Saturday, November 1, 2008
Waiting for kickoff in Lubbock
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
LUBBOCK, Texas -- To say tonight is a big game at Jones Stadium wouldn't do justice to hyperbole.
It's so big that for the first time in recorded history, a scout from the Rose Bowl has ventured to Jones AT&T Stadium to cover the game for bowl purposes.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said he has been inundated with more media requests than any time during his career. And he still didn't relent and let Graham Harrell or Michael Crabtree talk to any out-of-town media members.
Texas arrives in the final game of a final stretch of four games against top 12 opponents. No team has been able to make that stretch against top teams since Notre Dame in 1943. If the Longhorns can win tonight, they would appear to have a relatively easy finish until the Big 12 championship game.
Tech's 8-0 start is its best since 1976 and has stretched a 10-game winning streak that is tied for the best in the nation. The Red Raiders will be taking a perfect record into November for the first time since 1938. But the program will still have doubters until it can topple Texas and climb into the BCS discussion.
Heading into the game, here are some things I'm looking for:
- The Heisman chase: Colt McCoy can put a hammerlock on becoming the first Texas quarterback in history to win the Heisman with a strong performance tonight. But a big outing and a victory by Harrell could throw the competition back open. Harrell needs a victory to show that he's not merely a "system quarterback" in Leach's passing offense. And he has a nice finishing schedule that will enable him to keep his profile before voters -- if he can win tonight.
- Can Tech come up with some big stops on defense?: Texas has lined up and dominated the Red Raiders in the past, particularly in the past two seasons. In those games, Texas has clicked on 17 of 27 third-down plays and 5-of-5 fourth down attempts against the Red Raiders. Getting a key third-down stop early in the game would be huge for their confidence and to get the sellout crowd into the game
- Tech's kicking game: Walk-on kicker Matt Williams was 9-for-9 kicking point after touchdowns last week, but still hasn't tried a field goal. The Red Raiders' kicking game is spotty as Donnie Carona has converted only three of eight attempts. Leach has hinted that he might be willing to try Williams on shorter attempts. But Tech's kicking will be a question and I can't see them winning a game on a tight attempt in the final minutes or overtime.
- Texas' running game: The Longhorns have pounded Tech in the trenches in recent seasons, but they don't have a feature back like Cedric Benson or Jamaal Charles to provide key carries. Mack Brown has gotten around that with a backfield-by-committee grouping that's resulted in Colt McCoy becoming Texas' leading rusher. It will also be tougher to run against Tech, which is allowing only 101 yards per game and is 14th nationally.
- Watch if Texas can dictate the clock: The best way to beat Tech is to keep their offense off the field. Nebraska nearly used that strategy in an overtime loss here earlier this season where the Cornhuskers controlled the clock for 40:12. If Texas can do that tonight, they've got a great chance to extend what might be the most significant statistic I've seen. The Longhorns are 90-2 under Brown when they've produced at least 400 yards and 62-0 when producing at least 200 rushing yards.
WEATHER: It's an ideal day for football with temperatures currently in the high 70s. The temperatures are expected to drop before leveling out in the low-60s late in the game. Wind will not be a factor, as it can occasionally be in this stadium. It's expected to be from the south at 5 to 10 mph. Humidity is only 15 percent and there is no chance of any precipitation expected.
INJURIES: Texas' biggest concern is cornerback Chykie Brown, who missed last week with an ankle injury. If he can't go tonight, he'll be replaced by Curtis Brown.
Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree's sprained ankle has gotten better, but he's still not likely to be at 100 percent. Crabtree was injured returning a kickoff against Texas A&M two weeks ago. And starting defensive tackle Rajon Henley has been sidelined for the last two games with a knee injury. Junior Richard Jones would start in front of him if he can't go tonight.