Creature Vs. Creature: A Red Raider on Texas-Texas Tech

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Creature Vs. Creature: A Red Raider on Texas-Texas Tech

This is written from a Texas Tech Red Raider fan's point of view, to read the article from a Texas Longhorn fan's point of view, check it out "here"

 

Game Preview

It's that time of the season. No, not the National Championship, or even the Big 12 Championship, but rather the Texas Tech's annual match-up against the Texas Longhorns. Every season, it seems as if the red Raiders come into this game with high expectations, and every season, it seems as if that never happens.

Because it pretty much hasn't. The Longhorns have won the last five games, most of them in convincing fashion. Last season, Texas came away with a 59-43 victory in Austin, thus continuing their historical, as well as recent dominance of Texas Tech.

Texas Tech is coming off a road, homecoming-ruining 63-21 victory over Kansas last weekend, in a game that saw Tech's offense and defense dominate throughout. Graham Harrell completed over 80 percent of his passes for 386 yards and five touchdowns through the air, while sneaking another one in on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Longhorns held off Oklahoma State in Austin, in a game that saw Colt McCoy show he was, indeed, human. McCoy played very well, but struggled to put the game away in the fourth quarter with a crucial interception and fumble.

The defense faced a tough running team in Oklahoma State, and for the first time in all season, their run defense didn't look like a brick wall. The Cowboys were able to run for 217 yards on 37 carries, an impressive six yards per carry.

Both teams come in undefeated, yet in two very different situations. This will be the last game in the dreaded four-game stretch for Texas, and they may be getting worn down nearing the end. Texas Tech began their own stretch just last week, and this game is easily the biggest of the season so far for them.

The Longhorns are the top ranked team in the nation, while the Red Raiders are ranked between No. 5-7, depending on which poll you are looking at. (AP No. 6, USA No. 5, BCS No. 7)  Which makes them the lowest ranked of the remaining undefeated teams from major conferences. Texas Tech is desperately seeking respect, and a win in this game may be the only way they receive it this season.

I’ll limit the stats for this one, as my counterpart in this exercise has quoted Will Muschamp as saying “stats are for losers”…

 

Texas Tech will win if...

The defense can disrupt the short completions and keep Colt McCoy out of rhythm.

Every game so far this season, Colt McCoy has been able to build confidence by completing early screen passes and quick slants. Once he has been able to get into that rhythm, it has been a steady onslaught of completions and efficiency. The earlier that McCoy has to rely on the longer passes, the better chance Tech has to force turnovers.

Even more importantly, if they can keep him out of rhythm, and stop Texas from extending drives, the time-of-possession will be a much closer battle. The longer that Graham Harrell has to sit on the sidelines, the more trouble Texas Tech will be in. They cannot play another game like Nebraska, and expect to come out with a victory.

Neutralizing the short passes early is essential to Tech's gameplan, they need to pressure Colt McCoy early and often. The quicker he is able to get rid of the ball, the less opportunities for pressure. Too often this season, Texas has been able to gain yards on every play consistently, helping them to either avoid third down, or face short yardage situations.

Texas Tech is ranked No. 2 in the Big 12, and No. 21 in the nation holding their opponents to just a 30 percent third-down conversion percentage. The longer the yardage needed for the conversion, the much better that percentage becomes, as you would assume. Last week, Texas was able to convert third downs at will, extending drives and keeping Oklahoma State's offense off the field.

Texas Tech leads the Big 12, and is third in the nation in interceptions, with 14, so forcing McCoy to make longer passes plays into their strength. Tech also leads the Big 12, and ranks second in the nation in passes defended, averaging 7 pass breakups a game, a testament to their much improved secondary.

While Colt McCoy has been amazing this season regardless of the opponent, on the road, his quarterback rating falls 25 points, and his completion percentage falls nearly 10 percent, down to 73 (Still not exactly what many people would call bad). Disrupting his rhythm, coupled with the crowd could do a lot to force him into mistakes.

 

They come out strong and play a complete, balanced game.

