One thing is certain about Texas Tech football. The games are thrilling and fans of either team can bank on an entertaining three-plus hours.
Over Kliff Kingsbury’s first five seasons, the Red Raiders have hovered around .500. But they can put points on the scoreboard. The trouble has been at times stopping the opposition.
Another offensive assault could be on display Saturday at NRG Stadium. Texas Tech and Ole Miss meet in the 2018 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. The Red Raiders scored 446 points in going 6-7 in 2017, averaging 474.6 yards. Coach Matt Luke’s Rebels scored 394 points in a 6-6 season, putting up 462.3 yards a game.
“It’s two very passionate fan bases, two programs we feel like are both on the rise and have a lot of returnees. It should be a heck of a matchup,” said Kingsbury, who has not announced a starting quarterback.
“I know they have some dynamic offensive weapons and we feel like we have an underrated offense, and our defense has made strides and theirs has too. I think it will be an equally-matched ballgame and it will come down to the wire.”
Outcomes of games being decided in the waning moments has been a trademark of Red Raiders football. Just two years ago in a 66-59 loss to Oklahoma, the two teams broke a NCAA record for combined offensive yards with 1,708.
Saturday’s game isn’t expected to reach those numbers, even though both offenses are proficient.
Ole Miss’ strength is its core receivers of A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf, who combined for 155 receptions, 2,596 yards and 25 touchdowns a year ago. Brown, a preseason first-team All-America, caught 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns. Metcalf made the game-winning touchdown reception with five seconds remaining at Kentucky.
“The wide outs are a special, talented group,” said Luke, who had the interim tag removed in November. “They’re all very unselfish because they all want the ball every time. But I’m impressed how when one makes a play the others are excited for him.”
“You don’t stop an offense that good,” Kingsbury said. “We got to hang in there early and hope to get some takeaways and make a few more plays than they do.”
Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta’amu started the final five games last season, passing for 350 or more yards in three straight games. Ta’amu, who can extend plays, won over the team’s locker room after directing two SEC wins on the road. The Rebels’ five offensive linemen have a combined 103 starts. Tackle Greg Little of Allen is a projected first round NFL pick.
While Ole Miss’ starting quarterback situation is not in doubt, Kingsbury will name either junior McLane Carter, sophomore Jett Duffey, or true freshman Alan Bowman. Carter has made one career start.
“Whoever it will be will operate at a high level,” Kingsbury said.
The winner of the quarterback competition will try to be as productive as the lengthy line of Texas Tech quarterbacks, which includes Kingsbury. The Red Raiders are seeking a replacement for Nic Shimonek, who passed for 3,963 yards a year ago.
“Offensively, there’s an expectation in place,” said Kingsbury, who has tutored Case Keenum (Houston), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech) and Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech). “Young men come to Texas Tech knowing there’s a long standing tradition of being really good on that side of the football and we don’t expect that to change.
“We’re always excited at that position. We take a lot of pride in the history of that position and how it’s played.”
Since converting to the spread offense in 2000, Texas Tech has averaged 44.2 points per game over 18 season openers, winning its last 15. Texas Tech is the only school in the nation to rank in the top 10 in passing offense every season since 2002.
“Offensively, Kliff’s been really good for a long time in spreading things out,” Luke said. “He does a great job getting his playmakers the ball.”
It may not be all offense on Saturday. The Red Raiders return 10 starters on a defense that created 29 turnovers. That total led the Big 12 and was sixth-best nationally. Linebacker Dakota Allen paced the Red Raiders with 102 tackles in earning second team all-conference.
Kingsbury feels developing a consistency under the guidance of fifth-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs is paying dividends.
“Defensively, just the experience coming back,” Kingsbury said. “A lot of those guys who played as true freshmen, true sophomores took their lumps.”
Ole Miss’ defense also appears to be improving. In the 2017 regular-season finale Egg Bowl, the Rebels forced Mississippi State into five turnovers.
“We should be one year better and really what I want to do is build off the progress and momentum that we had at the end of last season,” said Luke, who is entering his 11th year on the Rebels’ staff.
This season, the Rebels are deeper up front on the defensive line and experienced in the secondary. The biggest question mark is at linebacker, an inexperienced position.
Neither team is afraid of the strong competition to start their anticipated seasons. It’s Big 12 versus SEC.
“We want to do right with our fans,” said Kingsbury, who is 30-33 in five seasons as Red Raiders coach. “That to me is what it’s about, playing more marquee games early. The fans enjoy it. Anytime you get an Ole Miss team that’s good, it’s definitely a challenge. You find out early what you have, what you need to work on, and what you better get better at before you get to your conference slate.
“Anytime you play a marquee conference like the SEC, you want to have a great showing. We take a lot of pride in the Big 12 and we all want to represent it to the fullest in an opportunity like this on a national stage.”
Saturday’s game must be special. For Ole Miss, the players will don white helmets for the first time.
“We’re coming out all white,” said Luke, who played center for the Rebels (1995-98) and has University of Mississippi ties spanning three generations. “We’re the visiting team. So white jerseys, white paints, white helmets, white shoes.”