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October 31, 2008

Texas Tech knows what Texas game means

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Much has happened since Texas Tech started its program against McMurry on Oct. 3, 1925.

Since then, 82 seasons have passed and 918 games have been played. In that time, Tech changed its mascot from Matadors to Red Raiders in 1936, changed its name from Texas Technological College to Texas Tech University in 1969, changed conferences three times (from the Border to the Southwest to the Big 12) and changed coaches 13 times.

Through it all, the absolute most important day in the program's history comes Saturday when the unbeaten Red Raiders play host to top-ranked Texas in a clash for leadership in the Big 12 South.

It would be easy to get caught up in a carnival atmosphere, but Texas Tech players are trying to avoid the circus.

"Everyone tries to keep their nose out of the newspaper," defensive end Jake Ratliff said. "I think we have done a decent job so far keeping our eye on the prize."

Added offensive tackle Rylan Reed: "We are very excited to have this opportunity and be in this position. We are all just ready to make the most of it."

Tech hasn't done that before. Six times in school history Texas Tech has faced the nation's top-ranked team, and each time Tech has lost. Only once in those six games was Tech ranked the Red Raiders were 14th in 1977 when they fell 26-0 to Texas.

More recently, the Red Raiders have had difficulty containing Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the leader in the Heisman race. Last season, McCoy passed for 268 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards and two scores in a 59-43 Longhorns win. Two seasons ago, McCoy passed for 256 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another 68 yards in a 35-31 Texas victory.

"He can make plays with his feet," Tech free safety Darcel McBath said. "He's not like any quarterback we have played this year. He is so versatile."

Texas Tech also is explosive. Quarterback Graham Harrell leads the nation with 3,147 passing yards. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has 36 touchdown catches in less than two full seasons. The Red Raiders average 48 points per game and have exceeded 40 points six times this season, including a 63-point outburst last week against Kansas.

Obviously, they've come a long way in 918 games: That first game against McMurry ended in a scoreless tie.

Texas run offense vs. Texas Tech run defense

Although quarterback Colt McCoy leads Texas' running game with 412 rushing yards, the Longhorns still average a respectable 183 yards per game on the ground. Chris Ogbonnaya has rushed for 309 yards and bullish Cody Johnson is effective in short-yardage situations. Texas Tech is allowing just 101 rushing yards per game, ranking 14th in the nation in rushing defense. Part of the reason is that Tech has played mostly pass-oriented teams; another part is that most opponents have to throw to keep up with the Red Raiders' offense. Linebacker Brian Duncan leads Tech with 56 tackles.
EDGE: TEXAS

Texas pass offense vs. Texas Tech pass defense

McCoy is second in the nation in passing efficiency and has completed an amazing 81.8 percent of his passes. He's adept at finding the open receiver at the last possible moment. The Longhorns are averaging more than 303 passing yards to rank 11th in the nation. Wide receiver Jordan Shipley has emerged as a big-play threat and has 58 catches with 10 touchdowns. Quan Cosby is sure-handed and has 56 receptions and four touchdowns. Texas has allowed 13 sacks. Texas Tech, which has 20 sacks, will challenge the Longhorns' line. Defensive end Brian Williams leads the Red Raiders with eight sacks. Four Red Raiders opponents have thrown for more than 250 yards, but Tech is among the nation's leaders with 14 interceptions. Free safety Darcel McBath has five interceptions and strong safety Daniel Charbonnet has four.
EDGE: TEXAS

Texas Tech run offense vs. Texas run defense

Running usually is a second thought in Tech's game plan, but the Red Raiders have had success on the ground. Baron Batch has exceeded 80 yards in three games and has 537 yards on the season. Shannon Woods has 481 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. The Red Raiders, who average 138.5 yards, won't overpower anyone on the ground, but when defenses become too preoccupied with pass coverage, Tech's backs are good enough to take advantage. The Longhorns rank third in the nation in run defense, allowing just 69.3 yards per game. Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter burned them for 161 yards just a week ago, but no other back has had much success. Defensive tackle Roy Miller is a run-stuffer inside, but it will be interesting to see how much he'll play against Texas Tech's scheme.
EDGE: TEXAS

