Texas Tech vs. Houston Odds, Pick, Prediction: Cougars Are Live Underdogs at Home (Saturday, Sept. 4)
Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Clayton Tune.
- Texas Tech and Houston clash in a season opener in NRG Stadium in Houston.
- Red Raiders coach Matt Wells and Cougars coach Dana Holgerson enter pivotal third years on the job.
- Check out Stuckey's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.
Texas Tech vs. Houston Odds
The head coaches of Texas Tech and Houston both enter their third seasons feeling pressure after failing to meet expectations the past two years.
This coin-flip game will go a long way in setting the tone for both Texas Tech and Houston. Keep in mind this is technically a neutral-site game, but it will take place in Houston off-campus at NRG Stadium — home of the Houston Texans. For reference, it’s about an eight-hour drive from the Texas Tech campus.
Let’s catch up on where both programs stand heading into the season before getting into the matchup and my favorite bet.
It’s a critical year for head coach Matt Wells, who has yet to lead Texas Tech to a bowl in his first two seasons. He followed up a 4-8 debut with a 4-6 record — despite benefiting from very good fortune in close games.
The Red Raiders finished 3-0 in games decided by three points or less. Those three wins came against an FCS opponent and the two worst teams in the Big 12 that combined to go 2-15:
- Won, 35-33, over Houston Baptist, which failed a late two-point conversion
- Beat Kansas, 16-13
- Scored final 12 points to beat Baylor, 24-23, on a last-second field goal
A few different bounces, and we are talking about a 1-9 season. In fairness, the Red Raiders did lose, 63-56, to Texas in overtime, but all three other coin flips went their way.
Can Wells find more success in his third year? If not, he could find himself in hot water.
He’ll at least have a very experienced roster as Texas Tech has more “Super Seniors” than any other Big 12 squad. Then again, there’s no shortage of experienced teams headed into this unique season.
Red Raiders Offense
The quarterback position just never really worked out for the Red Raiders last year. Alan Bowman never looked comfortable after dealing with so many injuries and Henry Colombi lacks elite tools.
As a result, Texas Tech averaged fewer than 30 points per game for the first time since 2000. Consequently, the team parted ways with offensive coordinator David Yost in December and brought in Sonny Cumbie for that same position. Expect an even more pass-heavy attack as Texas Tech looks to get back to the high-flying, prolific passing attacks it had in the past.
The Red Raiders also brought in transfer quarterback Tyler Shough, who won the starting job after serving as Oregon’s signal-caller in 2020.
Shough will benefit from the return of the top four backs and an experienced offensive line.
Texas Tech only lost guard Max Johnson (seventh round draft pick), but he started onlythree games last year due to injury. Every other starter returns, plus TTU added All Big-12 left tackle transfer TJ Storment from TCU. Dawson Deaton serves as the anchor and has All-Big 12 potential at center.
While experienced, this group will have to build continuity after reshuffling to accommodate Storment at left tackle. After starting 10 games at right tackle last year, Josh Burger will slide inside to guard and Caleb Rogers will shift from left to right tackle. It’s a unit with a high ceiling after adding Storment.
On the outside, leading receiver Erik Ezukanma returns, but the Red Raiders will need to replace the production of Ja’Lynn Polk and KeSean Carter — who both transferred out — in addition to TJ Vasher (now with the Dallas Cowboys). T
exas Tech, known for its rich tradition at the slot receiver position, hopes McLane Mannix can stay healthy and step up to fill that role. They also brought in 5-foot-10 transfer Kaylon Geiger, who caught 141 balls at Troy and will also start.
Red Raiders Defense
The entire two-deep of the three-man base front returns with the exception of defensive end Eli Howard, When healthy, Howard provided TTU with pass-rushing prowess — which they really lacked as a whole, finishing 99th in Sack Rate. It didn’t help that Howard only played in five full games in 2020 after sustaining an injury.
