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October 31, 2008

Bowden: Texas Tech presents huge challenge

The questions are being tossed around and debated this week regarding what Texas must do to win its game at Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders are the No.1 passing team in college football, and if there is one area of concern for the Longhorns, it is their inability to stop the pass. Tech throws for a nation-best 418.4 yards per game; Texas checks in at 111th in pass defense - allowing 265.5 yards per game. Although Texas is second in the country with 29 sacks, Texas Tech has allowed just three sacks, second-fewest in the nation. Needless to say, putting pressure on Tech quarterback Graham Harrell and mixing up the coverages will be major keys for Texas.

Actually, the biggest question for Texas is how difficult it will be to get "up" for their fourth consecutive game against a ranked opponent. In the past three weeks, the Longhorns have beaten Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oklahoma State. Now, they must go on the road and play Texas Tech. Can they get themselves up one more time?

To be honest with you, I don't think it will be hard at all. Folks have been talking about Texas Tech since before the season began, and, in fact, some had elevated them to the No. 2 spot in the Big 12 South behind Oklahoma and ahead of Texas. The Red Raiders have been ranked all season and have been in the top 10 since September. This is the best team coach Mike Leach has put on the field in his nine seasons in Lubbock, and the Longhorns know it.

When a team is playing a highly ranked opponent, it's never hard for players to get up for the game. These are the kinds of games kids come to Texas to play in, and it doesn't matter whether they come one game at a time or four in a row.

In addition, if you are a program such as Texas, your goal every season is to play for the national championship. Since you basically have to go undefeated to guarantee yourself a shot at the title, every one of these four big games is a single-elimination playoff game. Lose any of them and you have to depend on someone else to help you make it to the national championship.

These Texas players know all about Texas Tech, and they know what is at stake.

The problem? Just because you are "up" for a game does not mean you are going to be "on" for the game. Having the right intensity doesn't always guarantee the right execution. Like a pitcher in the World Series, no matter how focused and keyed up you are, sometimes you just can't get your fastball to hit the corners.

For Texas to win Saturday and finish what would be a phenomenal sweep of four of the best teams in college football, the Longhorns will have to be on their game.

Colt McCoy needs to throw strikes. He is completing almost 82 percent of his passes, and above all other factors in this game, he has to be at his best. He cannot afford a fourth-quarter fumble and interception when the game is on the line; that's because Harrell not only will win this game for Tech, but snatch away the Heisman as well.

Defensive end Brian Orakpo needs to make all the right moves. He is the finest pure pass rusher I have seen this season, and he has the ability to be the deciding factor in the outcome. Like an Olympic sprinter coming out of the blocks, this must be the day he sets the world record with that first step off the line of scrimmage.

Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp needs to make all the right calls. Texas Tech will have about 75 offensive snaps, and Muschamp must line 'em up on defense on every one of those plays. He will make the decision whether to blitz or play zone, rush six or drop eight, disguise the coverage or show his hand. Coaches like to say that players win games, but I know from experience that some weeks, the game plan just isn't as good as usual.

If Texas is up and on, I believe the Longhorns win it. But if they fail to play their best in any way, Texas Tech will come out on top. After last week's 63-21 victory over Kansas and with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma coming up next, it then would be the Red Raiders' turn to find the way to be "up" and "on" if they are going to make it to the national championship game.

Terry Bowden is Rivals.com college football analyst. For more information about Terry, visit his official web site. Click here to view previous articles. To send Terry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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