Donovan Smith, QB
This is not the first time the Longhorns have faced Smith. Pete Kwiatkowski and the Longhorns had issues with Smith’s dual-threat ability when he was starting at quarterback for Texas Tech when these two teams met in Lubbock last season.
Smith’s running ability helped Texas Tech keep the chains moving and the Texas defense off-balance, as he converted on three fourth-down plays where he ran the ball. He was the only quarterback who converted multiple fourth-down plays with his legs against the Longhorns last season.
Texas Tech’s ability to keep the chains moving last season on all those fourth-down plays was a huge factor in the Red Raiders upsetting the Longhorns in overtime in that game.
And with how much Houston’s offense emphasizes the quarterback run game, as Holgorsen has added the QB option element to his playbook more and more in the last decade, Texas must be prepared for Smith’s dual-threat ability in this matchup this weekend. Houston has run the ball with the quarterback over 65 times this season, the third-most attempts of any Big 12 team.
Given the struggles Texas had stopping quarterback Dillon Gabriel and the Oklahoma ground game in the loss in Red River on Oct. 7, allowing over 100 rushing yards to the QB, the quarterback run game will be a clear focal point against the Cougars this weekend.
Holgorsen’s offense places a lot of pressure on Smith to keep the chains moving. Holgorsen’s air raid offense with the mix of the QB option in the run game means Smith either attempts a pass or a run on an extremely high percentage of plays compared to the average quarterback in the Big 12 or the Power Five as a whole.
Smith leads the Big 12 in total plays this season, with 286 (67 rushing attempts and 219 passing attempts).
The element of the passing game in this offense is obviously extremely important, too. According to TeamRankings, Houston passes the ball on over 54 percent of its plays on offense, ranking 31st in the FBS.
Smith has improved throwing the football in his first season as Houston’s starting quarterback since transferring from Texas Tech during the 2023 offseason. He’s improved literally every one of the major quarterback per-game box score stats year-over-year at Houston this season.
But Smith has really turned it up a notch regarding his production in the passing game in the last two weeks against Texas Tech and West Virginia. He’s registered nearly 600 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and no interceptions while completing 74 percent of his passing attempts in the last two games.
Smith showed off his heroics with a last-minute 49-yard deep ball touchdown he completed to wide receiver Stephon Johnson Jr. to give Houston the walk-off win over West Virginia last week.
If Texas can limit Smith’s ability to run the ball, especially on money downs, that will put the game on his arm. I don’t think Houston has the running backs to keep the offense balanced and to keep moving the chains consistently if Texas does a good job containing Smith in the pocket.
But if Texas struggles to stop Smith on money downs, that will allow Houston’s offense to flourish and potentially keep pace with the high-powered Longhorns’ offense this weekend.