Three days before America decides whether Barack Obama or John McCain should be president, the No. 1 Texas Longhorns will battle the No. 7 Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock to determine who will take the Big 12 South Lead.
For the second time in four years, Texas and Texas Tech both enter the game with undefeated seasons. In 2005, both teams were 6-0 playing in Austin, and the Longhorns were victorious 52-17 en route to a national championship.
Things have changed for both teams since then, as most of the key players from those teams have graduated or gone pro.
Senior quarterback Graham Harrell is once again having a strong season and can prove his Heisman candidacy in this game. Currently Harrell is sixth in passing rating (167.43), first in passing yards (3,147), third in completion percentage (71 percent), and third in touchdown passes (28).
Besides the Heisman, Harrell is also a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award for Best Quarterback.
For Tech to win, Harrell must continue to throw the ball well, not force it into coverage, and avoid sacks.
Tech in 2007 only produced 737 rushing yards. This season they have produced 1,108, which is 61st in the NCAA.
Baron Batch has 537 yards rushing on 72 carries for an average of 7.5 yards per carry, which leads the Big 12. Batch has also scored four touchdowns, and his longest rush is 49 yards. Shannon Woods has 481 yards on 92 carries for 5.2 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns.
If Tech can mix the run with the pass, they can keep the Longhorns’ defense off balance and be able to close out the game if Tech has the lead.
After Michael Crabtree showed the NCAA what he was capable of in 2007, he was not able to fly under the radar this year. Crabtree has drawn more double teams this season but has still put up 60 receptions for 794 yards and 14 touchdowns.
With Crabtree gaining more attention from opposing defenses, that has allowed more receivers to get touches. Tech has eight receivers with at least 10 receptions and nine with at least one touchdown.
Eric Morris has contributed 42 receptions for 452 yards and four touchdowns. Detron Lewis has caught 45 passes for 579 yards, and Tramain Swindall has caught 31 passes for 370 yards. Batch and Woods have contributed to the passing game with a combined 39 receptions for 502 yards.
With Harrell having many options to throw the football to, it will make it tough for the Longhorns to key on one receiver.
Since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator, the Red Raiders’ defense has gotten tougher with each game. The Red Raiders are tied for third in interceptions with 14. Darcel McBath is tied for second with five and Daniel Charbonnet is seventh with four. McBath and Charbonnet hold the school record with three interceptions in one game.
Tech’s defense is 56th in yards allowed per game, 14th in rush yards per game, 98th in pass yards per game, and 41st in points per game. Tech will need their defense to be able to stop Colt McCoy and the Texas offense to give their offense a chance to put points on the board.
The special teams unit has had its difficulties for the Red Raiders. Tech has missed six extra points this season, and one of those nearly cost them the game vs. Nebraska. Walk-on kicker Matt Williams may solve the Red Raiders' problems on extra points, as he was nine-for-nine against Kansas.
The Red Raiders are four-for-nine on field goals, but this will have a limited effect on the Red Raiders since Mike Leach likes to go for it on fourth down. The Red Raiders' tendency to attempt fourth downs also has affected the punting game since they have only punted 14 times. Tech is 115th in the nation in punt average with 35.1 yards.
Another big key for Tech will be blocking out the media coverage and outside influences of this game. This is the first time Texas Tech has hosted ESPN College GameDay, and the last time they were undefeated against Texas, some of Tech’s players got distracted with coverage and it showed on the field.
Junior quarterback Colt McCoy is having a dominant season for the No. 1 Longhorns. McCoy is second in quarterback rating (186.46), 12th in passing yards (2,285), first in completion percentage (81.8), and 10th in touchdown passes (21).
McCoy is definitely the leader for the Heisman and must limit mistakes against Tech. The senior must keep his offense moving and his counterpart Harrell on the sidelines.
The Longhorns' running game lost some ground with Jamaal Charles turning pro. McCoy is the leading rusher with 412 yards on 80 carries and seven touchdowns. Senior Chris Ogbonnaya has 309 yards on 55 carries and three touchdowns. Sophomore Vondrell McGee adds 270 yards on 64 carries and two touchdowns.
The Longhorns need to establish a good ground game against the Red Raiders' defense so they can keep them on the field.
Seniors Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby dominate the Longhorns' receivers. Shipley has 58 receptions for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cosby has 56 receptions for 688 yards and four touchdowns. Ogbonnaya contributes 32 receptions for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
These three receivers need to make sure they get open for McCoy, or it could be a long day for the offense.
The Longhorns possess a strong rushing defense, as they have only allowed their opponents 69.3 yards per game. However, Oklahoma State last week put up 217 yards and 5.9 yards per carry.
The Red Raiders have averaged 138 yards rushing and 5.4 yards per carry. The Longhorns need to stop the Red Raiders' running game and put pressure on the passing game to produce.
The Longhorns are one of the worst teams in pass defense, giving up an average of 265 yards, which ranks 112th in the nation. Tech leads the nation in passing yards per game with 414. The Longhorns' young secondary needs to step up, or it could be a long day.
The Longhorns also have rarely had to punt, only punting 24 times for an average of 43 yards, which ranks 19th in the nation. Hunter Lawrence has been perfect in the kicking game for the Longhorns, making all 43 extra points and all seven field goals. Lawrence is three-for-three from field goals longer than 40 yards, with his longest being 46.
The other keys for the Longhorns will be dealing with adversity. Last week’s game vs. Oklahoma State was really the first time Texas had faced adversity.
On the other hand, Tech had to overcome a bad game by Harrell against Nevada, Nebraska having the ball twice as long and forcing overtime, and Texas A&M forcing three turnovers and controlling the ball for 20 minutes in the first half. Tech should make the Longhorns fight to keep No. 1.
Unlike the presidential election, the Big 12 South will be far from being decided after this game. Tech, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma will still have challenges before they can clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game.