Covering The Spread: Keys To Stopping The Red Raider Air Attack

Dino NicandrosAnalyst ISeptember 16, 2009

It may have been the most devestating play in Texas Longhorn history.

When Texas Tech quarterback Grahm Harrell hooked up with star receiver Michael Crabtree for a touchdown with one second left to play in a thrilling battle of titans, the Longhorns' national title hopes suddenly looked dim.

The Longhorns' Big 12 and national title hopes took a huge hit and it can be argued that Texas quarterback Colt McCoy lost the Heisman race, as well.

Texas has waited roughly 10 months to claim its revenge against the team that cost them everything last season.

While Texas head coach Mack Brown points out that he isn't the kind of guy to use revenge as motivational tool, you can bet that it will be one vengeful atmosphere in Austin, Texas on Saturday night.

During last year's encounter with the Red Raiders, the Longhorns got down early due to their inability to sustain offensive drives and slow down Mike Leach's explosive air attack.

While it was difficult for the Longhorn defense to hold its own against the Texas Tech onslaught, there was really nothing different about the offensive scheme they were facing.

Mike Leach's passing attack is reliant on spreading the ball around to all of the receivers and running backs, making it hard for defenses to zero in on one or two specific offensive playmakers (in 2008 that was Crabtree).

When the Longhorn secondary would focus on shutting Crabtree down, players like Detron Lewis and Edward Britton would find spaces in the Longhorn zone and make relatively easy plays in space.

The Texas defense gave up 474 passing yards in last year's game.  Nine different receivers caught a ball, seven of which caught more than three.

While play-makers Grahm Harrell and Michale Crabtree are gone, Mike Leach was able to plug yet another quarterback in to his pass-happy system (Taylor Potts) and the Red Raiders seemingly haven't missed a beat on offense.

If the Longhorns hope to slow down the Red Raider juggernaut in this year's contest, they should do the following:

Get Pressure with the Front Four

Before Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo came out with an injury during last year's game, the Texas defense had two sacks on Tech quarterback Grahm Harrell in the first quarter.  After Orakpo's departure, the defense had zero.

Because the Longhorns were unable to keep up sustained pressure on Harrell, the secondary was picked apart with ease.

This season, Sergio Kindle (one sack in last year's game) made the move to defensive end in hopes of filling the void Orakpo left after he graduated.

While Kindle has been good at applying pressure thus far, he has yet to record a sack, something the coaching staff should be a little concerned about.

It will be up to Kindle, Lamaar Houston, Kheeston Randall, and Sam Acho to make Taylor Potts uncomfortable early.  If Tech gets out of sync early in the game, the Longhorns are sitting pretty.  If not, it could be another long game for the Texas defense.

Blitz with Moderation

By now everyone is aware that defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is one fo the more aggressive play callers in the nation.

He loves to bring players on the blitz from all angles to keep opposing offenses guessing.

While the Longhorns have the speed on defense to get away with blitzing more often than your average football team, it is important that they don't get greedy.

In other words, if Muschamp blitzes the linebackers, he better make sure the safties are filling the open void. 

Last year, Texas Tech exposed the middle of the Longhorn defense due to the fact that when the linebackers were blitzing, the safties were unable to react fast enough, resulting in huge chunks of yards for the Tech receivers.

Muschamp must also be wary of the fact that blitzing safties too often can get the defense in trouble deep down the field.  Look for the Longhorns to keep either Earl Thomas or Blake Gideon deep at all times.

The Texas defense should be just fine with a constant pass rush from the front four and a steady diet of creative Muschamp blitzes mixed in.


Oh, Blake Gideon....

I can't imagine what must have been going through his head after he dropped what would have been game-winning interception.

It was such a shame too after he had one of the better nights of anyone on the defense.

I'm done harping on the young man, but a lesson was learned from the "drop heard 'round the world":

Take advantage of opportunities.

Taylor Potts has already shown this season that he is a bit inteception pone (three versus North Dakota State). 

The Texas secondary is far better than it was last season, so there should be a few chances to make Potts pay for some of the untimely throws he is likely to make.

Playing keep away may be the best defense against Texas Tech, so it's the job of the defense to, in short, take the ball away from the Tech offense and get it to Colt McCoy and company.

Tackle, Tackle, Tackle...

This should be pretty self-explanatory to anyone who witnessed this game last season.

The game was decided by a missed tackle...

The Tech offense is going to churn out gaudy offesnive numbers no matter what defensive scheme you employ.

Perhaps the single most important component of keeping the Texas Tech offense at bay is tackling in the open-field.

I couldn't count how many times during last year's game, including the game winning catch, that Longhorn defenders allowed Tech receivers to elude their grasp. 

In fact, I'm willing to bet that had the Texas defenders made half of the tackles they missed, the game would have turned out differently.

The linebacking crew has been notorious as of late for missing easy tackles in the middle of the field. 

When facing Tech's offense, it can't be stressed enough that giving up the five yard gains instead of the 20 yard gains is extremely important.  As long as the defense keeps everything in front of them, Tech will be kicking field goals, not scoring touchdowns.

If the defense can play smart assignment football and make the easy tackles, Texas shouldn't have a problem with handing a good ol' platter of ice cold revenge to the Red Raiders.


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