The lack of pass rush really limits the upside of this defense, as they still don’t have a game-changing player coming off the edge. Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford will at least provide Tech with a formidable 1-2 punch at nose tackle.
The Red Raiders will boast one of the most experienced linebacker groups in the country with four returning seniors in Colin Schooler, Krishon Merriweather, Riko Jeffers and Brandon Bouyer-Randle. This is the strength of the defense.
While linebacker is a known commodity, there are major questions in the secondary. Texas Tech will need to replace All Big-12 cornerback Zech McPhearson (fourth round, NFL Draft) and two-year starting safety Thomas Leggett.
Wells hopes a number of Power Five transfers can contribute right away, including:
- Reggie Pearson (Wisconsin) — projected starter at SPUR
- Marquis Waters (Duke) — projected starting safety
- Rayshad Williams (UCLA) — co-starting cornerback
- Malik Dunlap (NC State) — listed as co-starting cornerback with Williams
The two-deep contains all upperclassmen with a plethora of starting experience, but it remains to be seen how they gel as a unit. And replacing McPhearson is no small task, especially without a reliable pass rush.
Similar to Wells, Dana Holgerson (a former TTU assistant) enters Year 3 at Houston after two underwhelming seasons. The Cougars have gone a combined 7-13 during Holgerson’s tenure, but he certainly has legitimate excuses for what went wrong.
In 2019, Houston was left out to dry when a few key players (including starting quarterback D’Eriq King) decided to transfer early in the season. That happened after the Cougars played four games over the first 19 days of the season.
It was essentially a lost season after Tulane defeated them on a last-second touchdown to drop Houston to 1-3. Injuries the rest of the way only compounded the problems.
Then in 2020, Holgerson obviously had to deal with covid. Every other coach did as well, but Houston had a national-leading six games postponed due to the virus. After having a whopping five games postponed or cancelled in September, the Cougars didn’t even start their season until the second week of October.
There’s finally a sense of normalcy heading into this season. And assuming they can avoid major mid-season transfers and poor injury luck, the Cougars are a legit sleeper in the AAC.
Quarterback Clayton Tune returns under center after starting for all of 2020 and gathering starting experience in both 2019 and 2020 when King wasn’t available.
Consistency has been an issue, but I expect him to take a major leap in his fourth year after his first full offseason as the primary starter. Tune certainly possesses the arm talent and can also effectively use his legs when needed.
Sixth-year senior Mulbah Car will take over as the lead back. Plus, another Texas Tech transfer, Ta’Zhawn Henry, came on board to add depth in the backfield along with Chandler Smith.
At wide receiver, UH lost the electric Marquez Stevenson (now with the Buffalo Bills) in addition to two players who transferred out in Tre’Von Bradley and Keith Corbin. However, Holgerson hit the transfer portal to reload the depth at receiver with:
- KeSean Carter (Texas Tech)
- Jaylen Erwin (UCLA)
- Jake Herslow (Old Dominion)
Carter is expected to start along with returning wideouts Nathaniel Dell and Jeremy Singleton. Throw in tight end Christian Trahan and Houston has copious amounts of talented pass catchers.
On the offensive line, Houston lost center Braylon Jones (just cut by the Cowboys), but brought in Louisiana Tech stud center Kody Russey, who started 46 games during his time in Reston.
Every other starter at the end of last season returns, but the now-healthy Patrick Paul should take back over at left tackle. And Tank Jenkins (another Texas Tech transfer!) got the nod at right guard on the first depth chart.
Also, don’t sleep on transfer Seth Green — a Minnesota transfer who can play multiple positions and is especially effective as a wildcat quarterback in short-yardage situations.
Houston’s first order of business on defense is to replace the production of defensive end Payton Turner, who the Saints selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and leading tackler Grant Stuard, who was drafted as the infamous “Mr. Irrelevant” with the final pick.
