Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury doesn’t know everything about his new team from watching non-conference games against SMU and Stephen F. Austin. He’s about to find out if the Red Raiders are ready for prime time.
No. 24 TCU (1-1) visits Tech (2-0) for a nationally televised Big 12 opener at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, giving the Red Raiders a chance to show if they’re ready for the step up in competition.
“We’ll find out,” Kingsbury said Monday. “It’s a great measuring stick. They (the Horned Frogs) are at the top of the conference, and if you look at all the preseason polls where people would pick them with all the returners they have coming back, it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m not sure where we’re at as a team, but I know they’re really good.”
Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields, TCU’s sophomore defensive end, will make his first start of the season against Tech, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Monday. Fields, who had 10 sacks and 181/2 tackles for loss last year, has served a game and three quarters of a two-game suspension. Which quarters Fields sits are at TCU coach Gary Patterson’s discretion, so he could play the entire game Thursday.
Regardless of Fields’ status, the Horned Frogs figure to challenge Tech anyway with All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett leading an experienced secondary.
Tech did have a lot of success against TCU last year, posting a 56-53 triple-overtime victory in Fort Worth. That was easily the most points any team scored against the Frogs.
When Kingsbury turns on the videotape, what most impresses him about the TCU defense?
“There are never any easy yards,” he said. “You have to earn every inch you get. They never make a mistake. If you hit a deep play, it’s because you made a great play, and I think that’s a sign of a well-coached defense. You turn on the film and try to find something (vulnerable), but it’s not there.”
This summer, it was easy to picture the Tech-TCU game featuring preseason all-Big 12 quarterback Casey Pachall from TCU against Tech quarterback Michael Brewer, but now neither is available for the league opener.
Yet, it’s not the worst possible scenario for either side.
TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin threw four touchdown passes last year against Tech, and Tech freshman Baker Mayfield leads the Big 12 in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns through two games.
Mayfield’s softened the loss of Brewer to a back injury, and Kingsbury doesn’t think he needs special advice this week.
“He’s played in big moments,” Kingsbury said. “When you play in state championship games in front of 50,000 people in high school like he did (at Lake Travis) ... . He’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he’s got goals. He’s trying to prove a lot of people wrong, so I know he’s excited about the opportunity.”
Boykin passed for 2,054 yards and rushed for 417 last year. His latest opportunity to quarterback the Frogs arose when Pachall suffered a fractured forearm Saturday in a 38-17 victory against Southeastern Louisiana. Pachall started the first two games of the season, one a 37-27 loss to LSU, but Boykin started nine games last year.
If nothing else, Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has some clarity in game planning.
“We thought all along coming out of the LSU game that No. 2 (Boykin) was maybe the guy that was being the most productive for them,” Wallerstedt said. “Now here he is in the spotlight, on national television with a group of offensive guys that rally around him. I think they believe in him. This’ll be a huge test for us.”
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Who: TCU at Texas Tech
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium
Records: TCU 1-1, 0-0 in the Big 12 Conference; Texas Tech 2-0, 0-0.
Rankings: TCU No. 24 in The Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today coaches poll; Texas Tech unranked.
Last game: TCU 38, Southeastern Louisiana 17; Texas Tech 61, Stephen F. Austin 13
Last meeting: Tech 56, TCU 53 (3OT) last year in Fort Worth.
TV: ESPN (Suddenlink Cable channel 31)
Line: TCU by 31/2