The opposition: Previewing UH football’s matchup against Texas Tech
After a 7-13 start in the first two years of the Dana Holgorsen era, the UH football program believes 2021 will be a season of redemption.
Waiting since December 2020 to get the sour taste from previous seasons out of their mouths, the 2021 UH football season has arrived. The Cougars will kick off their campaign against Texas Tech on Sept. 4 at NRG Stadium in the Texas Kickoff.
Here is everything you need to know about the Cougars’ season opening opponent Texas Tech:
Red Raiders offense
Sonny Cumbie, who played quarterback at Texas Tech from 2002-04 and later spent 2009-13 on the Red Raiders’ coaching staff, has returned to Lubbock to take over the offense. Cumbie spent the past seven years as the Texas Christian University offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
Cumbie runs an air raid offense, taking lots of shots downfield looking to create explosive plays. The Red Raiders offense has the weapons and experience, returning eight starters from a season ago, to excel in Cumbie’s system.
It all starts with quarterback Tyler Shough, who transferred from Oregon after starting every game for the Ducks in 2020 and leading them to the Fiesta Bowl.
Standing at 6-foot-5-inches, Shough has the height to sit back and find his receiver while also being deceptively mobile for his size. He is able to use his feet to create something when necessary.
“(Shough’s) a pretty impressive looking guy,” said UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. “Has a big arm, very talented. Can hurt you throwing the ball and running the ball”
In the backfield, Belk described the Red Raiders as having “a stable of good running backs” led by junior SaRodorick Thompson.
Thompson led Texas Tech in rushing each of the past two seasons, tallying 1,375 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Thompson suffered a shoulder injury in the Red Raiders spring game and is listed as a game-time decision for Saturday night’s contest.
On the outside, the Red Raiders return to their leading receiver from the 2019 and 2020 seasons in Erik Ezukanma.
Standing at 6-foot-3-inches and weighing 220 pounds, Ezukanma has emerged as one of the top receivers in the Big 12, totaling 88 receptions for 1,412 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Upfront, the Texas Tech offensive line is big and experienced, returning four of five starters from last season and added 2020 second-team all-Big 12 tackle T.J. Storment from TCU.
Red Raiders defense
While Texas Tech has struggled mightily on defense for years, the Red Raiders took a major step forward in 2020 by returning most of their key players for the season.
The Red Raiders defense’s strength lies at linebacker, led by Colin Schooler, Krishon Merriweather and Riko Jeffers.
Schooler, Merriweather and Jeffers were three of the top four tacklers for Texas Tech in 2020, combing for 196 tackles and seven sacks.
The Red Raiders return key players in the secondary including safety Eric Monroe and cornerback DaMarcus Fields. Texas Tech also picked up a few additional pieces in the transfer portal including Marquis Waters from Duke, Malik Dunlap from NC State, Reggie Pearson Jr. from Wisconsin and Rayshad Williams from UCLA.
Texas Tech’s defensive line and whether it can stop the run or not is the biggest question mark coming into the season.
How does UH match up with Texas Tech?
Offensively, expect a heavy dose of senior running backs Mulbah Car and Chandler Smith early on from the Cougars as a way of testing the Texas Tech run defense, which has holes.
Establishing the ground game early will be key to open up the passing game and allow UH quarterback Clayton Tune to complete some easy throws and settle into the game against a Red Raider secondary loaded with experience.
Defensively, UH is full of depth, running two to three deep at many positions, which bodes well against a high-tempo Texas Tech offense.
Belk said he feels comfortable with a 10-12 rotation on the defensive line. Expect the Cougars to shuffle bodies in and out upfront throughout the game in an effort to wear down the Texas Tech offensive line.
Where to watch
The game will kick off at 6 p.m. and will air on ESPN. The game can also be listened to on KPRC 950 AM.