Why does everything have to be the biggest? The biggest game in University of Houston history. That is what this is being billed as. Record crowds are expected at Robertson Stadium on Saturday. This is a chance for the Coogs to legitimize themselves in front of a national audience. Winning for U of H will continue to garner them attention as the potential Cinderella story of the season, with hopes for an invitation to the ball. For Texas Tech? Not so much. An important game to be sure, but when your aspirations are high, every game is important and must be take seriously. Even after a respectable showing against Texas, a win against Houston does not ensure that Texas Tech will crack the top 25 in the polls. With a tick in the "L" column, everything from this point forward will be hard earned. Making this game even more important for Tech - the losing team in this game will likely fade back from the spotlight for at least another year.
With this in mind, let's take a look at Texas Tech's keys to winning against the University of Houston.I'm going to come right out and say it: I expect Texas Tech to win this game. Though it is a "home" game for U of H, there are a lot of Texas Tech alumni and fans (including your's truly) that will be in attendance on Saturday. It is almost a neutral site. That being said, as Seth pointed out, Houston is not a bad team in the least. There are a number of parallels between the U of H program and Texas Tech, including their staff. U of H is going to be fired up for this game, and they have a number of weapons to employ. Texas Tech needs to make a staement in this game. Tech has to take control, play to win (versus playing not to lose), and not let up. Here's how I think the Red Raiders get it done.
You can bet that every team on our schedule has a copy of the Tech - UT game film by now, and they will try to stop the Tech offense the same way Texas did. Except OU, who has their own way to get us. But that is for another day. The good news is that no one on our schedule between now an November 21 have the same caliber athletes as what we just faced. This leaves 2 options: sell out to get the same kind of pressure as UT or over defend the pass. This is the situation that our offense was built for: taking advantage of the inability of most teams to field enough athletes to keep up, and forcing them to make the choice above. If they have to choose, it's just up to us to read and execute.
Key #1 - Hold on to the ball. Look at the box score from the Oklahoma State - U of H game. 4 turnovers by OSU, -2 turnover margin, including a fumble on their first possession at their own 16 yard line and a pick 6. It is no wonder OSU lost. U of H is opportunistic and will score when given those opportunities. It wasn't that U of H was able to stop OSU for scoring. OSU stopped themselves. We tried this last week. It doesn't work. Hold onto the ball.
Key #2 - Run. The. Ball. Much of this comes down to blocking, as we've discussed ad nausium. There is no reason why our O-line should not domiinate in this game, especially when the numbers in the box are in our favor (which is when we should be checking to the run). U of H is allowing 4.3 yds/carry. Unless they are loading the box every play, if we can't muster something close to 100 yards on the ground in this game, I may offer to suit up and block for Baron Batch and Eric Stephens myself. Not only should we run, but we need to to make sure we can keep our defense fresh, control the game with our offense in the second half, and keep U of H honest against the pass.
Key #3 - No time off. Every play counts. It seems to me that guys have either lost focus on plays (penalties, picking up the blitz, and especially in the case of receivers not being where they need to be), or gotten lazy (in the case of linemen just plain missing blocks). This is a pivital game. We need everyone's minds engaged 100%.
After last week, I am beginning to think I need to take back every negative thing I have ever said about Ruffin and the way he runs this defense. Prove it to me this week, Ruff.
Key #1 - Limit YAC. Texas Tech did a good job of this against Texas last week. But U of H is going to throw the ball a lot more, and they are going to complete some passes. Continue to hit hard and make sure tackles, we should be fine. I am really liking the athleticism we have at DB.
Key #2 - Force Case Keenum to hold the ball more than 3 seconds. We have the athletes to cover U of H receivers. We know how they are going to play because we see it every day in practice. Force Keenum to have to search for the open man, and Tech will have some opportunities for sacks, tipped balls and interceptions. If we let him hit easy targets at 7 - 8 yards a clip, even if we don't allow YAC, they will march down the field. Don't get beat at your own game.
Key #3 - Avoid the let down. This one goes out to the front 4. I'm not worried about our guys being tired from the game against Texas or our ability to rotate in players to keep guys fresh. Physically and talent wise, I like the way our defense stacks up against the Cougars. This is a mental thing based on giving it everything they had last week and not getting the W. Show us that effort this week, and Tech will dominate Houston.
Make them drive the field. We gave Texas excellent field position all night. Even when we got a stop on defense, we ended up starting deep within our own territory. It is too easy with a short field to have 1 good play turn into points. The further they have to go, the more likely they are to make a mistake that we can capitalize on. Texas Tech is going to get some stops defensively. Let's make sure when we do that we are winning the battle of field position to help minimize opportunities for mistakes of our own.