- Time and Date: Saturday, September 10 at 4:00 p.m. ET
- Network: FS1
- Location: Jones AT&T Stadium — Lubbock, TX
- Spread: Texas Tech (-3)
- ESPN FPI: Texas Tech has 65.6% chance to win
- All-time series: Houston leads, 18-14-1
- Last meeting: Texas Tech 38, Houston 21 — September 4, 2021
- Current streak: Texas Tech, 4
Revisiting a rivalry
Houston and Texas Tech squared off in last year’s season opener at NRG Stadium — technically in neutral-site action as NRG serves as the home of the Houston Texans. While the Cougars possessed an early 21-7 lead, disaster repeatedly struck in the second half. Houston tossed four picks to the Red Raiders, causing Texas Tech to score 31 unanswered in a 38-21 victory. The trajectory of the teams changed following that matchup, as Houston won its next 11 games and finished the season ranked No. 17, while the Red Raiders fired head coach Matt Wells in October.
While Houston’s players seek vengeance in Lubbock, TX, their head coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t see a carbon copy of last year’s Red Raider team. Texas Tech’s complete overhaul of its coaching staff, including the presence of first-year head man Joey McGuire, changes the aura surrounding this matchup according to Houston’s coach.
“They’re a new staff,” Holgorsen said. “Regardless of what happened against the Red Raiders last year, you can throw that thing out the window. I don’t think our players will. They’ll have some extra motivation to go up there and play these guys, but they were a good football team last year.”
There also exists a handful of Cougars with direct ties to Lubbock. Three Houston starters — running back Ta’Zhawn Henry, wide receiver KeSean Carter, and cornerback Alex Hogan — transferred in from Texas Tech, so this is a game circled on many calendars in the Houston locker room.
“As much as we don’t talk about it, the human element is real,” defensive coordinator Doug Belk said. “All three of those guys were here last year when we played Texas Tech. They’ve already got a little taste of it. Obviously, going back to Lubbock will be fun for those guys, but I think it will be fun for everybody. The biggest key component for each one of those guys, as well as everyone else on the team, is to focus on doing your job. Never let your emotions take over and be inconsistent.”
The familiarity with Texas Tech doesn’t just extend to transfers and last year’s Week 1 matchup at NRG Stadium. Holgorsen served as an offensive assistant in Lubbock from 2000-07 and coached against the Red Raiders at each of his stops since — Houston, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia. Thus, the Cougars’ head coach is well familiar with the atmosphere and traditions at Jones AT&T Stadium, which includes incessant tortilla throwing.
“I used to throw the tortillas on my way up to the press box,” Holgorsen said. “And now I’m getting hit by them, but that’s cool — as long as they’re not slapping me with them. The whole slap your face with a tortilla — that makes no sense. Why would somebody do that?”
Lessons learned from a close call at UTSA
Houston’s first AP Poll preseason ranking since 2016 nearly disappeared after one week. The difference between a No. 25 ranking and a disastrous 0-1 start was one successful two-point conversion in the NCAA’s revised overtime format. Houston impressively erased a 14-point second half deficit and escaped a hostile Alamodome atmosphere to remain unblemished. In the end, it took three overtimes, but the Cougars upended UTSA, 37-35 in Week 1.
“It gives us a lot of confidence knowing we can play from behind,” quarterback Clayton Tune said. “When the score is even, you execute and compete. When you’re down, you don’t panic. And when you’re up, you don’t coast. That’s just something that we try to live and play by, and I thought we did pretty well, so that just gives us confidence next week and for the rest of the season.”
In Week 2, another hostile road environment awaits as the Cougars travel over 500 miles northwest to a future Big 12 rival campus.
“We got a lot of things that we can do better, a lot of things that we can work hard on going to another challenging atmosphere,” Holgorsen said. “They’re gonna be ready. Coach McGuire’s got that place excited. I have a lot of history with this place and know what they’re capable of from a fan perspective.”
While Houston certainly had its challenges in San Antonio, the Cougars have established themselves as road warriors over the past year. Ever since Texas Tech edged Holgorsen’s team in neutral-site action last September, Houston exhibits an 8-1 record away from home, which it can elevate to 9-1 by attaining its first win in Lubbock since 1990.
“If you look back, the last two games of the year last year were pretty challenging road atmospheres,” Holgorsen said. “At Cincinnati was electric. The Birmingham Bowl was quite a bit of Auburn fans there. Let’s go do it again. We’ll be excited to come back to TDECU for two to three games after that, but we gotta do it on the road again on Saturday.”
