Fresh off their first conference win of the season, the Baylor Bears return home to McLane Stadium to participate in the aptly named BU-TT bowl against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Both teams are 2-3 on the year (1-1 in conference) and looking to build momentum heading into the middle of their schedule.
Baylor leads the longtime series 41-39-1 thanks to two straight wins. Can they make it three?
Texas Tech in 2023
Tech has had a similar season as Baylor thus far. They lost their first game against a 4-1 non-Power 5 FBS opponent (Wyoming, who is admittedly less embarrassing to lose to than Texas State), lost their second game against a Pac-12 opponent by one possession after leading most of the second half and giving up two scores in the last two minutes (Oregon), beat up on an FCS team (Tarleton State), lost their first conference game (West Virginia), and beat a conference newcomer (Houston).
Oh, and they already lost their starting QB to an injury.
Under offensive coordinator Zach Kittley (formerly at Western Kentucky), the Red Raiders run an air raid-ish offensive scheme. They pass on 55% of plays and predominately target wide receivers, but tight ends average 3.2 catches a game.
In terms of overall productivity, Tech is in the middle of the pack. They average 33.2 points per game (45th in the country) and 404.8 yards per game (61st in the country). Efficiency-wise, they have a 40.9% success rate (80th in the country), but there’s a stark contrast when they pass the ball (36.3%, 114th in the country) versus run the ball (46.5%, 25th in the country).
There are some interesting stylistic things to watch when playing Tech. They like to play really fast; they are second among FBS teams at 20.8 seconds per play. As a natural extension of that, they are in the bottom ten FBS teams with an average 25:55 time of possession. They also like to go for it on fourth down. Tech is tied for second in the country with 2.3 fourth down conversions per game, and they are 22nd in the country with a 69% fourth down conversion rate.
Defensively, Texas Tech has a “bend, don’t break” philosophy that Baylor fans from the last 10-15 years should be familiar with. At least that’s what they claim. The Red Raiders allow 24.8 points per game (69th in the country) and 375.8 yards per game (74th in the country).
They are particularly vulnerable through the air, allowing a 42.98% success rate on passing plays (92nd in the country), but stout on the ground, holding teams to a 34.1% success rate on rushing plays (26th in the country).
In the red zone, Tech is giving up a 93.75% scoring percentage against FBS opponents (109th in the country). Usually a key component of “not breaking” is stopping opponents from scoring. They’re also struggling to generate turnovers, registering only 1.0 takeaway per game (tied for 91st in the country). Given the aforementioned stats, it’s unsurprising that they have one of the worst sack rates in the country at 3.45%.
Texas Tech players to watch
Tech’s offense took a hit when sixth-year senior Tyler Shough went out with a broken leg in week four, but backup QB #2 Behren Morton is playing almost as well, at least statistically. The former 4-star recruit is averaging 11.2 yards per completion with five touchdowns and one interception. His biggest deficiency is a 49% completion percentage, driven by a really bad outing against West Virginia when he came in for the injured Shough, and he hasn’t shown himself to be the same kind of runner with only six non-sack rushing attempts for 28 yards.
While sophomore #9 Jerand Bradley is the team’s leading receiver (both so far this season and all of last season), I think the WR to keep on eye on the most is #2 Myles Price. The senior has 1,517 career yards and currently leads the team with four receiving touchdowns. Unlike Bradley, Price takes the majority of snaps lined up in the slot, and as we know from watching Baylor’s defense, that’s the area of most concern.
Of course we can’t talk about Tech’s offense without mentioning senior RB #28 Tahj Brooks. On the Doak Walker Aware preseason watch list, Brooks has 2,037 career rushing yards and 21 career touchdowns. He’s currently averaging a career high 104.6 yards per game and is close to a career high with 6.2 yards per carry. His 518 rushing yards this season puts Brooks at 11th in the country.
Moving to the defensive line, all four of Tech’s staring linemen have ten or more QB pressures per PFF. Edge rusher #6 Myles Cole and interior lineman #95 Jaylon Hutchings have done the best job converting pressures in TFLs, each logging three sacks. The latter was placed on practically ever major defensive player preseason watchlist and leads all linemen with 14 tackles.
The biggest surprise to the Tech defense has to be the productivity of sophomore inside linebacker #13 Ben Roberts. Relegated to special teams last season, Roberts currently leads the team with 39 tackles and a run defense grade of 81.5 on PFF. That’s despite only playing six snaps in week one against Wyoming.
Tech’s number-one defensive back is #24 Malik Dunlap. The fifth-year senior has the team’s highest coverage grade on PFF with an excellent 87.7, and second-place isn’t even close. Dunlap is tied for second in the country with three interceptions, has allowed only five receptions on thirteen targets, and is holding opposing QBs to an NFL pass rating of 12.5. Shapen should think twice before testing Dunlap.
This game is going to hinge on whether Baylor’s defense plays at the level they did in the first quarter or fourth quarter versus UCF. The advanced stats seem to think the former is more likely. ESPN’s FPI predicts a Tech win (66.1%). SP+ is in the same ballpark with a 32-25 win for the Red Raiders (64% chance of winning). FEI is the most optimistic for the Bears, predicting a narrow 29-27 loss (55% chance of Tech winning).
With Mike Smith Jr. out, it’s time for Josh White to show what he’s made of. If Baylor loses, it’s because Brooks has a field day against the replacement LBs and Morton is able to pick on the middle of Baylor’s defense. If Baylor wins, it’s because (defensively) we’re able to force Tech into fourth and long and get the offense off the field and (offensively) willing to air it out against a defense that’s vulnerable to a solid passing attack.
My prediction: Baylor 31, Texas Tech 42.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN, gameonpaper.com, Sports Reference, TeamRankings, and Pro Football Focus.