Here is everything you need to know about the Red Raiders’ season opener in our Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss Preview.
11 a.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Dusty Dvoracek, Molly McGrath)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network; Sirius/XM 81
Fun Fact: Texas Tech has not lost a season opener since head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the team’s quarterback. Prior to the 15-game season opener win streak, Kingsbury and the Red Raiders traveled to Ohio State where they dropped a 45-21 decision to the eventual national champions. Maurice Clarett made his debut, racking up 175 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
WR A.J. Brown
Ole Miss will have the air raid system implemented for the second year in a row under offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Apart of this is what Ole Miss calls the nWo (Nasty Wideouts….sorry wrestling fans), which is led by Brown. It is the No.1 rated receiving corps as rated by Athlon and Phil Steele. Brown produced over 1,200 receiving yards prior to Longo’s arrival. As the Rebels gear up to throw even more, look for this 2017 Biletnikoff semifinalist to wreak havoc on the Tech secondary.
QB Jordan Ta’amu
Like the above paragraph, the air raid offense has been implemented. All eyes will be on Jordan Ta’amu, the centerpiece of that style of offense. In just five starts, he’s already breaking records at Ole Miss. He is the first Ole Miss quarterback to throw for over 350 yards in three consecutive games.
DT Josiah Coatney
Ole Miss lost their two leading tacklers. Coatney finished third in the tackles column last season. Eight of his 65 tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. He also tallied 3.5 sacks. Coatney will be the main leader on an inexperienced front seven. This team’s weakness is the run defense.
LB Dakota Allen
He is the anchor of the defense, and the leader of this team. A man who we have all seen mature through the entirety of his collegiate career, Allen is now ready to show the world that defense is taken seriously at Texas Tech. This is probably the best defense Tech has placed on the field since a Spike Dykes era which produced NFL Pro Bowlers Zach Thomas and Marcus Coleman. Allen led Tech with 102 tackles In 2017. Six of those went for losses. He also recorded two sacks and two interceptions
The Offensive Line
Every single person returns. An experienced line can do wonders for any team, but especially one which will start an inexperienced quarterback. Who that will be, we still don’t know. Kingsbury has reverted back to his 2013 press conference lines of “Y’all will see Saturday when they trot out onto the field.” The best part about this offensive line: 6-foot-5, 320 pound sophomore Jack Anderson at right guard. He’s a future NFL prospect.
P Dominic Panazzolo
If the 2017 Texas Bowl is any indication of what an Aussie punter can do against an SEC team at NRG Stadium, then Panazzolo is going to give Ole Miss nightmares. Fellow Aussie punter Michael Dickson won the 2017 Texas Bowl MVP by continually flipping the field on Missouri and putting the Tigers in tough situations. As a Freshman, Panazzolo punted 60 times. Two of those ended up as touchbacks. 12 of them were returned. 15 punts pinned opponents inside of their own 20-yard line. He’s a sophomore now, and that coffin-corner could easily be the difference maker in this game.
Matt Luke was named head coach after a tumultuous season which saw Hugh Freeze go down in flames after brutal results came from a serious investigation. With Luke being an Ole Miss alum, it will pit two head coaches up against one-another that played for the universities they are currently at the helm of. Luke was a center for the Rebels in the 1990s. Ole Miss is also 3-0 against Texas Tech at neutral sites.
While Matt Luke is in his first full season at the helm of his alma mater, Kliff Kingsbury may very well be in his final season. It’s tough to say the first game of the season is a must-win, but it’s hard to figure out how the Red Raiders make a bowl game without beating a torn down Ole Miss team under heavy scrutiny and allegations. Texas Tech is the favorite in this game. Surprisingly, the Red Raiders are now relying on defense to win games.
Prediction: Texas Tech 35, Ole Miss 17. Honestly, I feel like I’m giving Texas Tech too many points. This should be an offensive explosion, but Tech’s defense is one of the best in the Big 12 Conference, if not the nation. The Red Raiders are heavily experienced in the two most important areas for experience: defense and the offensive line. Having T.J. Vasher and Da’Leon Ward certainly help. Even if the offense sputters under a new quarterback, Panazzolo likely flips the field and places the Ole Miss offense under immense pressure to get out of its own red zone. I like Tech for any reason but the air raid system.