November 9, 2007

Questions abound as Tech heads to Austin

Improbable as it may seem, the Texas Tech Red Raiders still have an outside shot at a 10-win season. Despite the heartbreak loss in Stillwater, the implosion in Columbia and the inexplicable meltdown against Colorado, if Tech wins out they'll finish the season a borderline fantastic 10-3. To keep this hope alive, however, the Red Raiders will have to take care of some rather nasty business against the #15 Texas Longhorns in Austin. But if they do, the season-ender against Oklahoma in Lubbock will shape up as a battle royal and a winnable one at that.

Is Austin to Tech what Lubbock is to A&M?

The Texas A&M Aggies are nursing a seven-game losing streak to Tech in Lubbock while the Red Raiders have dropped five straight to the Horns in Austin. It is quite apparent that the Aggies have developed a dread complex about the trip to Lubbock, and that this mental block has contributed to the losing streak. Tech may or may not have developed a similar malady, but if they have, it is a disability they can scarcely afford against a potent, talented and experienced team playing before its home crowd.

How Does Aaron Crawford Respond to the Pressure?

The Texas game will be the third straight starting assignment for Tech's talented freshman running back. The first, however, came at home against Colorado and Crawford carried the ball all of two times. The second came on the road against the lowly Baylor Bears. Playing the Longhorns in Austin before an ABC television audience will be a whole other animal. If the Red Raiders are to have a shot at winning this one, Crawford simply cannot crack under pressure. And that means far more than just running the ball effectively. Equally important, Crawford must continue to prove a reliable receiver out of the backfield, he must pass protect well enough to prevent Graham Harrell from being bludgeoned, and he must secure the ball. The latter is extremely important. The Red Raiders must win the turnover battle in order to win the game.

How Does Tech Hold Charles and McCoy in Check?

Not easily, that's for sure. Jamaal Charles is as hot as any running back in America right now, while Colt McCoy has the wheels to hurt defenses badly from the quarterback position. Tech did a very respectable job on the A&M tandem of Stephen McGee and Mike Goodson earlier this season and they'll need to reprise it. The chore this time around is much tougher, however, because McCoy is also a good passer. Consistently flooding the box with defenders, therefore, is not the viable option that it was against the Aggies. That said, I would expect the Red Raiders to load up against the run a great deal, possibly even spy McCoy on obvious passing downs, and force Texas to beat them with the pass. Tech will obviously surrender some points, but if they can contain them to the lower 30s they'll have a shot at the win.

Will the Red Raiders Play with the Necessary Intensity and Urgency?

Mike Leach's well-worn philosophy is to treat one game just like every other game. He does not want his team to go through emotional highs and lows depending upon whom they are playing. This is probably sound strategy, but one wonders if it is capable of catalyzing the sort of effort necessary to defeat teams of equal or better talent such as the Longhorns. To win in Austin the Red Raiders cannot just go through the motions as they did in Columbia or the result will be yet another humiliating blowout.

Will LeacHarrell Stick with the Run?

It has become the communis opinio doctorum that for the Air Raid to function at peak efficiently it must pack some semblance of a running game. In the team's two most recent losses, the ground game was scarcely established before it was abandoned. A crucial measure of Tech's offensive success will be evidenced in the first quarter of the game against Texas. Namely, will LeacHarrell persevere with a healthy dose of runs even if a few of them get stuffed early on? Or will LeacHarrell chuck the run at the first sign of adversity? If the former, I believe the Red Raiders will hang with the Horns. If the latter, we can expect a loss by two touchdowns or more.

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