Texas football’s journey to Lubbock this year won’t be the trip players have grown accustomed to.
The traditionally hostile crowd that packs Jones AT&T Stadium is limited to 25% capacity this season, the same percentage as Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. For Texas players, it means less distraction, reduced crowd noise and fewer flying tortillas from a crowd that sold out Jones Stadium for every Longhorn-Red Raider matchup of the 2010s.
“(Lubbock) is a very intense atmosphere, and they do not like us,” senior defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham said in a Tuesday teleconference. “But in my honest opinion, that makes the game even more fun, when you come into a hostile environment like that ready to compete. I feel like it just gives you an extra boost of confidence or juice or whatever you want to call it.”
However, Graham and the Longhorns are OK with less “juice” from the crowd as long as the game is actually played Saturday.
“We’re just ready to roll, no matter what the stadium looks like,” Graham said.
Preparing for road games this season at limited-capacity stadiums has changed from years past, senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said in Tuesday’s teleconference. The hour-long YouTube loop of artificial crowd noise the team usually blares over the speakers at practice before an away game hasn’t been used this year.
“We haven’t (practiced with) crowd noise yet, that’s not to say we won’t,” Ehlinger said in Tuesday’s teleconference. “I'm not sure what the plan is there. Maybe we'll just turn it down to 25% volume. (We’re) just focusing on the details and being really attentive to what it takes to be successful regardless of if there's 80,000 people yelling or 20,000.”
The reality of playing without crowd energy to feed off of is hitting Texas Tech too. Senior Red Raider defensive lineman Eli Howard said in a Monday teleconference there’s no replacing the fan energy of a traditionally raucous environment, but it’s something Texas Tech is learning to deal with.
“Any time the Jones isn’t completely packed out, we’re definitely at a disadvantage,” Howard said. “It definitely is weird not to feed off the emotions and the energy of the fans, especially for me since (I’m) on defense and whatnot.”
But a crowd can only affect a game so much. Texas is still going to have to execute offensively, avoid penalties and respond to Tech’s up-tempo offense — all things they did in their 49-24 win over the Red Raiders last season at DKR.
Regardless or stadium or crowd size, Ehlinger said the Longhorns will be prepared.
“I guess there will be a quarter of the amount of tortillas thrown per game on Saturday, so it's kind of unfortunate,” Ehlinger said. “It’s always a great time playing up in Lubbock, you know. They're always a hostile environment, and I expect it to be the same, but I guess just at 25% (capacity).”