Texas Tech has been susceptible to slow starts and not playing to their potential for several games this year. They either struggled to get into rhythm offensively (See: Nevada), or they have struggled to play tough defensively for parts of games (See: Nebraska and Texas A&M). But just as often as they have struggled, they have played games to their potential, and come away with easy victories. (See: Kansas State and Kansas)

In order to win this game, Tech cannot fall behind early and allow Texas to control the pace of the game. Every touchdown that Texas scores, needs to be in response to a Tech touchdown, otherwise Colt McCoy can lolly gag down the field and attempt to get their running game started, enabling the Longhorns to control the clock and the momentum.

With Mike Leach's game plans, it is likely, that if trailing, he will start to lean more heavily towards the pass. Though, early in the season, I was critical of Leach's play calling, during conference play I have to admit that he has called near perfect games. He has recognized each receiver and running back's strengths, and started to use them all in roles that suit their ability best.

Scoring first is a must for Leach in every game he coaches. If he wins the toss, he always elects to receive, and his gameplan for defense on the first drive is always the most motivated (though that may be Ruffin McNeil's doing). In a game of trading touchdowns, you always want to be the team to score first, and have the ball last.

Ignorance, by people who do not watch Texas Tech, still leads them to believe that Tech is still a one-dimensional team. Every year, I am forced to point out that short passes, such as what Colt McCoy is doing this year, is just as efficient as a running game, but this year, I’ll avoid that and touch on the running backs efficiency on the Red Raider squad.

Baron Batch is averaging an outstanding 7.6 yards per carry, good for fifth in the nation among running backs. Batch also averages more than 13 yards per catch, good for 40 receiving yards per game, which ranks him second in the nation in receiving out of the backfield. Batch splits time with Shannon Woods, who averages 60 rushing yards a game on a stellar 5.5 yards per carry.

The efficiency of the running backs, both running the ball, and receiving out of the backfield will be the key in keeping the offense balanced and productive. But the most important part of these two running back's games isn't seen when they have the ball, but rather when they are blocking for Graham Harrell.

Stellar blocking by these two is one of the reasons why Harrell is rarely knocked down, let alone sacked. They will need to keep that going this week, as Texas is the best pass-rushing team that Tech has faced, by a long shot.

 

Texas Tech will lose if...

They shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers.

Texas Tech ranks number 10 in the nation in turnover margin, with +9, a vast improvement over their -5 last year. While Texas is ranked at number 46 with a turnover margin of +3. Texas is only 91st in the nation in interceptions, having only intercepted five passes, which improves my hopes of a turnover free day for the Red Raiders.

Turnovers and wasted possessions become even more important in shootouts, where matching your opponent touchdown for touchdown is necessary. Harrell has thrown only 5 interceptions all season, most notably though,  two against Nevada, his worst career game, and a game where he struggled to get into a rhythm. Limiting the mistakes, whether it be fumbles, interceptions or sacks allowed, Tech needs to play the cleaner game to come away with a win.

Colt McCoy has been even more accurate, throwing only four interceptions, so you cannot count on him to turn the ball over just because you want him to. Every turnover is a momentum killer, and in a game which will rely heavily on getting the crowd involved, that is exactly the opposite of what you need.

 

They allow Texas to dominate Time of Possession, dictate the pace of the game, or if the two teams combine for less than 60 points.

The longer that Texas Tech's defense is on the field, the less effective they become. Every seven-minute drive they have to defend lowers Tech's chances of winning.

Against Nebraska, they were too tired to be effective—sloppy tackling, slower reactions, and less energy on the lines. Tech can win a shootout against Texas, but not if they have to spend two-thirds of the shootout without a gun in their hand.

Mike Leach still refuses to take his time on offense just to give his defense a rest, which I can respect, but at times, it may be necessary. This is the game where Texas Tech needs to come out with intensity, to let it be known they won't allow four yard gains on every play. They cannot play zone all let Colt McCoy pass away to open receivers. When it comes down to it, they can't expect McCoy to make mistakes, they need to force him into making them.

