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Liberty Bowl preview: Texas Tech vs. Mississippi State in a battle of grudges

Two high powered offenses clash in Memphis in a game filled with storylines

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With only a few days left before the final game of the season, we will now take a look at the matchup that is Texas Tech vs Mississippi State.

Texas Tech is a 10-point underdog vs. Mississippi State.


With all the outside storylines making most of the noise heading into Tuesday, we’re going to focus on the X’s and O’s.

Bulldogs offense:

Obviously with Mike Leach as your head coach one would expect a heavy dose of Air-Raid offense. That is exactly the case here as Mississippi State averages just 63.9 rushing yards on the year while throwing for an eye-opening 385.7 yards per game.

The offense is lead by Will Rogers, who ranks second in the nation in completions, attempts and passing yards. He’s definitely benefited from this system and is only a Sophomore in college putting up these types of numbers.

He is no threat in the running game however and is going to be missing his key piece in offensive lineman Charles Cross, who opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.

The rest of the guys on the line are solid as far as pass blocking goes. If Tech wants to have any chance of disrupting this offense, they’re going to need to send plenty of pressure and do what they can to get anywhere near Rogers as he is susceptible to pressure.

When it comes to the receivers, Makai Polk is the guy that they’re going to try to get the ball to early and often.

He doesn’t do a whole lot with those receptions given how many he has, only accumulating 989 yards and 9 touchdowns on the year.

That could be because of how much they like to use plenty of guys in the passing game, with the two leading running backs being their second and third leading receivers. Jaden Walley, Austin Williams and Malik Heath each have over 50 targets as well, showing just how much they like to spread the ball around.

As far as running the ball goes, there really is nothing to talk about as they don’t have a guy with over 100 attempts on the team. They are so pass happy that they won’t even try to take advantage of teams knowing they’re going to throw the ball a bunch.

I don’t see this team having anywhere near their average 20 attempts on the ground with Leach likely looking to try and beat his former school the best way that he knows how.

Overall I think it will be a tough matchup for Texas Tech if they are trying to keep this from being a high-scoring game. The only time they’ve scored less than 20 points has been against Alabama, so I don’t see why they won’t be able to at least get to 21 by the time this thing is over.

The recipe to beating this team is getting pressure on Rogers and forcing them into 3rd and Long as often as possible. Every down is a passing down for this team but forcing them to have to hit a deep shot is the best way to get them off the field. Having no Charles Cross is key as that completely opens up one side of the offensive line.

Bulldogs Defense:

Zach Arnett runs one of the more unique yet on the rise defensive schemes. He has implemented a 3-3-5 scheme, which has three down lineman and five defensive backs to go with three linebackers.

This is similar to the type of defense that Iowa State runs and is meant to be able to match up better with teams that pass the ball a lot.

The Bulldogs have another top draft prospect on this side of the ball in Martin Emerson. He declared for the NFL draft already, but I didn’t see him say that he was going to skip the bowl game so he should still be out there for the Bulldogs defense.

As far as the front seven goes for the Bulldogs, they don’t apply much pressure at all but their linebackers are solid in pass coverage which is what you’d like to see in a scheme like this. They fly to the ball and will be tough for our running backs in pass coverage.

Emerson leads the secondary for the Bulldogs and will likely be lined up over Erik Ezukanma the whole game which should be an intriguing matchup. The rest of the secondary has been solid all year and should force Tech into running the ball a heavy amount if they want to be able to move the ball efficiently.

Overall this unit ranks 21st in the nation in yards allowed with 330.8, which is impressive for a team that isn’t really at the top of the SEC ranks. Passing the ball will be a challenge, so Tech will need to rely on their run game if they want to open up holes in the secondary.

Key Matchups:

Offense: EZ vs Emerson

This will be a matchup to watch if Emerson does end up suiting up for the Bulldogs. Emerson is projected to be drafted early, and we already know the type of player that EZ is. Having someone follow him around the entire game should be fun to watch, especially if they make the mistake of leaving him alone in coverage. EZ’s size and ability to track the ball in the air are just so unfair when it comes to college cornerbacks, so I’m hoping to see Tech look for him throughout the game.

Defense: Pass Rush vs Their Offensive Line

This matchup is where Tech will win or lose this game. If they are unable to get any pressure on Rogers and allow him to pick apart our defense, then we will be in for a rough outing and be forced into a shootout. We have only accumulated 15 sacks overall on the season, but with it being the last game of the season you would hope to see a great effort from the guys.

Game Notes:

  • It will be interesting to see what the Red Raiders do at quarterback. With Donovan Smith being the main guy for most of the end of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the game. Tyler Shough is also a candidate to be the guy taking snaps at the start of the game as it appears that he is finally healthy. Behren Morton is the only other guy that I could maybe see taking snaps, but I’m not sure that he would be a candidate to start out the game.
  • Texas Tech has been hot and cold as far as deciding how much they want to use the running game this year. When they decide to try and establish it, they tend to have much more success on offense as they have a nice combination of backs to get the job done. With the scheme that Mississippi State runs, Tech would be better off just trying to establish a solid ground game rather than throw the ball 50 times.
  • This secondary for Tech is very experienced and has shown some signs of that this season. However teams that really like to establish the pass have been able to do just that, and Mississippi State is going to look to light them up.
  • The one matchup that I think is going to be trouble for us is their running backs against our linebackers. They throw to their backs more than anyone in the nation and if Schooler and Jeffers can’t cover them long enough to force the ball somewhere else then they will have little trouble moving the ball up and down the field.

Predictions:

I see this game playing out two different ways. Either we contain their offense just enough for ours to get going and run the ball enough to keep them off the field, or we get torched on defense and our offense is forced to keep up with one of the top passing games in the nation. Either way I think the over is something that should definitely be in play here.

I have Texas Tech winning this game 49-45.

Wreck Em’.