Big 12: Lawrence 0809

Could Tech be the best suited to beat Texas?

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
7:27
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- They are already breathlessly calling Texas Tech's game with Texas next week the biggest game in the history of the school.

 
 Douglas Jones/US Presswire
 Mike Leach's Red Raiders face a tall order in Texas next Saturday.

First place in the Big 12 South will be up for grabs in the battle between two 8-0 teams. And still, Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree isn't caught up in the excitement yet.

"I don't feel hype, I just see footballs," Crabtree said. "Whatever they say, I don't listen to it."

Crabtree's attitude, although rather simplistic, might be the reason why this Tech team is suited to slay the monster from Austin better than most of coach Mike Leach's recent teams.

The top-ranked Longhorns have beaten Tech six out of the seven times they have met under Leach. It almost seems like the Longhorns have gotten into the Red Raiders' head with the way they have dominated them along both sides of the line of scrimmage during the recent run.

Texas has averaged nearly 46 points in the last seven games against Tech, including 59, 35, 52 and 51 points in the last four games.

But if Tech can follow the formula that marked their 63-21 victory over Kansas on Saturday, the Red Raiders are the team best suited to beat the Longhorns among Big 12 challengers.

The Red Raiders have developed balance in their running game that will force Texas to play them honestly. And their massive offensive line has only allowed three sacks this season, meaning they should be better able to neutralize top Texas pass-rushers like Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle.

If Tech can protect Harrell, it will give them the best chance to pick on young Texas safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas -- particularly with game-breaking receivers like Crabtree and Eric Morris roaming through the secondary.

And on defense, the Red Raiders appear to be peaking. They have allowed only 23 points in the last six quarters. During a span of 19 defensive possessions, the Red Raiders have allowed only three scoring plays and forced six turnovers.

"My thought is that it's another team and we'll do the best job we can against them," said Crabtree, who played through a sprained ankle to provide a team-best nine receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns. "It should be fun."

(Read full post)

McBath sparks Tech's turnover binge

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
6:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Darcel McBath had never experienced anything like it -- three interceptions in less than six minutes were bigger than anything he could have imagined. Even bigger than scoring multiple touchdowns in a matter of minutes back on the dusty playgrounds in his hometown of Gainesville, Texas.

 
  Douglas Jones/US Presswire
  Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing (5) is sacked by Texas Tech defensive end McKinner Dixon (43) during the first half at Memorial Stadium.

"It wasn't like pee-wee football or something," McBath said. "I was just glad I could make some plays when I had the chance."

Kansas' first three possessions of the second half were a turnover hat trick for McBath, leading to Tech's 63-21 blowout victory. And they typified the in-game adjustments that Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill has cooked up during recent games.

The Red Raiders struggled defensively against Nebraska two games ago and were torched for 274 yards in the first half against Texas A&M last week. But they limited the Aggies to no offensive points and 32 yards in the second half to spark a comeback victory.

This week, after the first four possessions of the game resulted in a 14-all deadlock, the Red Raiders followed the pattern of the last two games.

"They were calm in the A&M game and they were calm today," McNeill said. "These kids have big ears and big eyes and they just listened."

But none more than McBath, who had been blistered for two touchdowns by Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing earlier in the game.

"On the first one, I slipped on the backside and made it hard on Danny (Tech strong safety Daniel Charbonnet)," McBath said. "That was on me and the second one was on me, too."

The Tech secondary benefited from consistent four-man pressure provided by the defensive line. It didn't always produce sacks, but provided enough steady pressure that it clearly rattled Reesing as the game went on.

Reesing had thrown only five interceptions in 285 attempts coming into Saturday's game. But he was picked off three times by McBath during a span of four Kansas offensive snaps.

It enabled McBath to tie the school single-game record for interceptions that was set earlier this season by Charbonnet against SMU.

"I've never had that happen to me in a lot of years of football to have back-to-back mistakes like that," said Reesing, who also lost a fumble earlier in the game. "Sometimes, when things go bad, they go really bad. You can't sugarcoat them. We just didn't play well in the second half."

