
Will center Dominic Espinosa be replaced if the line struggles again?
1. I want to see how much we see of Joe Bergeron between the 20s. With Johnathan Gray getting the start and with his ability to maximize runs better than Bergeron, I'd like to see Gray getting the lion's share of the carries. Right or wrong, I feel like Bergeron's play has suggested that he should be a short yardage and goal line runner exclusively as long as he'll be at tailback.
2. I haven't seen or heard much with the exception of a Kenny Williams tweet about the status of Jace Amaro. He'll be the toughest matchup on the field for the Texas defense if he plays, but he didn't even travel to Kansas State last weekend after injuring his midsection in the win over West Virginia.
3. I mentioned Dominic Espinosa in the matchup portion of the preview, but I want to see if Stacy Searels mixes it up with any other combinations in the trenches of things are either stagnant or if that group is struggling. Texas Tech's best pass rusher Dartwan Bush will be lined up across from Luke Poehlmann, and if he struggles don't be surprised to quickly see Donald Hawkins back at left tackle and Josh Cochran flip back over to right tackle.
4. As good as Alex King has been for the Longhorns this season, the less we see of him on Saturday the better. The Longhorns have to be in the mentality of being in four-down territory most of the day. Whether Texas Tech has to go 55 yards or 95 yards to score, I'd take my chances going for it on fourth down to try and maximize drives because this defense can't be trusted to consistently stop anyone.
5. If we're sitting here on Saturday night talking about how D.J. Monroe, Daje Johnson and Marquise Goodwin went another game without getting the football, then saying it'll be disappointing will be an understatement. If Bryan Harsin didn't learn his lesson about waiting too long to get his playmakers involved after last week's near nightmare in Lawrence, then he never will.
6. It's strange going into the ninth game of the season and it'll be the first afternoon kickoff for the Longhorns. We know this team hasn't handled the 11 a.m. kickoffs well this fall, and this will be the first chance to see how they handle things at 2:30 p.m. Is it a bad omen to note the last time the Longhorns played a 2:30 game in Lubbock they lost? That was a 42-38 defeat in 2002.
7. With everything this team has going against it right now, it hasn't been mentioned as much as it probably should have that the Longhorns haven't beaten an AP Top 25 team in over two years. In fact, Texas has lost 11 of its last 12 games against teams ranked in the AP poll.
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