Harrell rebounds from early struggles with strong finish

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
2:58
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- It hadn't been the best of nights for Graham Harrell, who had the scrapes and bruises to prove it.

The Tech quarterback had struggled through a miserable first half, completing only four of his first 10 passes. It wasn't much better after halftime as the Red Raiders just didn't seem to be clicking against an aggressive and opportunistic Nevada defense that was in his face throughout the game.

"During the first half we were sloppy and just out of rhythm," Harrell said. "After halftime, we still weren't in a great rhythm, but we did start playing better. And we were able to come out with the win."

Harrell turned the game around after his early struggles, hooking up on an 82-yard TD pass to Michael Crabtree early in the fourth quarter that served as the clinching blow in the Red Raiders' 35-19 victory over Nevada.

The play appeared to be there throughout the game as Crabtree had a size and speed advantage over Nevada cornerbacks who had no starts coming into the season. But Harrell invariably overthrew the Biletnikoff Award winner throughout the game.

"We just had a miscommunication earlier," Harrell said. "It just seemed like we were a little off all night. We missed some opportunities and it was frustrating. But we knew we could get it if we tried again."

Harrell finished by completing 19 of 46 passes for 297 yards. Much of the yardage was accounted for on two huge plays to Crabtree -- the 82-yard TD strike and a 50-yarder that set-up another score.

Despite his early struggles, Harrell didn't lose his confidence. He kept firing despite facing his worst demons as the incompletions continued to pile up.

"You could see he was getting a little frustrated but he didn't let it get to him," Tech freshman receiver Tramain Swindall said. "He was still a strong leader in the huddle and was convinced things would work out. He just kept firing."

Earlier in his career, Harrell said he might have cratered after such a struggling early start. In the third game of the 2006 season, he withered under a forceful TCU defense that held the Red Raiders out of the end zone in a 12-3 loss.

"The first part of that game reminded me a little bit of that," Harrell said. "I was a little bit off. But we came out of it and they couldn't stop us much down the stretch in the fourth quarter. That was good to see."

That game remains the last time that Tech has failed to score an offensive touchdown in a game. And the comparison to the Harrell of then to now is much different, according to Tech coach Mike Leach.

"The way he came back tonight kind of makes him what he is and the kind of career he's had," Leach said. "I can't think of anybody who really compares to him with regards to that, even historically. Part of it is that he stays in there, keeps believing in himself and doesn't collapse. There were a lot times like that tonight and he didn't."

Outside of a late interception and the final throwaway possession at the end of the game, Tech scored touchdowns on three of the last five times it touched the ball.

What a difference a couple of years have made for Harrell.

"We were just a little off offensively for most of the game before we settled down," Harrell said. "But we were really close. We could have scored 60 or 70 points, but we were just a little off. They didn't show us what we weren't expecting. It's something we'll learn from and go on."

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