Stuard was certainly not irrelevant at Houston where he was a tackling machine. The Cougars will sorely miss his leadership and ability to create chaos in the opponent’s backfields.
However, every other starter returns from a defense that finished eighth nationally in Sack Rate.
Despite losing Turner, the defensive end position still has plenty of talent with Derek Parish at Bandit and David Anenih.
Latrell Bankston also arrives from Iowa State to man the nose tackle position next to tackle Logan Hall. Bankston’s arrival is especially important since nose tackle Chidozie Nwankwo, who made six starts last year, is not listed on the Week 1 depth chart (legal issues).
At linebacker, the extremely experienced Deontay Anderson returns at WILL and Donavan Mutin will man the MIKE. A team captain last year, Mutin had his season cut short with an injury after three games, but started all 12 at the MIKE in 2019.
With co-defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen departing for Buffalo, fellow co-DC Doug Belk takes over as the primary guy. Don’t expect many changes from a group that favors a four-man front and nickel looks.
Houston has one of the most experienced corner groups in the nation with a pair of seniors on the outside in Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams.
Also, former grad transfer JoVanni Stewart played for four seasons in Morgantown before starting five games at Houston last year. He’s a perfect fit as a hybrid linebacker/nickel in Houston’s defense.
The safeties don’t boast as much experience, but both starters return and adequate depth has built up behind them.
Texas Tech vs. Houston Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Texas Tech and Houston match up statistically:
Texas Tech Offense vs. Houston Defense
Houston Offense vs. Texas Tech Defense
Pace of Play / Other
Texas Tech’s sack numbers on the offensive line are a bit misleading as the quarterbacks repeatedly just looked at and fired to their first reads.
Houston will have the opportunity to create some Havoc, and I’m not sure Tech’s offensive front can generate a consistent push up front.
On the other side of the ball, Tune should feel comfortable against a Texas Tech defense that doesn’t generate much pressure and/or create Havoc.
You can expect a fairly fast-paced game between two projected pass-heavy offenses.
Texas Tech vs. Houston Betting Pick
I’m high on this Houston team.
I think Tune will thrive in the third year of Holgerson’s Air Raid offense. The defense did lose two players to the NFL but still has plenty of talent and experience.
And if they can benefit from a bump in the turnover department (part luck) after forcing just six last year, look out. That could start this Saturday against a Tech team that finished in the bottom 10 nationally in both projected and actual turnover margin.
Both units also have an abundance of depth after injuries and transfers hit the Cougars hard the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, I’m not sold on this Texas Tech team, especially early as it breaks in a new offensive scheme under a new offensive coordinator with a brand new transfer quarterback, two new starting receivers and reshuffled offensive line. There might be growing pains over the first month of the season.
Plus, starting running back Sarodorick Thompson, who led the team in rushing in each of the past two seasons, might not even play. Thompson had offseason shoulder surgery and has been a non-contact participant at camp.
Star receiver Ezukanma also had surgery in April to repair a fractured arm, but he’s been a full participant at camp.
In regards to special teams, Houston has the edge there. Texas Tech does have an outstanding punter in Austin McNamara, but the coverage units struggled last year and opponents blocked four punts. The kicker situation also remains unsettled.
Meanwhile, Houston features one of the nation’s best punt returners in All-American Marcus Jones and has a more reliable kicker in fifth-year senior Dalton Witherspoon. I also like Aussie punter Laine Wilkins, who had a promising debut season in 2020.
Believe it or not, Houston didn’t allow one single punt return that went for positive yards. If the Cougars can plug in a new long snapper without issues, the only hole left to fill is at kick returner after the departure of Stevenson, but Jones is expected to take over those duties as well.
In a fairly close matchup, a big Jones return or clutch kick could prove to be the difference on Saturday night.
I’m rolling with Houston here and may look to play the Cougars in the second half if they continue a troubling trend we saw last year: slow starts.
I project UH as close to a field-goal favorite, so I would play any underdog number.