Expect an all-out war when No. 19 Texas travels to West Texas to square off with improving Texas Tech on Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium.
This is never a rivalry for the weak of spirit, but this year’s game is a little more important than usual. It will have plenty to say in the race for the Big 12 Championship and maybe for the coaching future at Texas Tech for the likeable Kliff Kingsbury.
Both teams have lost two straight games to fall into the second tier of teams battling for the league championship. Texas (6-3, 4-2) can still earn a trip to the title game but needs help from other teams while Texas Tech cannot win the conference but will have say who plays for the championship.
The Red Raiders (5-4, 3-3) need one win to become bowl-eligible. They finish the regular season at Kansas State and against Baylor in Arlington, Texas.
The Longhorns have no time or, as coach Tom Herman said, any inclination to pout or wallow in self-pity after losing 42-41 to No. 9 West Virginia at home last Saturday on a gutsy two-point conversion by the Mountaineers.
“I’m proud and frustrated at the same time,” Herman said. “I’m so proud of the way that we fought two weeks ago in Stillwater. I’m extremely proud of the level of intensity and physicality that we continue to play with. That is something that will never waver in this program. I’m extremely proud of that.
“I’m certainly frustrated that we couldn’t close the deal this past weekend, and got off to such a poor start the weekend prior.”
Instead, Texas will focus on overcoming several key injuries that affected the proficiency of its defense and finding a way to regain its swagger on that side of the ball after two down weeks.
Herman said the defense has been tentative in the losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
“For whatever reason we haven’t cut it loose at times,” Herman said. “That’s on us to figure out why. Maybe it’s an uncertainty. Yeah, just playing tentative at times. The easiest way to alleviate some of that is to trim down your call sheet a little bit, and make sure that guys are ultimately confident in what we’re doing.”
Texas Tech lost at home to No. 6 Oklahoma 51-46 last Saturday and may have lost freshman starting quarterback Alan Bowman for the season in the process. Bowman sustained a recurrence of the collapsed lung that he initially suffered Sept. 29 against West Virginia and did not play in the second half.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Bowman was still hospitalized for observation, putting his status for the Texas game, as well as the remainder of the season, in serious doubt.
Kingsbury said Bowman has taken a lot of hits this season and the cumulative effect of that pounding, rather than one specific tackle against Oklahoma, is likely the reason for the reoccurrence of Bowman’s injury.
“He’s played in four games and gotten hit a lot.” Kingsbury said. “I don’t know if you watched those games, but he got hit a lot. So we didn’t think that would be much of a difference. We’re playing football.”
Saturday night’s game will be the 68th meeting between Texas Tech and Texas and the 59th consecutive year the teams have played each other. The Longhorns hold a 50-17 all-time advantage in the series, includes 20-10 in games played in Lubbock.
The Red Raiders will celebrate Senior Night on Saturday, and Kingsbury wants to send his players out the right way.
“We have a bunch of guys who have been here four and five years who have really been through it since they’ve been here,” Kingsbury said. “Some ups and downs and have fought and fought. And you’re seeing some of the resolve in the way this team plays. And it’s led by that group.
“We’re obviously playing a great team, but I want to make sure they have a great senior day and we play as well as we can as a team.”
The Red Raiders have won two of the past three meetings against their in-state rival as Texas Tech secured a 48-45 victory in 2015 and a 27-23 win a year ago. Texas Tech had not previously won back-to-back games in Austin in school history.
The Red Raiders will be looking for its first win over Texas at home since the thrilling 39-33 victory in 2008. The Longhorns were the top-ranked team in the country before Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree on a 28-yard touchdown strike with 1 second remaining.
Texas Tech Tech will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of that team this weekend.