Success spurs Tech's confidence against Oklahoma

November, 20, 2008
11/20/08
2:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Taurean Henderson's hotly debated touchdown against Oklahoma in 2005 was more significant than merely providing Texas Tech with a controversial victory to finish that regular season.

The Red Raiders' conquest in that game was the first time that Mike Leach had beaten his mentor Bob Stoops in six tries. Most significantly, it helped establish belief that the Red Raiders could play with the Sooners on a consistent basis.

"That was a huge play for this program," Tech running backs coach Seth Littrell said. "It gave us a lot of confidence that we could play with anybody. And if you can beat those guys, you've got a chance to be really special."

 
 Douglas Jones/US Presswire
 Mike Leach and the Red Raiders visit Oklahoma riding a 12-game winning streak.

The Red Raiders have taken that play and used it to skyrocket to a place among national powers. They enter Saturday's game in Norman with a school-record 12-game winning streak this season and are sniffing at the school's first Big 12 South title and their first berth in a BCS bowl if they can keep winning.

But in order to continue their improbable run to an undefeated season, they will be facing the tallest of orders. Namely, to snap the longest home winning streak in college football as try to subdue the two-time defending Big 12 champions.

In the past, such thought would have been laughable considering the earlier struggles that Leach's team had with the Sooners.

Leach lost his first five games against the Sooners in games that were seldom competitive by a combined margin of 200-89. The Sooners outgained the potent Tech offense by an average of 138.5 yards per game the first four times that Leach coached against Stoops. Leach's pass-heavy offense barely dented a ferocious Oklahoma defense in its first three games against it, producing 8.7 rushing yards per game as the Red Raiders averaged 0.4 yards per carry in those games.

But the change in attitude among the Tech program is noticeable to Littrell, a former Sooner player who arrived in 2005 and has seen Tech's attitude transformed in recent seasons.

"It's always important to get that first win and that game was huge in that respect," Littrell said. "It got us to believing that those things are possible."

From there, the Red Raiders' confidence has only soared. They ran off 17 straight points in Norman in 2006, leading at halftime before losing 34-24.

And last year's game might be the best indicator. After spotting the Sooners an early touchdown, Tech took advantage of the absence of injured quarterback Sam Bradford to jump all over the Sooners early in the game. They eventually stretched their lead in that game to 27 points before Joey Halzle led a late charge back that resulted in Tech's 34-27 victory.

The Red Raiders will be looking to make some history as well as they try for their first victory in Norman since 1996. If they can win, it will mark the first time in school history the Red Raiders have beaten both Texas and Oklahoma in the same season.

"Our mentality now is that we can play with anybody," said Littrell, a member of the Sooners' 2000 national championship team. "Especially this year, we feel like we can do that to anybody."

Saturday's game will provide the ultimately challenge for Leach, who is 2-16 against ranked opponents on the road in his career with the Red Raiders. The Red Raiders snapped a 10-game losing streak to ranked ranked road opponents earlier this season when they beat Kansas.

And he'll be trying to take down the Big 12's most enduring dynasty in the process. Stoops is gunning for the first three-peat in Big 12 championship history and looking to stretch his home record to 60-2 with a victory on Saturday night.

"I don't worry about that a lot," Leach said. "Mostly, I worry about us and how we can play the best we can."

Stoops has appeared to be looking for any psychological edge he could find this week. He implored Oklahoma fans to make a lot of noise in the stadium with hopes of disrupting Tech's potent passing game.

Even those exhortations don't faze Tech senior tackle Rylan Reed, who traveled through the bush leagues of minor league baseball before starting his college football career.

"We're just excited about an opportunity to play at their place," Reed said. "There would be no better place to beat them than at their house. And I think this group is so focused that all of that other stuff won't bother us much. We'll be ready."

Reed thought back to his baseball career for a comparison to what he will be expecting on Saturday night in Norman from the rowdy crowd at Owen Field.

"I love it," Reed told reporters earlier this week. "It reminds me of the old Thirsty Thursdays in minor league baseball where you get beer thrown at you."

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