A look at Texas Tech vs Houston

This weekend, as the Texas Tech football team hosts Houston, the university will induct three former members of the program into the Texas Tech Hall of Fame. That list includes former Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury and former linebacker Matt Wingo. However, the headliner among the inductees is undoubtedly the late Mike Leach.

In a way, it is fitting that Houston will be the opponent for the game when Leach is honored.  That’s because his protegee, Dana Holgorsen, is the head coach of the Cougars.

The Leach coaching tree runs deep in college football.  Current NCAA head coaches Lincoln Riley, Dave Aranda, Sonnie Cumbie, Sonnie Dykes, Josh Heupel, as well as Holgorsen all got their start under Leach.  What’s more, former college head coaches such as Arit Briles, Seth Littrell, Ruffin McNeil, and Kingsbury all were mentored by the man affectionately known as “The Pirate”.

It is Holgorsen, though, who most reminds people of Leach.  Possessing many of the same mannerisms as his former boss and never afraid to speak his mind in the bluntest of fashions, Holgorsen seems to channel his inner Leach whenever possible.

“I would argue he impacted football more than any human being alive because of how much he changed things at all three levels of play – high school, college, and the pros,” Holgorsen told Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.  “You can’t watch a game at any level and not see his influence.”

When Leach took over as Texas Tech head coach in 2000, Holgorsen was hired to be his wide receivers coach.  Then, in 2005, he was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he’d hold through the 2007 season before he took the same role with Houston in 2008.

Certainly, Leach will be on everyone’s mind Saturday afternoon.  Tech will be wearing a pirate flag sticker on the back of the helmet in his honor and it will be emotional when his widow and children are acknowledged during the game.

Of course, it is a shame that Leach never found a way to make peace with the Texas Tech administration during his life.  The bitterness about his firing and the squabble over whether he was owed his salary for the 2009 season prevented him from being able to be fully honored in person by the university.

Now, it is fair to point out that, as long as Leach were the active head coach at another school, he likely wouldn’t have been able to be in Lubbock to be recognized anyway.  However, the sentiment remains the same.  It is disappointing that Leach and Tech never got to fully celebrate together what the winningest head coach in program history accomplished in Lubbock.

This weekend will be as much about remembering Leach as anything else.  His influence will be all over the place both on and off the field as the school that he helped bring to national prominence faces off with a head coach who owes much of his success to the modern era’s greatest offensive innovator.

Of course, Texas Tech fans will only get warm and fuzzy feelings if the Red Raiders can find a way to top Holgorsen and the Cougars.  It is a must-win for the Red Raiders if they have any reasonable hope of reaching a bowl game.

Fortunately, the following stats suggest that the Red Raiders may have an advantage in this matchup.  Let’s look at where Joey McGuire’s team might have a leg up.

Texas Tech has a much better defense than Houston

When comparing these teams, the numbers show that, at least on paper, Tech has a much better defense than Houston does.  In fact, the Cougars have the worst statistical defense in the conference.

No team in the Big 12 is giving up more yards per game than Houston.  The 407.2 yards per game they are surrendering is 30 yards more than any other team.  Also, Houston’s 13 TDs allowed are the most in the conference.

When it comes to points per game allowed, Houston ranks ahead of only Baylor.  The 25 points per game they give up is only one more per game than Tech allows but we have to put that in context.

Thus far, Houston has played no overtime games.  Meanwhile, Tech opened the year with a double-OT loss at Wyoming in which the Cowboys put 15 extra points on the board.  Take that number off of Tech’s season total, then the Red Raiders are averaging only 20.2 points allowed in regulation.

Also, remember that seven of the points Oregon scored were against the Red Raider offense on the pick-six that essentially ended that game.  Houston’s offense has not given up a defensive touchdown, on the other hand.  So the reality is that Tech’s defense is giving up only 18.5 points in regulation.  That’s essentially a touchdown less per game than Houston is giving up.

