LUBBOCK, Texas — Coming off a narrow win against underdog Houston Baptist, Texas Tech had an idle week before the Red Raiders welcome the University of Texas to Lubbock Saturday.
The No. 8 Longhorns will pose a far greater challenge than the Huskies did. Texas was dominant in a 59-3 win over UTEP in its opener and returns senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who diced the Red Raiders for 348 passing yards and three total touchdowns in Austin last year.
Texas Tech’s defense will need to improve significantly on its Week 1 performance if it wants to stop Ehlinger and his targets.
Houston Baptist’s Bailey Zappe tossed 567 yards and four touchdowns as the Huskies nearly shocked the Red Raiders, and the Longhorn offense features bigger, faster and stronger weapons.
Once you put your hands on him you can tell this guy has some incredible strength, especially for a quarterback.Texas Tech defensive end Eli Howard on Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Monday, Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells, defensive end Eli Howard and wide receiver Erik Ezukanma spoke to the media about the performance against HBU and the upcoming battle with the Longhorns. Here are some key takeaways from what they had to say.
Physical practices over the idle week
Texas Tech had a week off to patch the holes that appeared in the opener and get itself ready for the duel with Texas.
Usually, a team’s week off comes in the middle of the season when the wear and tear of several games is already taking a toll on players’ bodies. This bye week follows just one game, which allowed Texas Tech to have more physical practices.
“Since we had this bye week so early, it was honestly kind of like half of a corrections, half of a ‘Let’s get more of a fall camp-type contact practices,'” Howard said. “This bye week was definitely unlike any other one we’ve had and I think our coaching staff had an excellent plan for us and I think we had a great week of preparation.”
Howard also pointed out that many players on the team have missed valuable preparation time due to COVID-19 before the season. For those players, extra-physical practices over the bye week helped them catch up on the full-speed practices they missed in preseason camp.
The work Texas Tech was able to accomplish over its time off should have players more prepared for the second game of the season.
Bowman plays confident opener
After missing all of the Big 12 slate in 2019, Alan Bowman returned to the field against HBU with 430 passing yards and two touchdowns.
He missed a couple of throws and had a bad interception in the first quarter, but was able to get the ball to his wide receivers and keep pace with an HBU offense that gashed the Texas Tech defense repeatedly.
“Very confident,” Ezukanma said of Bowman in his 2020 debut, “You’re gonna have hiccups. You’re gonna have incomplete passes, but he kept firing away at his receivers and getting us involved and trusting in us as well.”
Wells said that he entrusted Bowman with more responsibility against HBU than he did in his 2019 starts.
“We put some stuff on his plate more in game one than we had done the first three games of last year,” Wells said. “I think he handled it very well.”
Bowman was able to keep up with HBU’s offense, but he was supposed to be against the FCS Huskies. The competition level will increase sharply in Big 12 play, and Saturday’s game will be a big test of what Bowman can do right now.
How much of an advantage is home field during COVID-19?
“Any time the Jones isn’t completely packed out we’re definitely at a disadvantage,”Texas Tech defensive end Eli Howard
Jones AT&T Stadium is hosting fans at just 25 percent capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic this fall.
Texas Tech got a taste of what the limited crowd will look like against Houston Baptist when 11,157 fans filed into the Jones. Howard said not having the full complement of Red Raider faithful in the building hurt the team.
“Any time the Jones isn’t completely packed out we’re definitely at a disadvantage,” Howard said. “It definitely is weird not to feed off the emotions and energy of the fans.”
“It would be nice to have a full stadium, 60,000 for every one of these home games,” Wells added. “That’s just a byproduct of COVID-19 that we don’t have any control over.”
Every team will have to deal with having fewer or no fans, so Texas Tech is not in a unique situation. But it would help the Red Raiders to have a full crowd on their side against the heavily favored Longhorns.
Handling Ehlinger and Texas’ offense
Texas Tech’s defense was shredded by HBU’s Bailey Zappe, and it now faces an even bigger test in Texas star quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Ehlinger has three years of starting experience and threw for 57 touchdowns and nearly 7,000 yards over the past two seasons.
“He’s very accurate with the ball,” Wells said of Ehlinger. “Does a very good in the RPO game and in the play action game.”
Howard felt that the Texas Tech pass rush put pressure on Zappe, but didn’t have the physicality early in the season to finish plays.
That will be even more challenging against Ehlinger, who uses a bruising style of running that is uncommon for quarterbacks.
“Once you put your hands on him you can tell this guy has some incredible strength, especially for a quarterback,” Howard said.
Texas Tech will have its hands full with Ehlinger and the Longhorn passing attack, but ideally, the week of physical practices will help them drag down one of the toughest quarterbacks in the county.