Thursday, November 8, 2007

Keys to the Game: Texas Tech Edition

The 8-2 Texas Longhorns, coming off their second straight come from behind victory, return home to DKR to take on the high powered attack of the 7-3 Texas Tech Red Raiders. Tech bounced back from two consecutive losses with a victory over Baylor, 38-7. For Texas to win their 5th straight game they will need to accomplish several Keys to the Game...

- Texas will need to get out to an early start against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The last two weeks, Texas has fallen behind big, first to Nebraska then to Oklahoma State. They were able to come from behind because Nebraska's offense isn't that formidable, and Oklahoma State tried to run out the clock far too early in the 4th quarter. Texas Tech's offense is #1 in the country, and they do it throwing the football, with the nation's best air attack at 492 yards per game. Having scored over 40 points in 7 of their 10 games, Texas Tech does not stop trying to put points on the board. Texas can't let Tech jump out to a big lead, because it will be too much to come back from.

- Texas' two losses this season have been because of crucial turnovers. The four against Kansas State and the two crucial ones against Oklahoma cost the Longhorns those games. Colt McCoy has been one of the main culprits this season, throwing 16 interceptions this year, the same number as his touchdowns. It is also a problem for the Red Raiders. In their two most recent losses, Graham Harrell was picked off 4 times in each of the two games. Both teams have given the ball away 21 times this year, and it has certainly kept the other team in games. Whichever team can take care of the football will put pressure on the opposing team's defense and force them to make a stop, something that you can expect either defense won't do with particular ease or frequency.

TURN 7's INTO 3's
- In Texas Tech's three losses, Graham Harrell has thrown for 397 yards, and over 400 yards in the other two. He is going to get his yards. Texas Tech is going to move the football up and down the field. The key for the Longhorns is when Texas Tech gets into the red zone, to tighten up and condense the space that Tech has available. If Texas can force Tech into some 3rd and long situations and come up to opportune stops, they will force Tech into field goals. Tech's kicker Alex Trlica is 8 of 15 this season, and is erratic at best, having missed half of his field goals from every distance. Texas needs to force the Red Raiders into two or three field goals and keep the Red Raiders under 40 points.

- In Texas Tech's three losses, the Red Raiders gave up 366, 212, and 217 yards on the ground. Their defense gives up 166 per game, and is in the bottom half of the nation in rush defense, while their pass defense is 9th in the nation. Texas needs to get Jamaal Charles 30 carries and control the game early and often. If Texas can win the time of possession and use Charles, McGee, and Ogbonnaya to attack the Raiders defense with at least 50 carries, Texas will tire out the Tech defense as well as keep the offense off the field. This is necessary because Texas is in the bottom half of the country in Pass defense, giving up 248 yards a game through the air.

- Harrell had looked unstoppable for most of the season, until their two games against Missouri and Colorado, where he threw 4 interceptions each game. Both defenses mixed up their coverages and were able to get some pressure on the quarterback. It apparently caused Harrell problems and he was uncharacteristically inaccurate. Texas needs to be able to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four since they will more than likely need 7 to be dropping back into coverage.

- Texas Tech has an offense designed to spread the field and hit their receivers on quick crossing plays and force a defense to move laterally. If the Texas defense insists on three linebackers, especially two certain ones, noted for their immobility (Derry, Killebrew) Texas Tech will have a field day. If Texas sticks with one or two linebackers on the field, such as rotating Kindle, Norton, Muckelroy, and Bobino, and uses extra safeties and defensive backs, Texas will have a much more effective time matching up with Tech's speed. It might take a half or three quarters before Texas figures out that three big linebackers on the field is a bad idea.

- Though Tech's offense is designed to pick up 5 yards per play and methodically pick defenses a part, that is precisely the way to stop their attack as well. Forcing Tech to convert third downs is the only way to stop their offense. Forcing the Red Raiders into third and long is difficult but it is about the only way to stop their offense. Texas needs to limit the run after the catch, and punish the receivers with every reception. If they can force incompletions through hard hits and drops, Texas will make things more difficult. But if Texas Tech can turn the game into a track meet and pick up 15 yards a play, it will be a long, high scoring day for the Raiders. Also, Texas needs to know where Michael Crabtree is at all times. He has 104 receptions, 1,512 yards, and 18 touchdowns. Those numbers are unreal, and Crabtree is a big target that has figured out how to find holes in the zone. Texas can't let him have a 10 catch, 170 yard, 3 TD day.

Texas seems to have figured out the Tech offense somewhat, having won 4 straight matchups. But Texas Tech does well when Texas' talent isn't NFL caliber on defense. In Texas' Rose Bowl seasons of '04 and '05, Texas won 51-21 and 52-17 in blow outs. But in years where the talent level hasn't been 5-star, Tech has made the games much closer losing by 3 in 2003 and by 4 in 2006. This year's defense is probably the worst that the Longhorns has had since they lost 42-38 in 2002. Texas will need to catch some breaks along the way, but they have to play much better than they have the past three weeks to get the victory.

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