Football Sports

UH football: Previewing Houston’s showdown against Texas Tech

UH football looks to improve to 2-0 on Saturday afternoon in Lubbock as they take on Texas Tech. | James Schillinger/The Coigar

UH football looks to improve to 2-0 on Saturday afternoon in Lubbock as they take on Texas Tech. | James Schillinger/The Coigar

When UH football and Texas Tech faced each other in last year’s season opener, the Red Raiders’ offense did not touch the ball for the first 12:47 of the game. On the other side, the UH offense ran 24 plays, resulting in 129 yards and 14 points.

A night that began with an absolutely perfect start quickly turned into UH’s worst nightmare, as the Cougars surrendered 31 unanswered second half points on their way to an 0-1 start to the 2021 season.

Fast forward 371 days later and the Cougars and Red Raiders will once again faceoff on Saturday in Lubbock in a preview of a future Big 12 showdown.

A look at Texas Tech

The Red Raiders enter Week 2 coming off a 63-10 blowout victory over Murray State to begin their 2022 campaign. This win came at a cost though as Texas Tech lost its starting quarterback, Tyler Shough, to a shoulder injury.

Shough will be sidelined for at least the next couple of weeks, meaning UH will see a different face at quarterback this time around against Texas Tech.

Sophomore Donovan Smith, who replaced Shough and threw for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ season opener, will likely get the start under center against the Cougars.

Even though the UH defense will face Texas Tech’s QB2, defensive coordinator Doug Belk does not see much dropoff between Shough and Smith. For the second week in a row, Belk knows his defense will have its hands full with trying to slow down a quarterback who is effective with both his arm and his legs.

“He has elite arm talent,” Belk said. “Can run as well so that’s always a challenge. … I think we got to be ready for a guy who’s dual-threat, who can make all the throws and put those guys in the right play and position to be successful.”

While Smith will likely start Saturday’s game, Texas Tech head coach Joey McGuire said he expects redshirt freshman Behren Morton to also see some action.

In the backfield, the Red Raiders are led by one of the country’s most experienced and explosive running backs in SaRodrick Thompson and Tahj Brooks.

“Statistically, they’re the best duo of production coming back in the country,” Belk said. “Brooks, last year, had over 100 yards rushing on us in a very competitive game. SaRodrick is just as talented, maybe even more.”

Brooks started his season with a bang with three touchdowns against Murray State.

Thompson, who did not see the field a season ago against UH due to injury, rushed for 48 yards on seven carries a week ago to eclipse 2,000 total career rushing yards at Texas Tech. Thompson is also tied for fifth in touchdowns (33) in Red Raiders history.

On the outside, receivers Loic Fouonji and Jerand Bradley each had over 100 yards receiving and hauled in two touchdowns apiece in the Red Raiders’ opener.

Defensively, middle linebacker Krishon Merriweather, who led the Red Raiders with seven tackles in their season opener, is the anchor of the unit. Outside linebacker Tyree Wilson, who enters the season with three years of playing experience under his belt, is another impact player on the Texas Tech defense.

In the secondary, 6-foot-3-inch senior cornerback Rayshad Williams will likely draw the assignment of guarding UH’s top receiver, Nathaniel Dell, according to Justin Apodaca of Red Raider Sports.

Key questions for UH

Can the offensive line clean things up from Week 1?

Inconsistency defined the Cougars’ offensive line in Week 1.

Five false starts, a holding penalty and four sacks allowed highlight just some of the UH offensive line’s struggles against UTSA.

“It really comes down to consistency,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen. “We have guys that are capable of blocking better and playing better together. It just needs to improve.” 

Right tackle is still an area to pay attention to. Both Reuben Unije and Lance Robinson saw the field against UTSA but neither has solidified the spot as the Cougars’ clear starter.

“They both need to improve,” Holgorsen said.

How does the UH defense handle Texas Tech’s offensive tempo?

Tempo is the name of the game for the Red Raiders’ offense under first-year offensive coordinator Zach Kittley.

“(Kittley’s) offenses pride themselves on tempo,” said UH senior linebacker Donavan Mutin. “Getting as many plays off, getting as many points as possible. That’s what they pride themselves on.”

One of the strengths of the UH defense is depth. Belk likes to rotate many guys in upfront throughout the course of the game but getting fresh bodies in as often as the Cougars like to will be difficult against a high-speed Texas Tech offense.

The Cougars’ ability or inability to get lined up quickly and be on the same page, as missed assignments and missed tackles were a big issue in the opener, will be key in whether UH comes out of Lubbock with a win or not.

“We’re going to have to be ready to weather the storm that is tempo,” Mutin said.

How much does Ta’Zhawn Henry play?

Entering the season, Holgorsen emphasized that Henry would be the workforce for UH in the backfield.

Things did not go as planned as Henry hurt his ankle early against UTSA and did not see the field much after that, being limited to just eight carries for 31 yards.

Holgorsen said Henry will be “good to go” Saturday but the question remains: how much will he actually play?

Will Holgorsen choose to feature a heavy dose of Henry, who transferred to UH from Texas Tech in 2020, as he planned to entering the season or will redshirt freshmen Brandon Campbell and Stacy Sneed handle the majority of the backfield duties for UH?

How does UH match up with Texas Tech?

Both the Cougars and Red Raiders have high-powered, explosive offenses that can light up a scoreboard in a hurry.

This game will come down to the two defenses and which side can get more stops.

UH has the advantage on defense in terms of personnel but facing a quick-tempo Red Raiders offense full of playmakers, both in the run and pass game, is a tough early-season test. Limiting the Texas Tech run game, which averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the matchup a year ago, is a must if the Cougars are to come out on top.

On the other side of the ball, the story will be how the UH offensive line holds up.

If the Cougars’ offensive line is able to create a push upfront early to establish the run game, then it would open things up for Clayton Tune and the UH offense to have a big day through the air. If Texas Tech’s front seven wins the battle in the trenches, taking away the UH run game and pressuring Tune often then many of the same struggles that the Cougars showed for the first three quarters against UTSA will once again be evident.

How to watch

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. and will be televised on FS1. The game can also be listened to via radio on KPRC 950 AM.

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