Some badass Ducks coming to Lubbock

It’s tough to remember when the Texas Tech football program has hosted a more high-profile non-conference opponent than it will Saturday when the No. 13 Oregon Ducks come to Lubbock. In fact, to find one, we have to go all the way back to the Spike Dykes era.

Maybe the most highly-regarded non-con team that has come to the South Plains was the 1990 Miami Hurricanes.  Ranked No. 8 in the nation when they came to Lubbock and smacked the Red Raiders around in a 45-10 victory, the Canes were one season removed from a National Championship.

In the second year of Dennis Erikson’s run as head coach, Miami featured QB Gino Toretta (who would win the 1992 Heisman Trophy), future NFL linebacker Jessie Armstead, future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, defensive tackle Russel Maryland, and another defensive tackle named Dwayne Johnson long before anyone knew him as “The Rock”.

Two years later, Oklahoma would visit Lubbock ranked No. 15 in the nation.  In the season opener, the then Big 8 Conference member would have no issue with Tech in a 34-9 romp.  Though the Sooners would not end the season as a ranked team that year, their appearance at Jones Stadium was one of the more intriguing non-con matchups of the Dykes era.

Another legendary team that paid a non-con visit to Jones Stadium was the 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers.  Ending the year as the undefeated national champions, Tom Osborne’s team featured future All-American QB Tommie Frazier and dynamic running back Lawrence Phillips.  That duo powered their team to a 42-16 win in Lubbock in week two.

During the Mike Leach era, the two most notable teams to play non-conference games in Lubbock were Ole Miss (quarterbacked by Eli Manning) and N.C. State in 2002 (quarterbacked by Phillip Rivers).  Tech would beat the Rebels 42-28 in game three of the season but would fall to the No. 17 Wolfpack 51-48 in overtime a week later.

Since then, the only non-con Power 5 teams that have come to Lubbock have been Arkansas in 2014 and Arizona State in 2017.  Arizona was supposed to come to Lubbock in 2020 but the game was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means that it has been six years since a non-conference matchup featuring a Power 5 team has been played in Lubbock.  It’s no wonder that this is the most anticipated home game of the season and one that has been sold out for weeks.

Like many of the other big-time non-con opponents mentioned above, this Oregon team has plenty of star power.  So let’s take a look at some names that Red Raider fans should know as we turn our focus to one of the most anticipated home games in program history.

Any player with multiple multi-story billboards of himself in New York City has to be a fairly big deal.  That’s especially true of a player who plays his home games on the West Coast like Oregon QB Bo Nix.

To try to jumpstart a Heisman Trophy campaign for Nix, Oregon has put up billboards in New York City, partially as an homage to the billboards they put up for former Ducks QB Joey Harrington in 2001.

Nix is one of the best QBs in the country and he leads an offense that put up 81 points last week (albeit against Portland St.).  He will be a true test for the Red Raider defense to handle.

If it feels as if Nix has been in college since the start of the Obama Administration, it is because he’s been a starter at the Power 5 level since he stepped on a campus.  He spent three years leading the Auburn offense where he made 34 starts from 2019-2021 but he never lived up to the massive expectations in his home state.

Now in his second year at Oregon, he’s looking to finally have the type of breakthrough success that has been just out of his grasp for the last four seasons.  Always close to leading his team to a conference title, he’s never risen to the level that many have expected him to as a top-20 QB recruit coming out of high school.

Last year, the Alabama native passed for 3,593 yards and 29 TDs, which were both career highs.  What’s more, he was picked off only seven times despite throwing 409 passes.

Maybe what was most impressive about his 2022 season was his 71.9% completion rate.  That’s Graham Harrell-esque.

It will be imperative that Tech puts pressure on Nix this weekend.  If he’s allowed to stand in the pocket, he will pick apart even the best defenses.

What should frighten Tech fans though is that Nix can also use his feet, just like Wyoming QB Andrew Peasley did last week.  In 2022, Nix ran for 510 yards and 14 more scores proving that he is a true dual-threat.  If Tech is going to win this game, Nix has to be held in check.  But given how well he uses his right arm and his feet, that’s going to be a tall task for the Red Raiders.

While Nix was the prize of the 2022 Oregon transfer class, Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington also proved to be difference-makers as newcomers.  Now, that duo is back and the Red Raiders will have to contend with at least one of them this Saturday.

A former Minnesota Gopher, Irving is a junior who put up over 1,300 all-purpose yards last year while finding the endzone five times.  During his 1,000-yard rushing season, he had four 100-yard games including a pair of games that saw him go for 149 yards.

Irving averaged an impressive 6.8 yards per carry and 9.8 yards per reception a season ago.  In week one of this season, he picked up where he left off 119 rushing yards on only four carries…that’s right…just four carries.  Hopefully, he will have a much more difficult time this weekend.

As for Whittington, he is rather familiar to Texas Tech offensive coordinator Zach Kittely, who he played for at Western Kentucky in 2021.  Last year, he rushed for 779 and five TDs in 13 games but he did not play in the week one game against Portland St.

Oregon head coach Dan Lanning declined not to comment on Whittington’s absence and it is unsure if the senior RB will play against the Red Raiders.  Adding some mystery to this situation is the fact that Whittington did go through warmups last week suggesting that he is not injured.

Regardless of who plays running back for the Ducks this week, the ground game will be a focus.  They ran for 348 yards last Saturday and they will likely be licking their chops at the thought of facing a Red Raider defense that will be without starting middle linebacker Jacob Rodriguez.

Lanning is a defensive-minded head coach so it had to irk him that his side of the ball struggled in 2022 when facing good teams.  Giving up 49 points to Georgia, 30 points to UCLA, 37 points to Washington, and 38 to Oregon State, the Ducks were often exploited by high-powered offenses.

That’s why there was only one Duck on the preseason All-PAC-12 defensive team, defensive lineman Brandon Dorlus.

While much of the Oregon defense is built on the strength of transfers from the likes of Arizona State, Iowa, Alabama, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Fresno State, Dorlus is a homegrown product.  In his four full years in Eugene, he’s amassed seven sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss.

At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, he can play anywhere along the defensive line.  Expect him to spend plenty of time testing Tech’s offensive tackles though on Saturday.

Last year, the Ducks were just No. 70 in the nation in total defense.  Whether or not they are any better this year is still to be determined given that they played an FCS team in week one.

What’s more, the 2022 Ducks were 101st against the pass giving up 256.4 yards per game.  Now, some of that was because they often had big leads forcing their opponents to put the ball up quite a bit in order to try to keep pace.

Still, Tech should feel confident in its ability to score points this weekend.  Of course, that will require a better effort from the Red Raider offense than we saw against Wyoming.  If Tech can execute more efficiently on Saturday and run the offense like what we saw in the first quarter in Laramie, then this game could become an old-fashioned shootout.  That’s probably the Red Raiders’ best shot at winning this game.

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