Another number that might work in Tech’s favor is the 144.7 yards per game that the Cougars are letting teams run for.  While that is actually slightly better than the 146 Tech gives up on the ground, that is still 10th out of 14 teams in the Big 12.

Here, again, context must be applied, though.  Houston has faced 11 fewer rushes this year than Tech has.  So when we look at the yards allowed per carry, the Cougars’ 4.08 is worse than the Red Raiders’ 3.83.  In fact, Houston is giving up the third-most yards per carry in the conference ahead of only UCF and Baylor.

That’s good news for a Red Raider offense that is likely to feature Tahj Brooks and the run game this weekend.  With Behren Morton making his first start of the year on only his fifth start as a collegiate, expect the ground game to be what the offense majors in, especially against a suspect defense like Houston’s.

Houston’s red-zone struggles could benefit Texas Tech

The Red Raiders are going to need to be solid defensively in the red zone this weekend, as always.  That’s something that defensive coordinator Tim Deruyter emphasizes.

Fortunately, Houston has the worst red-zone offense in the Big 12.  Despite getting into the red zone 20 times this year, tied for third-most in the conference, the Cougs have scored only 14 times.

That conversion rate of 70% is the lowest in the conference.  The Cougars have scored 12 TDs and two field goals to account for their red-zone scoring.

Twice against TCU, the Cougars gambled on a 4th-down after crossing the Frogs’ 20 only to come up short.  That followed the Rice game that saw the Cougars fail on another red-zone 4th-down.  They even had that scenario unfold once in their opener against UTSA.

What that shows is that Holgorsen isn’t afraid to roll the dice, much like McGuire.  In fact, they are two of the most aggressive head coaches in the conference in that regard.

Tech is tied for second in the Big 12 with 14 4th-down attempts.  Meanwhile, Houston has 11 thus far.

The difference is that Tech has succeeded on ten of those tries, the most in the conference.  On the other hand, Houston has just two 4th-down conversions.

So while Tech is converting at a 71.4% rate, Houston is doing so only doing so 18.1% of the time. And when those failures come in the red zone, it takes points off the board.

So pay close attention to how well the Red Raider defense holds up when Houston gets near the endzone.  That’s an area that has been a struggle for Holgorsen’s team and it could help swing this game in Tech’s favor.

Former Texas Tech QB Donovan Smith is everything for Houston’s offense

Donovan Smith is a player that Texas Tech fans are well acquainted with given his time with the Red Raiders.  Now, he’s leading the Houston offense and, in fact, he is the primary weapon the Cougars have.

His 1,116 total yards account for 80% of Houston’s total offensive production.  That’s an absurdly high number.

Even Tyler Shough wasn’t being counted on that heavily by Tech in the first three games of this season.  Prior to the WVU game in which he broke his leg in the first quarter, Shough accounted for approximately 67% of the Red Raider offense.

This year, Houston is relying on Smith’s arm quite a bit.  His 151 pass attempts are already the second-most he’s attempted in a season.  What’s more, his 37.7 passes per game are more than double his previous per-game career high.

However, his feet also play into the equation for the Cougars.  With 46 rushes this year, he has 17 more carries than any other player on the team.

Of course, sacks account for a number of those carries.  However, it is still worth noting that Smith is being asked to be the main cog in both parts of the U of H  offensive attack.

In a way, that’s good news for Tech.  It isn’t that Smith is incapable of putting a team on his shoulders and winning a game.  We saw him do that in Lubbock against Iowa State in 2021 and against Texas last season.

However, being able to key on just one player is helpful for a defense.  It is easy to try to isolate what just one player does and neutralize him instead of trying to stop several game-breaking weapons like Oregon has.

Look for the Red Raider linebackers to be keys in trying to stop Smith.  DeRuyter will likely assign one to spy on him just about every time he drops back to pass.  What’s more, Tech will want to try to make Smith win the game by doing what he is least accomplished at, making precision throws down the field.

In this game, the Red Raider defense shouldn’t be surprised by anything Houston tries.  It all will revolve around Smith and that should make it easier for the home team to come up with an effective game plan and come out on top.

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