Preview of Texas Tech vs BYU

For the second time this season, Texas Tech is set to face one of the new members of the Big 12. However, this time, the novelty factor is real.

While the series with Houston is one that has been kept alive in recent years with non-conference matchups, Saturday’s game at BYU is going to be truly unique for Red Raider fans.  This will be just the second time these programs have ever met on the field.  The first was back in 1940 in Lubbock, a 21-20 Red Raider victory.

Fortunately, there are some statistical areas that suggest the Red Raiders could have success this week.

It won’t be easy though.  Provo, Utah is a tough place to play.  With one of the most passionate fan bases in the country, BYU is undefeated at home in 2023 and has gone 9-3 in their own stadium the past two years.  That record includes wins over Baylor, Utah, Arizona State, and Wyoming.

One aspect of playing in Provo that won’t be new this year will be playing at altitude.  While many may think of Utah as being a rather mountainous state, Provo’s elevation is just 4,549 feet, well below the elevation of Laramie, Wyoming (7,165 feet) where Tech opened the year.  What’s more, Provo isn’t astronomically higher than Lubbock (3,255 feet).

Instead of worrying about the elevation, Tech will have to worry about other factors, including player availability, especially at the QB position.  With Behren Morton a game-time decision, it is highly possible that true freshman Jake Strong could be making his first career start in just his second NCAA game.  What’s more, a closer look at the BYU stats shows why Tech’s QB play could be even more critical this week than usual.

Regardless of who plays QB for the Red Raiders, the game plan is likely going to be to attack the Cougars through the air.  That’s because BYU is one of the worst pass-defending teams in the conference.

In Big 12 games, the Cougars are giving up 277.6  passing yards per game.  That’s better than only Houston, Kansas, and Oklahoma State.  What’s more, by allowing 10 passing TDs in conference play, the Cougars are last in that category.

Last week, TCU threw for 447 yards and four TDs against BYU in Fort Worth.  What makes that even more remarkable is that the Frogs had to rely on their backup QB, Josh Hoover, a freshman from Rockwall, Texas

The week prior, a Cincy team that is third to last in the conference in passing yards per game managed to put up 256 yards and three TDs in the air in a loss to the Cougars.  That was almost 70 yards more than the Bearcats average on a weekly basis.

Now, the question that has to be asked is whether or not Tech can trust a physically limited Morton or a true freshman in Strong to beat BYU on the road by throwing the ball all over the yard.  That might be a dicey proposition but it is one that the Red Raiders’ offensive coaching staff will likely explore.

Earlier this week, O.C. Zack Kittley was rather adamant that he isn’t going to run the ball against defenses that are deploying a heavy box.  That’s what every team Tech faces for the rest of the year is going to do, though, and that includes BYU.

What is worrisome for Texas Tech fans is that the Red Raiders couldn’t exploit a K-State defense that was missing multiple starters in the secondary last weekend.  Much of that was because of Morton’s injury and Strong’s shaky debut, of course.

Will a week of healing for Morton and practice for Strong make a difference, especially on the road in what will be a charged atmosphere at night?  That remains to be seen.  But what we do know is that BYU can be thrown on and that could be how the Red Raiders try to attack, even with the questionable QB situation.

Coming off of a game that saw KSU rush for 272 yards, BYU is the perfect opponent for the Red Raider defense to face.  That’s because the Cougars are by far the worst rushing team in the conference and one of the most anemic rushing teams in the country.

So far, the Cougars have run for a grand total of 405 yards as a team, 305 fewer yards than the next closest team in the conference, Baylor.  What’s more, that’s 381 yards behind what Tahj Brooks has managed on his own for the Red Raiders in 2023.

Averaging just 72 yards per game on the ground, BYU checks in at No. 127 out of 133 teams in the nation.  That’s the third-lowest of any Power 5 team in the NCAA.

Maybe it’s because of their ineffectiveness on the ground or because they have a veteran QB in Kedon Slovis, the Cougars aren’t really even trying to run the ball.  They’ve attempted only 170 rushes in six games.  When you factor out the nine sacks they have allowed, they are running the ball only 26.8 times per game with their running backs.

Also making this a favorable matchup for Tech is that Slovis isn’t likely to take off and run.  The fifth-year senior has never had a season in which he’s finished with positive yardage on the ground.  That’s refreshing for a Red Raider defense that gave up 90 yards and five TDs on the ground last week to KSU quarterback, Avery Johnson.

The last time Tech faced a team that struggled to run the ball, D.C. Tim DeRuyter saw his defense give up only 17 yards to Baylor, the school that is 13th in the conference in rushing.  That night ended with a 39-14 win for McGuire’s team and if the Red Raiders can hold the Cougars to a similar rushing output this week, it could mean that the defense will lead the way to another road win.

On the other side of the ball, Tech fans should be encouraged by the fact that the Cougars are dreadful when it comes to rushing the passer.  In fact, that is another area in which they are worst in the conference.

With only seven total sacks this year, BYU averages just 1.17 sacks per game.  That’s 110th in the NCAA.

In case you might be thinking that the low number of sacks is because teams are not throwing the ball on BYU, that isn’t the case.  The Cougars are getting to the QB on only 3.6% of the opposition’s pass attempts.  That’s 121st in the nation.

So when the BYU pass rush goes up against the Red Raider offensive line, it will be a meeting of a moveable object against a resistible force.

Allowing 2.29 sacks per game, Tech is second-worst in the Big 12.  Also, the 16 sacks the Red Raiders have surrendered are second-most in the conference.  That’s disappointing given that the focus of the offense since Tyler Shough was lost has been to run the ball.

Again, Tech is likely going to be motivated to try to throw the ball against a bad BYU secondary.  Will the offensive line be up to the task though?

Against Baylor and Houston, the two worst pass rush teams in the conference outside of BYU, Tech gave up a total of just two sacks on 41 pass attempts.  This might be a game where Tech is forced to throw the ball that many times, especially if BYU makes it hard to run the ball, and it will be interesting to see if a Tech O-line that struggles in pass protection can keep the worst pass rush in the Big 12 at bay.

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