- Coach: Tommy Tuberville is the first-year coach of Texas Tech. He got the position following Texas Tech's firing of Mike Leach after a strange controversy over the alleged mistreatment of a player. Anyways, Tuberville has been a very successful coach throughout his career, during which he previously also coached Ole Miss and Auburn, holding a 117-65 record, with a 6-3 record in bowl games. Despite going 7-5, this season was most likely a disappointment for Tuberville,but I expect him to shine in the future as he continues to transition the pass-heavy Red Raiders into a more balanced team, the type of style he has used in the past.
- Pass Offense: Texas Tech under Mike Leach was a pass-heavy team, to say the least. In 2007, TT averaged an insane 470.3 pass yrds/game, subsequently averaging 413.2 and 386.8 in '08 and '09 respectively. Tommy Tuberville, despite running a less pass-heavy offense than Leach, still has a team averaging an impressive 314.8 yrds/game, 8th best in the country. The quarterback of this passing attack is the senior quarterback Taylor Potts, who has thrown 31 TDs this season (6th in the country) while completing 66.0% of his passes (18th) and has thrown 8 or 9 interceptions depending on where you look (how there can be a discrepancy on interception stats, I have no idea). Particularly scary about the Texas Tech pass offense is their ability to spread the ball to a number of receivers. 8 TT players have 25+ receptions this season. Compare this to the 'Cats who only have 3 players in this category. The primary threat, however, is Lyle Leong, a senior who has pulled in a frightening 17 TDs (2nd in the country), with 64 recoveries and 808 yrds. The second greatest threat is Detron Lewis, a senior with 79 catches, 803 yards, and 6 TDs. One other interesting point is that no one listed as a tight end shows up on Texas Tech's reception stat sheet. In fact, it seems they don't even have any on the roster. Expect Texas Tech to have 4-5 WRs on the field for just about every play. The question is, how does this look for the 'Cats? The answer: not great. NU's pass defense has been pretty lousy, letting up 230.5 yards/game (85th), and they haven't seen any teams who run an offense even remotely like the Red Raiders. I don't think the corners will have much success keeping up with TT's receivers, so our safeties will have to step it up big time. Also, the 'Cats will most likely have to play a lot in the nickel to guarantee they can cover every receiver, so expect Hunter Bates to see lots of playing time.
- Rush Offense: TT has not traditionally been a running team, and while they can by no means be seen as a smashmouth running team this year, the backs are seeing a few more carries. The Red Raiders average 137.8 yards per game on the ground (81st), with the plurality of these yards coming from senior Baron Batch. Batch has picked up 805 yards and 5 TDs on 172 carries. Most of the rest of the running burden has fallen on sophomore Eric Stephens, who has 542 yards and 5 TDs on 113 carries. Don't expect Potts to be a threat in the running game. He has -15 yards on 31 carries. All of this bodes fairly well for the 'Cats, especially Potts's apparent inability to run. QB runs, or the threat of QB runs, have been the death of the 'Cats this year (see Purdue and Illinois). And while the 'Cats cannot completely ignore the Red Raider running backs, it seems they can thankfully put the majority of their focus into defending the passing game.
- Pass Defense: TT is allowing 306.1 passing yards per game, dead last in the FBS. That is a statistic so bad I had to triple-check it, but it is absolutely true. My first thought was that the number had to have been skewed by beat-downs from Oklahoma and Oklahoma St., but neither of these games featured passing totals absurdly over the average. The Texas Tech pass defense is just that bad. I cannot help but think how much I would love to see Persa pick apart this defense, but this matchup will surely be good for Watkins as well. His cannon arm should finally come to use, and I think he will surprise a lot of people. And I'm looking forward to seeing Ebert get wide open. Honestly, that 306.1 statistic is the first thing that has made me optimistic about this game, but I'm feeling really good right now.
- Rush Defense: You may think that if TT is that bad on pass defense, they must make up for it with a great rush defense. This isn't entirely true. The Red Raiders allow 157.0 yards per game (67th). That's decent, but by no means does it make up for their ineptitude against the pass. If Trumpy is healthy for this game (I think he will be, but I am not sure), I think he will perform well. While Northwestern is certainly not a stellar running team, they have been improving, and they should perform at least decently in this game.
- Special Teams: Punting duties for the Red Raiders go to senior Jonathan LaCour who averages an unspectacular 39.8 yards per punt. However, TT has only allowed opponents to pick up 5.77 yards per return, and 41 punts went unreturned. Nonetheless, expect Venric Mark (who is averaging an extremely impressive 12.9 yards per punt) to do damage if TT is forced to punt. The place kicker for the Red Raiders is the senior Matt Williams, who only kicked 10 field goals, but made 8 of them. He was also a perfect 50 of 50 on PATs. Kickoff duties go to junior Donnie Carona, who can occasionally boot it deep, kicking 21 touchbacks, or 29.6% of his kickoffs. However, his average kick length (63.5 yards) is less than that of Demos (64.2 yards). The Red Raider kickoff coverage is also solid, allowing only 20.7 yards per return. However, Mark, averaging 27.6 yards per return, still has the potential to bust it open. The primary punt returner for TT is senior wide receiver Detron Lewis, who is averaging a decent 6.2 yards per return. Don't expect him to do much against the 'Cats however. Brandon Williams averages 40.4 yards per punt, and opponents have little success returning them. 43 out of 56 Northwestern punts have gone unreturned, and those that have been returned went for a measly 3.3 yards per return. That is a very impressive performance by the Northwestern punt team. The primary kickoff returner for Texas Tech is Eric Stephens who has averaged a good 24.7 yards per return.
- Miscellaneous: Turnovers: The two teams are comparable when it comes to interceptions. Texas Tech has picked off 14 passes and thrown 10. NU has picked off 14 passes and thrown 9 INTs. Texas Tech has forced 11 fumbles and had 13 forced against them (note: not all were necessarily lost). NU forced 9 and dropped 19 (ouch). QB Pressure: TT sacked opponents 24 times and hurried the QB 11 times. They themselves were sacked 21 times and were hurried 17 times. NU sacked their opponents 17 times and hurried the QB a very good 38 times. They were sacked 39 times (again, ouch) and were hurried 27 times. 3rd Down Conversions: TT was successful on 43.6% of attempts while their opponents were successful only 35.6% of the time. NU was successful on a very impressive 47.3% of attempts (although this was largely due to the heroics of Dan Persa), while their opponents converted 36.1%.
So I have provided a pretty detailed look at our matchup. Theoretically, I should have a pretty solidified opinion of how I expect this game to go; however, I do not. Nonetheless, I can give a conditional prediction. Texas Tech will come out and throw the ball successfully. That is almost a given, and there is little NU can do to stop it. However, if Evan Watkins comes in, feels comfortable, and plays smart, I think he could have a very good game and pick apart the weak Texas Tech defense. If this is the case, NU has a good chance to win in a shootout. However, if he struggles, NU will have trouble keeping control of the ball, and Taylor Potts may tear us apart. In this case, it could get ugly. Whatever the case, I'm looking forward to this game, and Go 'Cats!