While the road game in Waco is looming over Longhorn nation's collective head as the make or break game on the schedule, a former Longhorn scourge is on his way even now with a collection of pirates that just might steal Mack's treasure earlier than everyone anticipates.
The Red Raiders came into the B12 season with an undefeated record that lasted four games into their backloaded conference slate which has since handed them four consecutive losses against OU, OSU, KSU, and Baylor.
This has led to the conclusion that Tech was a paper tiger that would fold against real competition.
Of course, that's equally true of Texas, so which team proves to be more resistant to the Origami of a primetime Holiday game?
Texas is currently ranked 61st in the S&P rankings. That's what happens when you struggle with poor opponents and get demolished by good ones. Stats don't care about your W-L record, which is much more the function of chance and matchups then pure statistics, which indicate more precisely how good you are at accomplishing the common aims of a football team. Such as accumulating yards, scoring points, stopping your opponent, protecting possessions, and so forth.
The Texas offense is "carrying" the team with a #46 ranking while the defense has been deadweight with an #83 ranking overall. Texas' rushing offense is rated particularly poorly, which is more likely an indictment of the passing game which can't protect the RB's from eight man fronts.
Meanwhile Tech is rated 40th overall despite a 79th ranked D thanks to their #17 offense. In case you haven't followed events in Lubbock this year; they began the season planning on starting the Lake Travis QB named Michael Brewer that replaced Garrett Gilbert. He was injured in the preseason so they ended up starting a walk-on named Baker Mayfield, also from Lake Travis, who had replaced Brewer for the Cavaliers and also won 4A Championships.
Mayfield went down for a bit so they started a true freshman named Davis Webb. All three of these options have arguably been better than Case McCoy or the 3rd string options at Texas.
Stopping the Tech offense
It's fascinating how Tech has maintained a consistent identity since Leach took over the program back in 2000. They are still more or less an Air Raid team, with Leach's first Air Raider QB Kliff Kingsbury integrating the offense's evolving focus on throws and runs to the middle of the field.
Those evolutions are what should frighten Gerg and Texas fans. The Raiders employ the same "motion the RB to the flat then run a QB draw if the linebackers give chase" play that has utterly befuddled Texas for the last two seasons. Baker Mayfield is essentially a homeless man's Johnny Manziel, a short and very quick runner with a solid downfield ball. Unlike Manziel, Mayfield doesn't have freakishly large hands and is prone to fumbling while on the loose.
Texas defenders should be on high alert for chances to strip the diminutive Central Texan when opportunities present themselves.
Their backs, particularly Kenny Williams, run with a nice mix of balance and power, but their run game usually only finds room due to the 2-deep looks that their passing game draws from most opponents.
The real threat they present to the middle of the field is Jace Amaro, the best ball-control weapon in the conference.
I recommend you read the link to understand the full impact the 6-5, 260 pound TE has on the Tech offense. He's a complete mismatch for just about every safety and linebacker that's been asked to cover him this season. As we covered recently, Texas' doesn't have a long list of 6-0, 200 pound athletes that have much of a chance at matching Amaro's quickness and size.
Then there's the rest of the Tech passing game, which is where they've really maintained the same identity for a long time. They excel at running WR tunnel screens, RB slip screens, and bubble screens. They also have a very good and experienced outside receiver in Eric Ward (yep, he's still there) that can punish even good CB's in man2man situations in the red zone.
If Texas loads up with their Cover-3/Cover-1 Nickel responses Gerg has relied on all year it will be a disaster. A WR screen will inevitably blow past our small edge defenders while Mykkele Thompson flies around in desperation attempting to prevent TD's and Amaro will shred the linebackers over the middle of the field.
Gerg will have to rely on the Cover-2 approach they practiced against OSU and they'll have to play Dime to keep Adrian Phillips on Amaro the entire game. There's no one else on the roster that could match Amaro's quickness without getting pulverized by his blocking on screens and runs.
Then they'll have to hope that Tech can't work their way down the field with runs and short passes. Hopefully Jackson Jeffcoat realizes the opportunity to improve his draft stock against Le'Raven Clark and turns in a fantastic game with multiple sack-strips of Mayfield/Webb that turn the game.
Scoring on Tech
On the surface this would appear to be the more simple task for Texas as the Raiders have also maintained their typical identity of possessing a porous defense. The real challenge for Tech has been their undersized front which appears to be the perfect follow-up after the 'horns struggles against OSU.
However, you can count on Tech bringing soft Cover-3 on the edges and an eight-man front against the run. This is the trade-off Iowa St accepted, dare Texas to beat them with fairly easy short passes to the flats and outside of the hashes. There's also always the chance that this approach will yield a pick-six when Case floats a pass he shouldn't have thrown.
Tech is also a 3-4 team that loves to bring DL stunts and blitzes. Since they've had an extra-week to prepare you can expect them to have a variety of stunts and blitzes to attack Texas' younger OL in the hopes of getting negative plays that would certainly kill Texas' drives.
Mack Brown says we should expect to see Tyrone Swoopes in this game. If this proves true at all, I anticipate it looking like the "Cluster Flux" package with John Chiles. Meaning that Swoopes comes in for an ill-advised and obvious zone-read play periodically during drives which results in a negative play and requires a McCoy to Shipley 3rd down conversion.
Just like old times.
Mack is still playing for a conference title, because it's mathematically possible. Two victories would bring a co-championship with OSU (stupid rules in place in this league) while two victories and a Sooner victory in Bedlam would bring an outright championship for Texas...which would immediately become the worst champion in league history.
What Mack should actually have done, after he insisted on mindlessly burning Swoopes redshirt, was to give him a package of plays to comprise Texas' Red Zone/short yardage offense and expand that into a package that could give Texas a change of pace every 3rd series or so until Swoopes had mastered a full complement. Instead we've asked him to run a small collection of plays from the base offense against opponents' 2nd teamers when the game isn't in question. I'm sure that will set him and Texas up well for the long-term, next year should be fun.
Vegas has this game at Texas -4.5, but Tech is probably the better team overall. They have the best player on the field with Jace Amaro and have had extra time to prepare to earn a signature victory for Kingsbury's initial season. Like Paul Rhoads, he surely sees Texas as the perfect opponent to use to prop up the season and make sales pitches to recruits with. They're even wearing their Lonestar swag for this one.
Tuberville attempted to make the same point: taking down Texas in Austin in front of a national audience while wearing the Lonestar on your sleeve is an obvious pitch to recruits beyond the undersized Central Texas Champions Texas has always left available to the rest of the league.
While Mack's commiserating over the disastrous home loss to OSU and attempting to convince his charges not to lay an egg on the Holiday as they've been prone to do in the past, the Raiders still have a lot to play for.
Sometimes when things seem calm and peaceful for revelry and turkey feasting, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us like the Bumpus hounds bursting through the Parker's screen door.
Cue Yakety Sax and let's see if the Moxie Train has any coal left to throw in the furnace.
John Harbaugh's Ravens are also playing the Steelers Thursday night if you want to watch Baltimore and dream that the rumors about Harbaugh's future plans are remotely true, as I do daily.
Happy Holidays to all, try and enjoy it even as our redneck cousins are appearing unexpectedly like Uncle Eddie to empty his chemical toilet into our sewer:
Let's give also remember to give thanks that this era of Texas football is finally coming to a close.