Houston Cougars outlook
Tune made tremendous strides as a passer last year, taking the leap into one of the country’s most efficient and dangerous gunslingers. While Tune continued to build on that growth with his first outing of 2022 featuring 206 yards and three touchdowns on a 69 percent completion clip, it wasn’t his passing which drew the most eyeballs in Week 1.
Anytime Houston needed to pick up a critical first down, touchdown, or two-point conversion in the triple-overtime thriller, Tune’s mobility was the ‘get out of jail free’ card. The quarterback attained a team-high 49 rushing yards net of sacks, scoring a touchdown on a QB draw in second overtime and notching the game-winning two-point conversion on a rollout run in third overtime. While Holgorsen often reiterates his desire to limit Tune’s reps as a rusher in order to protect his quarterback, the fourth-year head coach still recognizes that Tune’s mobility is an ideal tactic to utilize in dire situations.
“Defenses dictate that,” Holgorsen said. “UTSA is playing drop with a bunch of people and make us be patient, so when that happens, if you don’t have anywhere to go with the ball, you extend plays. Clayton was pretty good with that. They were pretty stout against the run with their inside three, so with the quarterback run game, we had some things desired which we will use in critical situations. If that gives us the best chance to get a first down or get a touchdown, then we’re gonna do that.”
Houston’s rushing attack accumulated 138 yards on 44 attempts last week. Ta’Zhawn Henry and Brandon Campbell will be expected to split the load from the running back position again, but if Tune sees an opportunity to help the team win, he will gladly rebrand himself as a runner to bolster that unit.
“I’m gonna do what I need to do to win a game. If that involves me running the ball, I’m gonna do it,” Tune said. “I’m not ever gonna shy away from carries or touches just to save myself. I would like to, in a perfect world, throw the ball a bunch of times, throw a bunch of touchdowns, and not ever have to run it. But that’s not how football is.”
In Tune’s receiving corps, Nathaniel “Tank” Dell usually draws the majority of attention from defensive backs. Texas Tech is well aware of Dell’s potential, as the receiver posted seven receptions, 80 yards, and a touchdown in last September’s meeting. The First Team All-AAC talent started off 2022 strong by corralling two touchdown receptions and a key toe-tapping two-point conversion in overtime last week, but he wasn’t the only major contributor to Houston’s receiving corps.
The Cougars have plenty of fresh faces around Dell. One of the newcomers who looks poised for a breakout season is Joseph Manjack IV. The former USC Trojan transferred close to home after limited on-field action last season, and he is already capitalizing on his expanded role. He ranked second among wide receivers in receptions last week and hauled in a juggling one-handed catch to tie the game in the early fourth quarter — a play which wound up No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“When he got here, it was no surprise to us that he was gonna be a very good player,” Belk said. “I think he had one of the best improvements from spring football to summer to fall camp, and he was very difficult to guard in fall camp for our guys. He’s very quiet, so sometimes his ability is sneaky. It’s funny when you look at our players in the way that they joke with him in practice, especially our DBs — he doesn’t wear gloves. He’s able to make big-time catches and he’s kind of a throwback player.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Houston has become renowned for its loaded defensive line group dubbed “Sack Ave.,” which built a reputation for seamlessly invading opposing backfields. The Cougars fielded three of the six FBS players who recorded eight or more QB pressures in Week 1 and ended up generating three sacks. They’ll hope to replicate that pressure in Week 2 against a Texas Tech front which surrendered just one sack in its season opener.
“For us, I think we have a couple elite pass rushers that come off the edge and we have three guys that can change the game at any minute,” Belk said. “You saw the plays that (Derek) Parish made. (Nelson) Ceaser had a sack and an interception. And D’Anthony Jones had a couple of big time TFLs and quarterback pressures. Sometimes it’s not as much about sacking the quarterback as it is affecting him.”
Houston established itself as one of the premier defenses in the FBS last year; not just from a defensive line perspective, but as a unit. The Cougars ranked top 20 in a myriad of categories ranging from scoring defense to pass defense to run defense to sacks to takeaways to third down defense.
However, Saturday in the Alamodome was not the unit’s finest hour. The secondary watched UTSA drive 55 yards in 23 seconds to force a game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime. Overall, the Cougars yielded 337 passing yards to the Roadrunners, eclipsing any output they allowed last season.
