Texas, riding a nine-game losing streak to top AP 25 teams, is headed to No. 20 Texas Tech this Saturday. Here is a look at five storylines that could determine the outcome of the game:
1. Speed Thrills
Marquise Goodwin clearly wants the ball -- earlier and more often.
"You watch film and you hope you get some action," the senior wide receiver said. "But at the end of the day, it’s about Texas getting the win."
The thing is, for Texas to get the win it might want to consider getting the ball to Goodwin and some of the other speed players on the outside of the formations. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said that did not happen last week because he was setting up those plays for late. The Kansas defense was poised to stop the speed sweep, etc.
Until they weren’t and Texas ran seven straight plays to get outside as it went down and scored to tie the game in the fourth. Goodwin had 52 yards on that drive including an 11-yard touchdown run.
"Daje touched it on the third play, and it went for nothing," Harsin said. "There's a fine line there."
Not to put too fine a point on that fine line but just because the play only went for two yards deciding to scrap getting it to the most explosive player on the field for the rest of the game seems slightly shortsided. Plus the play, which was actually the seventh of the game, went for two yards. Not great. But it was equally as successful as the two-yard run from Jeremy Hills on second and 17 in the second quarter.
Finally in the fourth, Goodwin and Monroe did get touches and Texas scored. Goodwin is not sure if he will have to wait that long again this week.
"If he wants to give the ball to me then he will," Goodwin said of Harsin. "If he doesn’t he won’t."
The point is Harsin might want to figure out a way to get it to all those players and soon. Texas’ speed on offense is better than Tech’s on defense. One way to utilize that speed is to get players to the outside and in space. A reluctance to do that might stall the Texas offense. And, given the defensive issues, this is not an offense that can afford to be stalled.
2. Manning Up
Texas Tech’s scheme on defense is pretty simple. The Red Raiders line up in man-to-man and dare a team to beat them. Kansas State and Oklahoma have done just that. But the rest of the teams, save a triple-overtime game against TCU, have had issues winning individual matchups against the Red Raiders. Tech is No. 12 in overall defense in FBS.
"Schematically they're very similar to what we saw from Oklahoma," Harsin said. "They do some different things, but just as far as the up-in-your-face mentality, that's what they bring.
"The biggest thing is any time we have matchups, one-on-ones, opportunities, we have to take advantage of it," he said. "I think that's where they got a few teams, being able to win the one-on-one matchups."
The teams they didn’t get -- Oklahoma and Kansas State -- either had superior athletes or were just better coaches or both. Texas should have the superior athletes. Whether or not the coaches can put those athletes in a position to succeed or whether or not those athletes play to their potential has been the question for the Longhorns all season long.
3. X Factor
There is little doubt the Texas offense is going to have to keep drives alive and score points. To do that David Ash might want to find D.J. Grant more. While the tight end has not been incredibly productive this season -- he does have a fourth-down catch at Oklahoma State and a game-winning touchdown against Kansas -- Texas Tech’s scheme could allow for a breakout day.
The Red Raiders like to keep three linebackers on the field as much as possible, meaning one of those guys is going to have to run with Grant. That might be a difficult task given Grant’s athletic ability. Complicating matters for Tech is that there is almost a refusal to play anything other than man defense on the outside. That means Grant, who has 13 catches for 120 yards, should be able to find some open air if he beats his man early in the pattern. Ash has a tendency to look outside first before going back inside the tight ends. But this week Ash might find more success right down the middle of the field with Grant.
4. Sticking together
The Texas defense might appear fractured on the field but those players are together in the locker room, according to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
"Through whatever we have come through we have managed to win six games and only lose two," he said. "The players they still believe what we are doing. They still believe in each other. They have been. We have had great leadership from our two seniors. And again I still think we are poised to finish the year on a really high note."
Now the defense did come back together last week after a rough start. But it was against Kansas, took an impassioned speech from Alex Okafor in the locker room and abandonment of Diaz’s original scheme to do so.
Still there has been some chirping by the seniors -- Kenny Vaccaro has told players he is tired of talking and they can either follow him or get out of his way -- and if Texas gets down early to Texas Tech it is hard to fathom a scenario where the defensive remains a cohesive unit.
5. Ash or McCoy
Ash claims he will not be looking over his shoulder. But there is little doubt the coaches will be looking down the sideline for Case McCoy if Ash gets in any sort of trouble against Texas Tech.
McCoy has proven he is able to get the job done and he has proven he can do it in a hostile environment (Texas A&M in 2011). So too has ash though with his fourth-quarter win at Oklahoma State.
The coaches are going to try everything they can to keep Ash in the game because they do not want to set up another quarterback controversy. But they are not going to lose the game with McCoy sitting on the bench.
What this could mean for the Texas offense is more ball control and taking control out of Ash’s hands at the start. The Longhorns will want to run to try and keep the clock going and keep the defense off the field. If Texas gets in a situation where it has to pass and Ash puts together a couple of three and outs, everyone will be looking at McCoy, including Ash.