How the Red Raiders can beat the Ducks

After months of anticipation, the biggest non-conference home game that the Texas Tech football team has played in decades has finally arrived. It is also the best opportunity the Red Raiders will have to make noise on the national scene this year.

After this game, the next four opponents on the schedule will be unranked.  What’s more, if Kansas State stumbles a couple of times before the Wildcats come to Lubbock on October 14, they might not be ranked either when they tangle with the Red Raiders.

After playing Troy this week at home, KSU will have three losable games before heading to Lubbock. Next week they face a road test at Missouri before returning home to take on UCF on September 23.  Then, the Cats head to Oklahoma State on October 6th a week prior to coming to the South Plains. Though KSU will likely be favored in each game, it is not hard to envision a scenario in which Chris Klieman’s team loses a pair of those games to fall out of the polls.

After the KSU game, there is not another team on Tech’s schedule that is currently ranked other than Texas, which the Red Raiders face in Austin in the regular-season finale.  That makes this opportunity against Oregon such a potential turning point in the season.

Win this game and Tech will be close to being back in the polls (it is conceivable that the Red Raiders could even jump into the top 25 if they can score a resounding win this week).  However, dropping this game will send the team to 0-2, which would be a first for the program since 1990 and dampen most of the optimism that built throughout the offseason.

Preparing for this game, I couldn’t help but recall the similarities to the last time the Red Raiders made huge national news by knocking off a highly-ranked team in Lubbock.  The year was 2012 and Tommy Tuberville was still head coach of the Red Raiders (unfortunately).

Coming off of a 41-20 loss at home to No. 17 Oklahoma the week prior, few gave Tech a shot to beat No. 5 West Virginia.  However, on a windy day in Lubbock, the Red Raiders ambushed the Mountaineers behind the duo of QB Seth Doege and tight end Jace Amaro to the tune of a 49-14 drubbing.

Like Oregon this year, the 2012 WVU team had a Heisman Trophy contender at QB, Gino Smith.  However, after he completed just 30-56 passes for 278 yards with only one TD, his Heisman hopes were all but gone.  What’s more, that loss would be the first in a five-game skid for the Mountaineers that season.

Tech would follow that stunner up with a triple-OT win at No. 23 TCU the next week before dropping consecutive games to No. 3 Kansas State and No. 23 Texas.  However, there are some differences between this week’s showdown with Oregon and that 2012 win over WVU.

Most notable was that the Mountaineers were coming off of back-to-back shootout wins over No. 25 Baylor and No. 11 Texas, with the game prior to coming to Lubbock being on the road in Austin.  Thus, when they came to Jones Stadium, they had the excuse of being road-weary and beaten up.  Oregon should be fresh after an 81-7 laugher in their opener.

Also, that Tech team had played five games already that season helping to work out the kinks before trying to topple a high-profile team.  This year, Tech has only had one game to prepare for Oregon, and…well…it didn’t go quite as planned.

Still, Red Raider fans are hoping for another magical Jones Stadium night game this week. The program has not beaten another top-15 team at home since that blustery day in 2012 when the Mountaineers got their first taste of life on the Caprock.  Hopefully, that streak ends against Oregon and for that to happen, Tech will likely have to do the following.

When the Red Raiders lost to Wyoming last week, discipline was a huge factor.  That was surprising because playing smart and under control were hallmarks of Joey McGuire’s first Red Raider team last season.  Also, this is an experienced and veteran team that should not be making as many careless and preventable mistakes as it did against the Cowboys.

First of all, the game-changing penalties can’t pop up again.  Last week, Tech was flagged for three personal fouls and while the late hit on Wyoming’s QB near the sidelines was a bogus call, there is simply no room for Tech to put itself in positions where the officials even have the opportunity to make judgment calls of that nature.

The first personal foul, a hands-to-the-face call, erased an INT by Bralyn Lux that would have given Tech the ball at the Wyoming 34 with 1:30 remaining in the first half and Tech leading 17-10.  Earlier in the game, a late hit on the sliding Wyoming QB by Jessiah Pierre helped put the home team in range for their first field goal of the game.  Later, the aforementioned late hit set Wyoming up for the FG that would give them their first, 20-17.

