October 25, 2021

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Why the run game is the most important factor for Texas Tech’s success against Texas

Welcome to the first installment of “The Main Point”, a series where you ask me questions about Texas Tech and I answer them. This week, we focus on how Texas Tech can knock off Texas and reflect on what the Red Raiders did well against Florida International. If you’d like to have your question answered, I will field some weekly on my Twitter account (@RMainvilleLBK) or you can email me at [email protected]

ME: This may very well be the biggest question facing the offense right now. Tahj Brooks is off to a phenomenal start and is averaging a Big 12-best 8.1 yards per carry. Xavier White is picking up 7.1 yards per attempt as well, with his numbers being boosted a bit by a 52-yard gain. With only four carries, it doesn’t seem reasonable to evaluate Thompson with numbers just yet. Texas Tech has a good problem on its hands: they have too many options.

It’s not listed as such on the depth chart, but I think Brooks is your starting running back. Until he’s proven otherwise, he’s earned a large chunk of the carries every week. You still incorporate Thompson frequently and keep White as an option as well. If I had to divide it into percentages, I think you give Brooks 55% of the carries, Thompson gets 35%, and White gets the remaining 10%. It’s not a perfect formula, and you can bet it will be fluid all season long. Also, watch out for Tyler Shough in the run game, especially on RPOs.

ME: There’s interesting wording in your question and it may not have been intentional, but I’m going to unpack it a bit anyway. If the Texas Tech game plan got the ball into the hands of other receivers besides Erik Ezukanma, that’s less about force and more about strategy. Ezukanma has quickly shown what many of us thought was possible — he has the skills to be one of the best receivers in the nation. That’s good and bad news for the Red Raiders. While it means Texas Tech now has one of the best options in the conference at receiver, it also means it has to deal with him drawing a bunch of double coverage. Completing passes to 11 different receivers against FIU was crazy, but if the Red Raiders can spread the ball like that it will be a huge asset.

ME: I’m going to focus on the defensive part of your question, as I will elaborate on the offense in another question. The Texas Tech run defense has looked absurdly good early, allowing just 1.7 yards per carry. The game against FIU was a really good measuring stick to see the legitimacy of their early performances. D’Vonte Price came into Lubbock averaging 9.9 yards per carry. A guy doesn’t do that without a lot of talent. Texas Tech held him to just 51 yards on the ground and 3.4 yards per carry.

But Texas provides the biggest challenge yet. Bijan Robinson is one of the best backs in the conference. His combination of burst and strength just makes it really hard to get him down. Quarterback Casey Thompson also knows how to move in and out of the pocket. It feels tricky to predict how Texas Tech will stop the run in this game, but the Red Raiders will need to do it well if they want to win.

ME: I watched parts of the Longhorns game against Arkansas live, and I’ve re-watched it once since. One thing immediately stands out about their defense in that game — the Longhorns had absolutely no answer for the variations of the run from Arkansas. K.J. Jefferson used his legs often, and the Razorbacks threw a lot of option looks at Texas. Arkansas finished the game with six players who had 29 or more rushing yards. Shough is not the running quarterback that Jefferson is, but he’s shown he can be serviceable. Texas Tech now has a trio of talented backs it can use against Texas, in addition to using Shough in some option looks. Arkansas ran a lot of RPOs against Texas, something the Red Raiders should look to do as well. The Red Raiders ran a handful of them against FIU, but I think it would fit into their offense well on higher volume and work especially well against this defense.

ME: The Texas Tech offensive line was probably the most concerning position group to me after Week 2. There was no protection available for Shough, and he was forced to adapt to a new offensive system constantly under pressure. Like you had mentioned, the run blocking has looked great all season. For a Texas Tech offense to have success, it has to protect its quarterback. It looked much better against FIU, but they need to replicate that success this Saturday and give Shough time to make plays down the field. Storment-Wright-Deaton-Burger-Rogers is your best first five guys upfront, and I think Ethan Carde can play a number of snaps as well.

ME: It’s got to be Brooks or the run game in general. Texas Tech proved last week that it can win even when Ezukanma has a minimal impact. Now, that will certainly be more difficult against higher competition and the Red Raiders need to do a better job at getting him involved. But what we saw against FIU is that there are a number of receivers who can make plays. The Texas defense has shown its greatest weaknesses against the run this season. The Red Raiders have to take advantage of that.

ME: Through three games of the 2021 season, it looks like Texas Tech has its best team since 2015. There will inevitably be some games where things slow down and I still don’t think they’ll look great against Oklahoma or Iowa State, but there’s a lot of reason for optimism. The depth in the running back room is playing out very well on the field. Ezukanma looks dominant early. Shough throws the deep ball with a jaw-dropping amount of accuracy. The linebacker core and front four for the Texas Tech defense has been great early. If all those things continue to play out the way they have, which is easier said than done in Big 12 play, it wouldn’t surprise me if Texas Tech is 8-4 in December and headed to a bowl game.

More Texas Tech coverage from Ryan

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 26: Running back Bijan Robinson #5 of the Texas Longhorns is upended by linebacker Jacob Morgenstern #41 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the second half of the college football game on September 26, 2020 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 29:  Sam Ehlinger #11 of the Texas Longhorns runs the ball defended by Riko Jeffers #6 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 29, 2019 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 29:  Devin Duvernay #6 of the Texas Longhorns attempts to avoid a tackle by Damarcus Fields #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 29, 2019 in Austin, Texas.

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