Texas Tech pass offense vs. Texas pass defense

Quarterback Graham Harrell to wide receiver Michael Crabtree might be the most dangerous college passing combination ever. Really. Harrell leads the nation with 3,147 passing yards. Crabtree, despite constantly facing coverages designed to limit him, has 60 catches and 14 touchdown grabs. He has 36 career touchdown passes, which is stunning considering he's still a sophomore. Five other receivers have at least 20 catches, and not surprisingly, Texas Tech leads the nation in pass offense. The Red Raiders' massive line has allowed just three sacks. Texas' youthful secondary keeps getting better, and redshirt freshman safety Earl Thomas is having an excellent season. Still, the Longhorns give up an average of 265.5 passing yards per game, which is more than all but nine teams. At least part of that is because Texas has already faced three of the nation's top-20 passing teams Oklahoma, Missouri and Rice. Tight ends have hurt the Longhorns, but Tech doesn't use a tight end. Texas will need to pressure Harrell. Led by end Brian Orakpo and linebacker Sergio Kindle, the Longhorns' pass rush has produced 29 sacks. That's second-most in the nation.
EDGE: TEXAS TECH

Texas special teams vs. Texas Tech special teams

Coach Mike Leach was so exasperated with Tech's kicking problems that he added Mike Williams, a student who won a month of free rent in a halftime kicking contest at an earlier game, to the roster. Williams connected on nine extra-point attempts in last week's win over Kansas. But Donnie Carona missed his only field-goal attempt in that game and is just 3-of-8 this season. Punter Jonathan LaCour averages 37.8 yards per attempt. The Red Raiders are solid on returns with Eric Morris averaging 11.1 yards with a touchdown on punt returns, and Jamar Wall averaging 27.8 yards on kickoff returns. The coverage teams could be better. Texas struggles in kick coverage, too; opponents average 24 yards on kickoff returns and 7.3 yards on punt returns. But the Longhorns' special teams are otherwise solid. Cosby and Shipley are capable of scoring on returns in fact, Shipley has, with a kickoff return for a touchdown against Oklahoma. Texas kicker Hunter Lawrence has made all seven field goals he has attempted, including a 46-yarder. Texas punters average 43 yards.
EDGE: TEXAS

Texas coaches vs. Texas Tech coaches

Under coach Mack Brown, Texas is closing in on its eighth consecutive 10-win season. And Brown is 7-1 against Leach. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis often is criticized, but the Longhorns are No. 5 nationally in scoring offense. The Longhorns' defense has become more aggressive under new coordinator Will Muschamp. Meanwhile, Leach has supervised the most successful era at Texas Tech. Under Leach, the Red Raiders have posted 73 victories and have made eight consecutive bowl appearances. His decision to promote Ruffin McNeill to defensive coordinator midway through last season has proved a wise choice. The defense, typically a point of concern, has improved under McNeill.
EDGE: TEXAS

Texas will win if: The Longhorns are one of the few teams in the country that can match Texas Tech offensively. But Texas must avoid turnovers. Texas Tech's defense gives up a lot yards, but has compensated by forcing 20 turnovers (14 interceptions, six fumbles). The Longhorns were cruising against Oklahoma State last week until an interception and fumble thwarted scoring drives. Texas also needs to get consistent pressure on Harrell and cannot get rattled by a hostile crowd that's had this game marked on the calendar since the end of last season. The Longhorns could be in trouble if they get behind early.

Texas Tech will win if: Given adequate protection, Harrell can put up staggering statistics. In fact, he can do that even when pressured, as was the case in last week's 63-21 win over Kansas. But the Red Raiders' offensive line will have to keep the Texas rush off him so the Red Raiders can capitalize on the advantage their receivers especially Crabtree have over Texas' defensive backs. Defensively, Tech must contain McCoy, which they have not been able to do in two previous games. Of course, the Red Raiders will get a big boost if they can continue their trend of forcing turnovers.

EXPERT PICKS

Olin Buchanan: Texas 48, Texas Tech 42
Tom Dienhart: Texas Tech 35, Texas 34
David Fox: Texas Tech 38, Texas 31
Mike Huguenin: Texas 37, Texas Tech 34
Steve Megargee: Texas 38, Texas Tech 34

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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