By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
Big 12 Conference action gets underway for a couple of Lone Star State schools, as the sixth-ranked Texas Longhorns head to Lubbock for a clash with the Red Raiders of Texas Tech.
Texas is 2-0 on the young season, having put up identical 34 spots in wins over Rice and Wyoming. As a result, the Longhorns have won 32 of their last 35 games in the month of September, demonstrating their ability to get off to a fast start year in and year out.
Since coach Mack Brown took the reins back in 1998, the 'Horns are 10-2 in Big 12 openers (two wins coming against Tech), and they are 49-6 against teams from within the state of Texas. Brown is 130-27 at UT, and 216-101-1 in 26 years as a head coach overall.
As for Tommy Tuberville's Red Raiders, they too are undefeated after two games, topping both SMU (35-27) and New Mexico (52-17). Tuberville owns a record of 112-60 in 15 seasons as a head coach, and he will be celebrating his 56th birthday this Saturday.
Texas Tech is the third-winningest team in the Big 12 since the turn of the century, sitting behind only Texas and Oklahoma.
Texas owns a 44-15 advantage in the all-time series with Texas Tech, and the Longhorns have won nine of the last 11 matchups. The last Red Raider victory occurred in 2008 when they upset then top-ranked Texas for their first-ever win over the No. 1 team in the country.
Brown is excited about beginning conference play, particularly against a dynamic team like the one his guys will face in Lubbock this weekend.
"Texas Tech is a fun challenge for us." Brown continued, "They're 2-0 [this season]. They're doing really well under new coach Tommy Tuberville who has got a great track record and is a tremendous coach."
If Brown's troops are going to improve to 3-0, sophomore QB Garrett Gilbert will need to be as efficient as he was in last week's win over Wyoming when he completed 22-of-35 passes for 222 yards with a TD and no INTs.
Brown liked what he saw from his young signal-caller against the Cowboys, "We thought he was much better Saturday night than he was in the opener. He's been very careful with the ball, getting it to the right guys."
The UT run game lacks a true star at the moment, but the 'Horns averaged nearly six yards per carry last week, with Fozzy Whitaker spearheading the attack with 62 yards and a TD on just seven totes. Cody Johnson carried nine times, tallying 46 yards and two scores for a Texas offense that finished with 389 total yards. Mike Davis led the receiving corps with seven catches for 104 yards and a TD.
Defensively, the Longhorns put plenty of pressure on opposing offenses. Case in point -- Wyoming gained just 257 yards of total offense last week, including a mere 58 on the ground. Eddie Jones, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson each logged eight tackles in the win, while San Acho made three of his five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The unit as a whole was credited with 10 TFLs, three of which were sacks.
Turnovers haven't been plentiful to this point, but Texas possesses superior athletes at nearly every position and it's only a matter of time before they make the plays necessary to turn a very good defense into a dominant one.
Brown praised his defense for their effort in the Wyoming game, "Defensively, we held them to seven points. We shut down their running game. We want to hold them to 3.3 yards or less. We held them to 1.55."
He also addressed the turnover situation, "We didn't force turnovers but we did force three fourth down stops, which is like a turnover for us. We still need to strip some balls, get some fumbles and try to get some interceptions."
The Texas Tech offense doesn't appear to be any less prolific than it was under former coach Mike Leach, as the Red Raiders are averaging nearly 335 ypg through the air. QB Tyler Potts, who threw for 293 yards and three TDs in last week's rout of New Mexico, has seven TD passes and no INTs in the first two games. WR Lyle Leong is enjoying a tremendous start as well with his 16 catches for 217 yards and five scores.
As under Leach, the Tech rushing attack has taken a back seat to the pass, accounting for just 112 ypg, and no Red Raider has run for more than 88 yards (Baron Batch) combined through the first two games. Batch and Eric Stephens have scored two TDs apiece though, but at just 3.3 ypc the Red Raiders are going to have a tough time keeping opposing defenses honest.
Stephens made his present felt in other ways in the recent win over New Mexico, returning a kick 93 yards in the opening quarter to set up a TD, and he finished with 264 all-purpose yards in earning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Tuberville was pleased with the way his team played against the Lobos, particularly in the areas that tend to fly under the radar, "That was pretty much a team win right there because special teams really stepped up for us. I mean that was good as I have seen a special teams group play in a long time. Running back punts, blocking kicks, running back kickoffs. It was excellent. We needed that."
Despite allowing 336 yards through the air to the UNM offense, the Texas Tech defense yielded just two TDs. In fact, the Red Raiders pitched a shutout after the break. It certainly helped that the Lobos were flagged a whopping 16 times for a loss of 145 yards, but Tech logged three turnovers to help the overall cause.
Bront Bird led the way with nine tackles, and the Texas Tech defense collected four sacks as part of seven TFLs in the game.
While proud of the effort put forth by his team thus far, Tuberville knows they are going to have to be even better against a quality team like Texas, "It was good to see the entire team functioning together. We're coming together more as a team now then we have had and we got to continue to do that. (It's) very vital next week that all three of the teams do a good job."
This has all the makings of wild one, with the team who plays the cleanest game (turnovers, penalties) likely coming out on top. On paper, Texas is the better team, but you can't count out the Red Raiders -- not by any stretch.