Tech has to be better in that regard against Oregon.  Those are mistakes that can and should be easily avoided.

Also, discipline must be exercised by playing within the system.  McGuire and defensive coordinator Tim DeRyuter both talked this week about how their defensive players were frequently out of position against Wyoming.

Whether it was not maintaining their assigned pass rush lanes, not keying on the right offensive players, or trying to cover more ground in the secondary than they were assigned, the Red Raider defenders put themselves in a position to be exploited by a pedestrian Wyoming offense by not being where the defensive call asked them to be.  That’s something that should be fixable this week.

When playing a team as good as Oregon, the Red Raiders must be disciplined both in regard to penalties and when it comes to each player’s individual assignment.  If they can simply play a clean mental game, they will give themselves a shot at coming out on top.

One way to hang in a game against a high-powered offense like Oregon is for your defense to stiffen in the red zone.  Tech didn’t do that against Wyoming and that was a surprise after being excellent defensively inside the 20 last fall.

In Laramie, Wyoming had five red-zone possessions.  They would up with one FG and four TDs.  That included TDs on both OT possessions.  That dog won’t hunt.

This weekend, Tech must be better and force the Ducks to settle for three points instead of seven.  That’s one way to slow down a team that wants to spread the offense out and create mismatches in space.

Last fall, Oregon was only average in the red zone on offense.  Scoring on 81.9% of their red-zone opportunities, the Ducks ranked 78th nationally.

However, their red-zone touchdown percentage of 70.0 did rank 19th in the country.  That should be concerning for Red Raider fans.

Oregon is not a particularly physical team.  They rely on speed and space to pick up yards, even when they run the ball.

Inside the 20, the field shrinks though and linebackers and defensive backs can creep closer to the line without as much fear of being burned deep.  That should make it easier for Tech to play defense in those situations.

Of course, that wasn’t the case against Wyoming.  Tech was dreadful defensively in the red zone a week ago and that has to change against Oregon if the good guys are going to win.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the loss to Wyoming was the fact that a Texas Tech team that took the fight to just about every opponent in 2022 and which returned the vast majority of last year’s starters was not able to impose its physical will on the Cowboys.

This weekend, if the Red Raiders are to have any chance of beating the Ducks, their physicality must set the tone.  In all aspects of the game, McGuire’s team must be the more aggressive and punishing team.

There will be no excuses for not being the most physical team.  Tech is at home and will have the crowd on its side.  There will be no concerns about the altitude.  The hot weather should play in the Red Raiders’ favor.  Tech should be the more desperate team.   Therefore, Tech must initiate the fight.

The best way to do that is to run the freaking ball.  Even if Oregon gets out to an early lead, offensive coordinator Zach Kittley can’t abandon the ground game.

Last week, the running back duo of Tahj Brooks and Cam’Ron Valdez received only 21 total carries.  Some of that might have been due to QB Tyler Shough changing plays at the line of scrimmage but there also had to be instances where Kittley went away from that aspect of the offense when he shouldn’t have.

Granted, there wasn’t a ton of success when Brooks and Valdez carried the ball.  Gaining only 2.6 yards per rush between them, those backs (and the offensive line) didn’t instill in their play caller much confidence in their ability to move the ball.

This weekend, that must change.  Tech simply has to take the pressure off of Shough and make the Ducks respect the Red Raider rushing attack. That would open up the entire playbook and make life easier for a QB who enters this game with quite a bit of internal and external pressure on his shoulders.

Also, it would be great to see Bo Nix on the ground several times.  Can Tech manage to get home on all of those plays where the difference between a sack and a 20-yard Oregon gain is just a heartbeat?  That didn’t happen against Wyoming and keep in mind that Nix can run as well as, or better than, Wyoming’s Andrew Peasley.

Tech has to make this a contrast between Red Raider physicality and Oregon style.  If that happens and McGuire’s team can take the fight to the opponent, then we could see something special at The Jones.

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