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September 19, 2012Tech is about nine days out from taking on Iowa State in what is already getting the title as head coach Tommy Tuberville's biggest game as a Red Raider.
So, what are the Red Raiders doing to prepare for that game?
Right now they're just focused on the Red Raiders. It's the bye week and that means Tech has essentially returned to spring football mode; working on the fundamentals, teaching plays and the team even has brought back the 'fourth quarter' conditioning drills which exhaust even the fittest of players.
"The dominant part of it is we've got to focus on ourselves," defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said. "We've got to work on the fundamentals. You get to do it during camp, but when you get into a three-game stretch you don't get to work as much. This week is a fundamental week for some of the things Iowa State does that we've mixed in but this week is mostly for us."
Same thing offensively.
"We'll take (the bye) here," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "It's good to be 3-0 on your bye week and we can really focus on some young kids this week and getting healthy. Of course you would like to have it in the middle of conference play and you'd really like to have two. I wish we were playing that first week in December and have a bye week like a lot of the other teams in our conference. But three years here and this is the latest we've have it.
"We're working some Iowa State, but we're really trying to work on some fundamentals and technique this week. The plays were running are some of the things we'll do against Iowa State, but we really haven't talked a ton to our kids about Iowa State yet."
Fumbling has been somewhat of an issue for the running backs and that's something the coaching staff is hoping to correct this week.
"We do five minutes of ball security every day," Brown said. "Sometimes it doesn't look like it when you look at our first three games, but we do a ball security circuit where we go through a blaster. We spend a lot of time on it.
"Last year Kenny Williams (ran the ball) really loose and he's emphasized (holding the ball). The other night was just a good play by the defense. What he made the mistake of on the fumble of the night was he didn't have his second hand on it. He had it secured, the defender made a good play, but you've got to get your other hand on it. That's definitely something we're focusing on this week."
Feeling more comfortable in third year
Despite sub-par competition through three games the 2012 Red Raider squad might be the best one Brown has worked with.
A new attitude the players have inherited and that 2011 recruiting class' talents being mature enough to handle the game in just their sophomore and redshirt freshman seasons certainly have not hurt Tech's chances.
"We're playing better up front than we were last year," Brown said. "We had Terry McDaniel playing center, Justin Keown was get getting back. We've definitely got more playmakers. I think the kids, a lot of these guys are returning, a lot of them were redshirted last year and are starting to come along.
"They're a lot more comfortable. I'm a lot more comfortable. Our staff is probably more comfortable. The real answer to that question will come after next Saturday. We're where we were supposed to be after three games. The thing that I'm proud of is these are three games we were supposed to win, but we were ready to go. In all three games we went out and took care of business. We're probably more mature. Last year against Texas State and Nevada we weren't as ready to go as we were this year."
Case and point on the maturation on this team is receiver Jakeem Grant.
"I'm excited about him," Brown said. "I wish he had not had that screen called back on him the other night because he would have had two really productive weeks in a row. That was really a highlight play. Not only with the ball in his hands, but he's playing well without the ball in his hands which means we can play him more snaps. He blocked really well at the end of the game the other night."
McDaniel is suffering from a sore back so Beau Carpenter is working out as the right guard this week while Le'Raven Clark fills in at right tackle and Alfredo Morales continues his work at left guard.
Tony Morales suffered a setback recovering from a sprained knee but Brown is not ruling him out of the Iowa State game just yet.
"He'll fit in at center and he can play both guard spots as well," Brown said. "He'll be in the mix. I was hoping he would be able to be back this week so he could get some practice time and get back into shape, but he's still got some swelling in that knee so I don't know if he'll be back or not."
Tech's secondary has not been tested much this season.
Kaufman knows what he's getting in safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson but the corners have not been tested much save Cornelius Douglas and he was out last week with an abdominal strain.
Fortunately, the cornerbacks work against some of the best receivers and a good quarterback every day in practice.
"I think that gives us an idea that we're ready to go into game time and still take care of business," Kaufman said. "I think we see it every day."
Kaufman added Bruce Jones had a good game against New Mexico.
"He's really come along," Kaufman said. "I take a look at what Bruce Jones did in Week 1 and he had to be the third corner. By the time we finished Week 3, he's established himself as the third corner."
Dividing playing time in the front seven
Weak side linebacker Zach Winbush got his first start last week and played well.
Kaufman said he's seen a dramatic improvement in Winbush's play from the start of fall camp now into Week 4. It's given the defensive coordinator eve more trust in his second string linebackers.
"I think if it's a 75, 80-play game the way we're going to try to rotate it is the starters get 45 to 50 snaps and we'd like the second team linebackers to get into that 30 snap range if we can," Kaufman said. "Just try to keep them rotated and keep them fresh."