“We gave up too many points. That’s not our standard,” inside linebacker Donavan Mutin said. “I’m not taking anything any from them, but (UTSA is) good enough to where if we’re not where we need to be, they could beat us, and it almost happened. Just the confidence in our unit and who we are every day — they weren’t good enough to go to overtime with us if we did not shoot ourself in the foot as a team like we did.”
Texas Tech Red Raiders outlook
While Houston does not expect a single player from Week 1 to miss the Lubbock trip due to injury, a significant injury has already impacted the other sideline. Texas Tech starting quarterback Tyler Shough, who missed all but four games with a broken collarbone in 2021, suffered a left shoulder injury in a 63-10 win over Murray State of the FCS.
“He came in with good experience from Oregon,” Holgorsen said of Shough. “He can run around a bit. He got hurt running around, which is why I want to protect our quarterback and get him on the ground and not have to do it very much.”
Shough’s injury paves a pathway for the Red Raiders’ quarterback from the end of 2021 back into the lineup. The 6’5”, 230 pound Donovan Smith, MVP of the Liberty Bowl, takes over as Texas Tech’s signal caller once again. Smith completed 14-of-16 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns in Week 1 while playing in relief for Shough.
“He has elite arm talent, he can run as well,” Belk said of Smith. “When you look at him, he’s the backup, but he’s been a starter before. I don’t see much of a drop-off or change in preparation at all. We gotta be ready for a guy who’s dual-threat, who can make all those throws and put those guys in the right place and position to be successful. The challenge will be great, but I think he’s a really good player.”
While Houston will face a different quarterback than it had to prepare for last September, Texas Tech still trots out faces the Cougars are well acquainted with. In the prior year matchup, the Red Raiders tore apart Houston on the ground, as running back Tahj Brooks totaled 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries. Texas Tech will pair Brooks alongside SaRodorick Thompson, who served as a perfect backfield co-partner with 500 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021.
“I think regardless of who the quarterback is, those guys are two of the best running backs that we will face,” Belk said. “Statistically, they’re the best duo of production coming back in the country, so the challenge will be great. Brooks had over 100 yards on us last year in a very competitive game. SaRodorick is just as talented — maybe even more — so the combination of those two will be very difficult for us.”
Running the show is Texas Tech’s new offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, the engineer behind WKU’s record-breaking passing game from 2021. Kittley coached the second-ranked scoring offense and top passing unit a year ago, and his high-tempo aerial attack is already off to a fantastic start at his new school after lighting up Murray State for 472 yards and six touchdowns in Week 1.
“His offenses prides himself on tempo, getting as many plays off, getting as many points off as possible,” Mutin said. “That’s what they pride themselves on, so we’re gonna have to defend that. We’re gonna have to weather the storm that is tempo and not giving them what they’re looking for to let the tempo continue.”
Texas Tech’s first-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter hails from the west coast, where he served as a longtime Pac-12 assistant with a brief head coaching stint at Fresno State. Although the competition was an FCS opponent, DeRuyter saw impressive results in his Red Raider debut as his defense held Murray State to 50 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Texas Tech also concocted a steady amount of pressure, as defensive tackle Philip Blidi picked up two of the team’s four sacks in the opener.
The Red Raiders hope an increased sense of pressure can lead to a convincing victory in the turnover battle, which proved to be vital in last year’s matchup. When it comes to this turnover battle, one name Houston’s offense must be wary of is Reggie Pearson Jr. The safety picked off a pass and forced a fumble in the meeting at NRG Stadium a year ago, and he will play a key role in deep zone coverage attempting to shut down Dell and the Cougar receivers.
Just like Houston’s opener against UTSA, this is another Lone Star State non-conference showdown set to be a close contest. Houston certainly has plenty of facets it must improve to pull out a victory in Week 2, ranging from developing the rushing attack to displaying better coverage in the secondary. But the positive for the Cougars is they have been tested and emerged triumphant in a nail-biter finish. Texas Tech’s only 2022 experience is a merciless 53-point blowout win over an FCS opponent.
Still, Texas Tech provides a lot of firepower on offense with Kittley opening the passing attack for Smith and his receivers. If Houston’s new starting corners face similar issues with contain that were visible against UTSA, this could be a very successful day for the Red Raider offense. However, Houston’s copious amount of backfield pressure should offset some of the woes it may face in the secondary. The result will be a close game, but Texas Tech emerges for the fifth-straight time over Houston with the home crowd playing a major factor.
Prediction: Texas Tech 31, Houston 28