Texas Football: 3 major concerns for UT vs. Texas Tech in finale

CJ Baxter Jr., Texas football
CJ Baxter Jr., Texas football /
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Texas football and head coach Steve Sarkisian are one win away from locking up a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game and inching one step closer to getting into the College Football Playoff during rivalry week. If Texas beats the Texas Tech Red Raiders and head coach Joey McGuire at home in Austin on Nov. 24, the major goals for this season will still be in front of Sark’s squad.

Texas (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) enters the regular season finale against Texas Tech as one of fewer than 10 Power Five teams that have legitimate paths to making the College Football Playoff. The Longhorns need help with some chaos taking place around the Power Five this weekend.

Texas Tech hoping to put No. 7 Texas football on upset alert on Black Friday

But none of this matters if Texas isn’t able to secure the victory against Texas Tech on Black Friday. And this game won’t come easy for the Longhorns. Texas Tech (6-5, 5-3 Big 12) has been solid under McGuire against conference opponents in November.

In the last two seasons, McGuire and the Red Raiders are 6-1 against Big 12 foes in November.

Here are three major concerns for No. 7 Texas against Texas Tech in the regular season finale on Nov. 24 under the lights at DKR in Austin at 6:30 p.m. CT.

Tahj Brooks

Texas Tech boasts the second-leading rusher in the Big 12 and the second-highest-graded rusher in the Power Five this season in standout senior running back Tahj Brooks. Brooks is Texas Tech’s workhorse (to put it lightly) this season. He’s the only Power Five running back with over 250 rushing attempts this fall.

Brooks is a big contributing factor to Texas Tech’s three-game winning streak entering the Texas game on Black Friday. A combination of taking good care of the football and riding Brooks to victory has led to Texas Tech reaching bowl eligibility while winning their last three contests.

What’s so interesting about Brooks’ success in Big 12 play is how his heavy workload opposes the role a running back traditionally plays in offensive coordinator Zach Kittley’s fast-paced air raid scheme. Texas Tech essentially pivoted its offensive gameplan and play style midseason from a fast-paced, spread ’em out team to a ground-and-pound offense.

On paper, the matchup between Texas Tech’s ground game with Brooks and the Texas run defense doesn’t look to advantageous for the Red Raiders. Texas is the best run defense in the Big 12 this season, and arguably one of the best in the Power Five. Texas leads the Big 12 in rush yards against per game (93.5) and yards per carry (3.7).

The standout defensive tackle duo of junior Byron Murphy II and redshirt senior T’Vondre Sweat flexed their muscles up front for Texas in the win over the Iowa State Cyclones last weekend. Murphy and Sweat helped Texas hold Iowa State to a measly nine rushing yards last week, the fewest in a single game for the Cyclones in over a decade.

Texas Tech will find it more difficult to get the ground game going against Texas’ defensive front.

But one area where Texas Tech could find success attacking Texas on the ground is running the ball off tackle. Brooks and the Red Raiders have been effective running the ball off tackle this season, averaging around 5.5 yards per carry and leading the Big 12 with 3.6 yards after contact per attempt.

If Texas Tech can set the edge behind their big offensive tackles and run the ball at Texas’ edge rushers and linebackers, they will probably find more success on the ground than trying the A and B gaps against Murphy and Sweat.

Given Texas’ strength up front to stop the run, I’d expect more spread looks and passing plays from the Red Raiders in this game than we’ve seen from them in the last four or five games. But Texas will still get a steady dose of Brooks.

What Texas has to prevent from happening in this game is Brooks getting a bunch of five and six-yard gains that keep the defense on the field for long periods of time and wind the clock. That’s what got Texas in trouble on defense in Lubbock last season in the overtime loss.