Here is everything you need to know about the Texas Tech Red Raiders season opener in our Texas Tech vs. Houston preview.
6 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
RB SaRodorick Thompson: Entering his third season in Lubbock, Thompson is poised to etch his name firmly in Texas Tech’s record book. He’s rushed for 1,480 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and he’s the first Red Raider to lead the team in rushing in back-to-back season since DeAndre Washington did it in 2014-15. He also just the sixth Red Raider to lead the team in rushing as a freshman and a sophomore, a list that includes a pair of Doak Walker winners in Byron “Bam” Morris and Byron Hanspard. Thompson is the Red Raiders’ clear No. 1 back and can challenge anyone in the conference for All-Big 12 First Team honors.
WR Erik Ezukanma. Like Thompson, he’s led the Red Raiders in receiving as both a freshman and as a sophomore, and he’s coming off a 2020 in which caught 46 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns. He’s the leading returning receiver in the Big 12 in terms of yards per game. In two seasons with Texas Tech he’s caught 90 passes for 1,460 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was an All-Big 12 First Team selection last season and is poised to do so again.
LBs Colin Schooler and Riko Jeffers, and S Marquis Waters. It’s not often you have three defenders with at least 225 career tackles entering the season, but that’s what the Red Raiders have going into 2021. Schooler and Jeffers are long-time parts of the Red Raider program. Waters, meanwhile, was a highly-productive safety at Duke for four seasons. He’s in Lubbock in part because Texas Tech associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Derek Jones coached him at Duke. The three of them give the Red Raiders defense stability entering the season.
QB Clayton Tune: If the Cougars are going to get back on track, Tune has to lead the way. He made eight starts last season, throwing for 2,048 yards and finishing with at least two touchdown passes in six of those eight starts (15 total). His 33 touchdowns passes is already good for No. 15 in program history. He’s already started two bowl games for Houston, and now the task is to get the Cougars back in contention in the American Athletic Conference.
OL Kody Russey. It’s not often the offensive linemen get the love, but it’s not often a program like Houston can get an experienced lineman like Russey via transfer. He started 46 games at Louisiana Tech and played in 49 games. He was selected to the 2020 All-Conference USA First Team after three straight seasons as an honorable mention selection. By joining the Cougars, he comes an instant asset to an offense that needs it. The center is already a Cougars team captain.
CB Marcus Jones. He’s trouble for opposing offenses and special teams. He led the nation in punt return average with 19.8 yards per return, and his touchdown return was the first by a Cougar in the Cougars’ home stadium. Before he came to Houston, he was a freshman All-America selection at Troy in 2018, also as a returner. Jones will also start at cornerback for the Cougars this season.
It’s year three of Matt Wells and the natives seem to be getting restless in Lubbock. It’s hard to blame them. The Red Raiders haven’t won 10 or more games since 2008, which was the last time the Red Raiders won a Big 12 division title. Since then, the Red Raiders have run through several head coaches, including Kliff Kingsbury, the former TTU quarterback that Red Raider fans hoped would resurrect the program. Wells, who turned Utah State into a consistent winner in the Mountain West, has won just eight games in two seasons in Lubbock. Wells enters 2021 with most of his own recruits, several transfers that can make an impact and a mandate to get the Red Raiders back to a bowl game for the first time since 2017. Plus, former Red Raiders quarterback Sonny Cumbie is back as the team’s offensive coordinator, along with a new starter at quarterback, Tyler Shough.
Like Wells, Dana Holgorsen enters year three at Houston trying to find a direction. The Cougars have won just seven games under Holgorsen, but last season’s three-wins led to a berth in the New Mexico Bowl, where the Cougars lost to Hawaii in Frisco, Texas (just roll with it). Before Holgorsen showed up, though, the Cougars had six straight winning seasons, including a 13-1 season in 2015 that led to a Peach Bowl win over Florida State. So, can Holgorsen get the Cougars back to where they were before he arrived? It’s a good question, because Holgorsen was brought in to elevate the program, not let it erode.
Prediction: Texas Tech 34, Houston 27
I think Shough makes a difference for this Texas Tech offense in ways that will be apparent on Saturday. With the pieces that are already there, plus Cumbie’s new vision for the offense, the Red Raiders should have a leg up on Houston. Oddly, I think the Red Raider defense might turn some heads in this one, too.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard