The Progression of a Gunslinger: Profiling Graham Harrell's Season to Date
The suspense of this weekend's upcoming game is killing me, so I am writing to pass the time, forgive me. I am going to focus on Graham Harrell's season to this point, giving brief recaps of what I saw in every game. (Boy, remember the younger Harrell in that picture?)
Harrell has finally grown into what we all hoped he would become. Throughout the last 2.5 years, Harrell has not only become more confident in the pocket, but more confident changing plays at the line when necessary. That, to me, has been the big difference this season, as his improved reads have contributed a hell of a lot to our offensive success.
Harrell has not only improved himself, but also the players around him. He has developed parts of the game he lacked as a sophomore and improved skills he already possessed. He has this team thinking about a national championship.
Game One vs. Eastern Washington
43-58, 536 Yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 74.1 percent, 9.2 YPA, one rushing TD
He started the season with a strong game yardage-wise against EWU but looked off his game a bit. His passes weren't that sharp, and an interception against a FCS school in the season opener surprised more than a few people. He spread the ball out nicely, and most people saw the yardage total and chalked it up as a good day, while the rest just shrugged it off as early season rust.
Harrell led the offense to scores on 50 percent of their possessions (7/14), although two missed field goals added to that low percentage. The rushing game, though amassing 100 yards, struggled mightily to stay consistent and alleviate the rush off Harrell. A decent game to start the season, though the game was closer than many would have hoped. B-
Game Two @ Nevada
19-46, 297 Yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 41.3 percent, 6.5 YPA
A road game against Nevada only got worse for Graham, as he had arguably the worst game of his career. His passes were flying off target, mostly overthrows, and he looked lost in the pocket and never got into rhythm in a game that should have been an easy win. He completed only 41 percent of his passes, a career low, and threw two interceptions coupled with just a single touchdown.
In a game that Tech should have used to show that they could actually beat their only "decent" OOC opponent, the offense struggled, with Harrell in the middle of the struggle. I have to say, it looked like the sophomore Graham Harrell out there, and at that point I doubted Tech would contend at all in the Big 12. In fact, I was scared we might not even come away with a victory.
Harrell led them to scoring drives on four of their 13 possessions, though no two were bigger than on Tech's first drives of the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away. Harrell was an unimpressive 5-12 for 114 yards, one touchdown, and an interception in the fourth quarter, but luckily it was enough to sneak away with a victory. Easily Graham's worst game of the season. D-
Game Three vs. SMU
31-48, 418 Yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions, 64.6 percent, 8.7 YPA
A game that Mike Leach publicly criticized his offense after, Harrell had his best game of the season statistically but still wasn't as good as he was at the end of the 2007 season. There were too many off-target passes, and he was taking too much time to get the ball off. Because the game was never in doubt from the beginning, though, it didn't matter much in the end.
Harrell and Crabtree together had another big game, but it seemed that Harrell was trying to force it to Crabtree too often. He was far too zoned in on a single receiver and let the defense know it. It's a good thing that SMU is no defensive powerhouse.
The ease with which Harrell was able to pass can be attributed to the successful run game. The first in a streak of efficient games running the ball, it helped take the pressure off Harrell early and often.
Harrell was steadily improving, but when even your coach publicly calls you out for having a big head, you realize something needs to improve. B
Game Four vs. Massachusetts
27-34, 322 Yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions, 79.4 percent, 9.5 YPA
The first game where Harrell and the receivers seemed to all be on the same page. This game was won early, and Harrell was able to relax and settle into the pocket unlike in earlier games.
A weak defense made him look better than he was, but it was Harrell's best game of the season up to that point. He was efficient in getting rid of the ball, never taking unnecessary time in the pocket, and his reads were accurate all night.
Sadly, as somebody hoping that Harrell could pad his stats in order to make up for the poor showing against Nevada, it wasn't happening. Before the season, everybody was so set on 6,000 yards—yet now that we are undefeated, isn't it funny that it is no longer a big deal? B+
Game Five @ Kansas State
38-51, 454 Yards, six touchdowns, zero interceptions, 74.5 percent, 8.9 YPA, one rushing TD
Harrell could not have had a more perfect day passing the ball and leading the offense down the field. True, ALL OF US could score on the KSU defense, but Harrell silenced most naysayers with this game. He could have finished with 600 yards and nine touchdowns, I have no doubt in my mind.
He was releasing balls quickly in the pocket, hitting receivers just as their routes were materializing, leading Crabtree perfectly to burn the defense, and checking out of plays left and right. This game gave me confidence that we could be for real and Harrell could be even more legitimate. He found a way to play to Lyle Leong's strengths and get him into the end zone three times.
It was even more impressive than his game last season against Oklahoma State (though I now pretend that game never happened). A+
Game Six vs. Nebraska
20-25, 284 Yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, 80 percent, 11.4 YPA, one rushing TD
Not much to say about Harrell in this game. He rarely saw the field but was exceptionally efficient when he did. Extra points for the great pass on fourth down to Crabtree, and even more points for keeping his composure where, in the past, he would have been frustrated being on the sidelines so long and would have tried to force something.
Having the discipline to come out and run the offense with poise and no sense of urgency in a game where it was obvious they should be worried was a pleasant surprise. Watching Harrell mature throughout the season has been one of the joys of this Texas Tech team.
Also, noticing Crabtree's ability to open up the field has been a plus. Multiple times in this game, Harrell pumped or head-faked to Crabtree and got a defender to bite, opening up a pass somewhere else.
Another learning experience not only for Tech players, but for fans as well, was the sign that this really may be the season we don't let an easy win slip away. A-
Game Seven @ Texas A&M
44-56, 450 Yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions, 78.6 percent, 8.0 YPA, two rushing TDs
This game was up and down in many aspects. He threw two interceptions but also completed passes at a high percentage and spread the ball well. It was obvious Harrell was seeing the field well. Being able to stand in the pocket for 10 seconds every play will do that for you sometimes, am I right?
After Crabtree went out with an injury, I was afraid our offense would fall apart, but the other receivers did a nice job of filling in, and Harrell did a wonderful job acting as if Tramain Swindall was actually Michael Crabtree.
The first interception was the worst play of the season, by far. It is the pass that Harrell has made in both his sophomore and junior seasons that comes back to haunt us. Instead of taking a sack or throwing it away, he throws it, well, UP. I never want to see it again.
The second interception was actually a dropped ball by Crabtree that ended up being grabbed from off his arms by an A&M defender, and I was hoping that they would rule it as a fumble, but didn't.
Harrell was efficient in the red zone and took advantage of the time given to him to find the open receiver. He still had a few forced passes, and it looked reminiscent of the game against EWU at times, but he played well when it mattered, and Tech came away with a win. B
Game Eight @ Kansas
34-42, 386 Yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions, 81 percent, 9.2 YPA, one rushing TD
The game that many analysts looked at and gave Harrell credit as a potential Heisman candidate. The second-best game of the year, other than the showing against Kansas State, Harrell was firing on all cylinders (never used that expression before and wanted to get it out there to make myself seem more knowledgeable—did it work?).
He read the field exceptionally well, especially to start the game with the pass to Britton. He was quick with his decisions, never hesitating, which is what the spread requires: mistake-free, hesitation-free quarterbacks, able to take advantage of a slight opening and hoping to turn it into more.
Though he missed a few open receivers downfield, in a game as lopsided as this one turned out to be, you can't blame him.
Once again, he didn't miss a beat when Crabtree was out of the game, and he used the screen pass more sparingly, which I think makes it even more effective. This is the type of game we want Harrell to play as the season goes along. Don't repeat too many packages—variety will be the key to success against Texas. A
Things Harrell Still Needs To Eliminate
The chunk-up and the repetition of plays.
Things Harrell Has Improved Mightily
Pocket composure and changing the play at the line of scrimmage.
My Overall Take on Harrell This Season
Extremely positive. He's playing, at this point, better than I hoped he would be. The sky is the limit, though these next three games will make or break his career.
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