Texas Tech has finished each of the past five football seasons with a losing record, taking 35 losses altogether in that time. Few, if any, setbacks have stung more and stuck with the Red Raiders longer than the one last year against Texas.
The Red Raiders lost 63-56 in overtime after leading 56-41 with three minutes left in regulation.
“I felt like that L was one of the biggest of the season last year,” Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma said Tuesday, “and coach (Matt) Wells brings it up a lot — makes sure that we remember it, how we felt and how we didn’t close out that game. That’ll be a big emphasis this week: making it to the fourth quarter and if we have a lead or we don’t have a lead, just winning the fourth quarter overall.”
The two teams open Big 12 play against each other at 11 a.m. Saturday in Austin. Tech is undefeated after non-conference play for the first time since 2017. Texas is 2-1, sandwiching wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and Rice around a 40-21 loss at Arkansas.
“These guys,” Wells said, referring to his players, “they don’t need to be reminded about last year. All the emotions and the feelings that come with that, we move on — we all do — but it’s a game and you do remember it.
“And certainly we want to put ourselves in the same position in terms of being in the game in the fourth quarter, and we will need to finish.”
Saturday will mark 57 days since Texas and Oklahoma formally accepted invitations to join the Southeastern Conference and 15 days since the Big 12 formally welcomed aboard four of the best programs outside power-five conferences to replace the two heavyweights in the near future.
Tech has played UT every year since 1960, but there’s no guarantee when they’ll face each other in football again after Saturday. Tech athletics director Kirby Hocutt told A-J Media two weeks ago that leaders of Tech and UT have discussed playing every year in all sports for a 20- to 25-year period after Texas departs.
Hocutt said he expects such a non-conference series to come to fruition, though a high-ranking Texas source told the Austin American-Statesman such an expectation was “very premature.”
Asked during his weekly Tuesday news conference what he thought of Tech continuing to play post-Big 12 Texas, Wells said, “Be great. Be great for Lubbock. Be great to have them in the stadium and for all the businesses in Lubbock and everything like that — the old rivalries, Southwest Conference, Big 12, all that. I’d be for it.”
Ezukanma, the Big 12 receiving leader, called Texas “our rival overall.” If this week is the last time the two teams play for a while, he plans to get in his licks on the Longhorns while he can.
“It’s going to be awesome to go into Austin and give them a fight and smack them in the mouth a little bit,” he said. “Obviously, we’re 3-and-oh right now, so we have a lot of confidence in our game plan and going into Austin this week.
“There’s talk about Texas and OU trying to leave to the SEC and we’re going to show them that, ‘We can play with y’all regardless.’ “
Texas is a 9 1/2-point favorite, according to Tipico Sportsbook. The betting line was briefly off the board with questions about the health of Big 12 passing leader Tyler Shough.
A Florida International pass rusher got a knockdown on the Tech quarterback late in the first half Saturday night, banging Shough’s knee into the turf. But Shough brushed off the severity after the game, and Wells said Sunday night and again Tuesday that Shough is fine.
Shough came up limping a little at the time he went down in the pocket, but led the offense to four more scores after that — two touchdown passes by him and two field goals — not leaving until the Red Raiders’ lead was 47-21 in the fourth quarter. They wound up winning 54-21.
If the Red Raiders are to win in Austin for the third time in four trips, they’ll likely need a special effort by their defense. Tech has the Big 12’s second-ranked rushing defense, allowing 54.3 yards per game and 1.7 yards per carry. But Longhorns’ sophomore Bijan Robinson has lived up to his reputation as the nation’s top running-back recruit coming out of high school, running for 703 yards in nine games last year and 299 in the first three games this year.
“It’s kind of strength on strength,” Wells said, referencing Robinson, the Longhorns’ other backs and the Red Raiders’ defense. “They’re really good football players, but the strength of our team is our defense right now, and the strength of that defense is the D-line and the linebackers, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Texas quarterback Casey Thompson, in his last 18 series dating to last year’s Alamo Bowl, has led the Longhorns to 16 scores.
“The number-one thing of playing quarterback is to make the other 10 players around you that much better,” Wells said. “My guess is, whether it’s his play or in the huddle, his demeanor, he inspires his teammates.”
Who: Texas Tech at Texas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Royal-Memorial Stadium, Austin
Records: Texas Tech 3-0, 0-0 in Big 12; Texas 2-1, 0-0 in Big 12
Last game: Tech 54, Florida International 21; Texas 58, Rice 0
Last meeting: Texas 63, Tech 56 in OT last year in Lubbock
Tipico Sportsbook line: Texas by 9 1/2