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Major Applewhite knows perils of playing in Lubbock

September 14, 2018

LUBBOCK — Major Applewhite has made frequent trips to the South Plains, first as a quarterback and later as assistant coach at the University of Texas.

Night games at Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium were always “a little crazier” than those in the afternoon, a swirling wind often created problems and almost always, Applewhite said, “we knew going out there it was going to be very tough.”

Then, almost to offer an invitation, Applewhite answered one of the most pressing questions for any visitor.

Has he ever been hit by a flying tortilla?

“I’ve been fortunate to escape the tortillas,” Applewhite, in his second season at the University of Houston, said of the staple at Red Raiders home games.

Houston will make a rare trip here when it faces Texas Tech at 3 p.m. Saturday in a showdown of high-powered offenses. It will be the Cougars’ first trip to Lubbock in eight years and just the second since the breakup of the Southwest Conference after the 1995 season.

“It is awesome coming down that tunnel right there in the student section,” Applewhite said of previous visits. “You get called every name in the book. That’s part of college football. It’s fun. It gets you amped up for the game.”

For the Cougars, the game presents a chance to claim back-to-back wins over Power Five opponents after a 45-18 dismantling of Arizona last week. Since 2014, the Cougars are 8-1 against teams from the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Big 12, the only blemish a sloppy, turnover-filled 27-24 loss to Texas Tech last September at TDECU Stadium.

For past two weeks, Applewhite has downplayed any significance of matching up against teams from power conferences, even if a win could catapult the Cougars into the early group of Group of Five contenders for a New Year’s Six bowl.

“It’s a great way for us to get on the national stage, but for us it’s the same thing every week — we play a certain opponent and we treat them like they are the best team in the country,” cornerback Isaiah Johnson said.

Texas Tech (1-1), which lost to Ole Miss in the season opener before bouncing back with a 77-0 win over FCS Lamar, has been almost unbeatable at home. Since 2002, Tech has won 33 of its last 34 non-conference home games. The Red Raiders are 40-2 in non-conference home games since moving to the spread offense in 2000.

“It’s a tough place to play,” UH offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said. “They are rowdy. It’s a great atmosphere. And they always play well at home. (Coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) will have them ready to go. Offensively they always play better there.”

Through two games in Briles’ up-tempo spread offense, the Cougars are averaging 45 points and 564 yards per game, both among the top 25 in Football Bowl Subdivision. Even with an unsettled quarterback situation — true freshman Alan Bowman could get his second consecutive start with McLane Carter still recovering from a high ankle sprain — Tech is 11th nationally in scoring offense (52) and 10th in total offense (584.5).

“In my 20 years of experience with them as a coach and player, they always score points, have a great tempo, and they take the ball away,” Applewhite said. “They’re a very good football team and it’s a great challenge to go on the road.”

In three seasons at Notre Dame, safety Nick Watkins regularly played a tough schedule that included trips to tough environments. He does not expect the Cougars to be intimidated.

“I’ve heard (Lubbock) is hostile,” said Watkins, who transferred to Houston. “If you want to prove yourself and be considered a quality team you have to win on the road in tough places.”

Adding spice to the matchup, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt disclosed this week that UH refused several requests for the Red Raiders to switch to white jerseys as part of “Celebrate Cotton,” an annual event that spotlights the cotton industry in West Texas. UH officials had no comment. The Cougars are believed to have balked at the idea of wearing their darker jerseys due to uncertainty months out what the weather could be like for a mid- afternoon September game.

“It’s disappointing Houston has taken the stance that they’ve taken in not cooperating with us,” Hocutt said on his weekly radio show on Double T 97.3 FM in Lubbock. “We have made multiple requests to the University of Houston and they’ve denied it every time.”

joseph.duarte@chron.com

twitter.com/Joseph_Duarte

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