Last weekend, Kansas tried to make short passes, trying to see how much Tech would give them, and on the first screen pass, Texas Tech stopped the Kansas receiver for an eight-yard loss. They need to come out that way again this week. Force McCoy to try and make the big pass, rather than complete six straight passes for the same amount of yardage.

Texas Tech is designed much better to win a shootout, along the lines of the UT/Oklahoma game, rather than a game played the way the UT/Oklahoma State game was. If they are forced to rely on their kicking, or stop defense, rather than their offense, their chances of winning drop drastically. I am much more confident in the offense needing a touchdown, than the defense needing a stop.

It is understood that Colt McCoy can lead the Texas offense down the field, taking time off the clock, as every completion keeps the clock ticking. They need to force him into incompletions, and keep him from wasting a whole quarter on one possession. If the number of six-plus minute drives is greater than the number of times Texas is forced to punt, I don't think Texas Tech will be able to stay with them.

The Tech defense needs to limit McCoy to under either a 75 percent completion percentage or 7.5 yards per attempt. Only UTEP was able to limit Colt McCoy to under 70 percent completions, and FAU and Oklahoma were the only teams to limit him to under 8 yards per attempt.

Tech needs to limit this aspect of his game in order to disrupt the UT offense.

 

The X-Factor

Mike Leach's whole tenure at Texas Tech has been building up to this one game. He has played spoiler to UT and Oklahoma in the past, but this is the one season that Tech has a chance to play spoiler to the nation's preconceived notion that only defense can win championships. The most eccentric coach in college football has a chance to shake EVERYTHING up.

For a man who admires pirates, this may be the biggest booty Mike Leach will ever have a chance at procuring. A win in this game, though just the start of it all, could be the signature game for Mike Leach's career, a win will say mountains about what he has done here at Tech. A loss, well, they're right back where they were before the season, nothing but a footnote in the Big 12.

His coaching style is what could win or lose this game. How he manages fourth downs, field goals, the balance on offense, every aspect of this game is in Coach Leach's hands. The season, as we know it, is in his hands, and I for one, think he is the perfect man for the job. He may not care about the "dumb" BCS as he is quoted, but we know he cares about winning.

You have to think that Longhorns fans are scared of a coach who is never afraid to go for it on fourth down, regardless of the spot on the field. How could you not be? I'd fully expect to see something monumental and unbelievable happen in this game, after all, isn't that the Mike Leach we all know? It's the biggest game he's coached, why wouldn't he pull out his biggest surprise?

Texas Tech has been able to avoid the letdown loss, and now they need the signature win, or rather, the first of three signature wins needed this season to reach the Big 12 Championship.

 

Prediction

I was unsure of this game a few weeks ago. But after watching Texas struggle to put Oklahoma State away, and Texas Tech play a full game against Kansas, I have seen the light. The Texas Tech offense is the best in the nation.

The Texas Tech defense may ACTUALLY be improved this time, regardless of the fact that they say that every year. Graham Harrell is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and just having Michael Crabtree on the field opens it up for everything.

Texas is the most consistent, dominant team in the Big 12, but this stretch has really worn them down. Colt McCoy is a legitimate Heisman candidate, and at this moment, he is the winner.

But, you cannot expect Colt McCoy to lead the Longhorns at an absolute record pace forever. If the defense doesn't improve, and the running game doesn't become more consistent, his shoulders may shatter from all the hopes of the team, the city, the nation riding on them.

This game is going to be a shootout, I will guarantee you that. I was unsure of whether Oklahoma State and Texas would really score that much last week, and they didn't. I think that Texas will lose if they play as they did last weekend.

Those mistakes in the fourth quarter will not go without consequences against Texas Tech, every turnover will be a gamebreaker.

This is the spotlight that nobody believes Texas Tech should be in. Keep on talking, keep on giving them motivation, they love it. Underdogs against Kansas, that's cool, they'll just embarrass them at their homecoming. Undefeated only because they haven't played anybody?

That's okay, we'll just win every game. This is the moment Texas Tech wants, whether or not you think they belong.

 

Texas Tech over Texas- 45-35

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