The biggest reason for the 42-0 blitz that enabled the Red Raiders to put the game away was the Tech defense. Kansas blistered Tech for 10 first downs in the first quarter. But during the pivotal run, Kansas was limited to two first downs, 15 plays and 19 yards.

"We adjusted on some things and the kids caught on well," McNeill said. "They didn't panic. They keep their poise and believed in what we tell them."

Williams perfect in nine PAT attempts

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
5:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach didn't think game-time pressure would affect the performance of his new walk-on kicker Matt Williams.

 
 AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
 Texas Tech kicker Matt Williams converted all of his PATs.

Leach remembered how Williams caught his attention to describe why his new kicker wouldn't be fazed by Big 12 play.

Williams won a free month of rent at a Lubbock condominium development earlier this season with a 30-yard attempt. So kicking closer ones for points after Tech's touchdowns would be much easier for Williams, Leach said.

"I thought the tough one was winning the free rent," Leach said. "You come out in your shorts and your street shoes and you have to kick a 30-yarder in front of 55,000 people. That was tough."

Williams converted all nine extra points after Tech's touchdowns. Leach didn't consider using him for Tech's only field goal attempt, a 43-yarder that Donnie Carona misfired early in the fourth quarter.

"Williams got his kicks up and we were encouraged by that," Leach said about Williams. "We had the opportunity to work with him and we were pleasantly surprised he was eligible. And he went out and did it today."

The new kicker is known by his teammates as "Lynwood," because that was the name of the apartment complex where he won the free rent. He has since turned down that offer because it would have affected his NCAA eligibility.

Tech sports information director Chris Cook implored Leach to make Williams available. But he was unable to arrange for interviews for him after the game.

"Sometimes Mike is like a guy with a new driver," Cook said. "He figures there's still a lot more big swings in that [club]. He doesn't want to mess it up."

Harrell's leadership paves way for huge Tech victory

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
5:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Graham Harrell never believed it would be possible.

Any thought of standing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter, wearing a ball cap and playfully bantering with his teammates for the final quarter was beyond the Texas Tech quarterback's comprehension in his preparations for Kansas earlier this week.

 
  AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
 Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell directs his receivers during the second half against Kansas. Tech defeated Kansas, 63-21.

"No way, not against those guys," Harrell said. "Their offense and defense were too good. You don't think you can do anything like that."

Tech and Harrell might have proven something to everybody else and themselves during their landmark 63-21 beatdown over Kansas.

Playing like the nation's most efficient offense, the Red Raiders blew a good Kansas team out of their own stadium. Tech put the game away by scoring touchdowns on its first five possessions of the game and eight of the 10 drives when he was in charge.

And then after a short possession of only 31 seconds before halftime where they were trying to kill the clock, the Red Raiders went into a feeding frenzy to put away the Jayhawks and send the North Division leaders crashing to their worst home loss in seven seasons.

Harrell directed three scoring drives to start the second half, putting them so far ahead that the senior quarterback could have sauntered into the stands with Tech fans if he had wanted.

By then Memorial Stadium had been emptied of most of the Kansas faithful. And the biggest reason was the play of Harrell, who helped the Tech offense top 550 yards of total offense for the seventh time in nine games this season.

Although he's seldom mentioned in the same breath as players like Colt McCoy of Texas and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Harrell played Saturday like he deserves to be in New York City for the Heisman presentation in early December.

He made it look easy on Saturday, hitting 21 of his first 23 passes as he finished with 386 passing yards and five touchdowns. Harrell ran for another score and converted nine of their first 12 third-down plays that sparked the offensive tsunami that resulted in Tech's biggest scoring game of the season.

Tech coach Mike Leach said he would have been similarly shocked if somebody had predicted the wide margin of the game. But he said that it's not surprising considering the development of Harrell during his three seasons as a starter.

"I would have been surprised because they are a pretty good team," Leach said. "But I keep telling everybody about how good Graham is. He just keeps getting better and better each week. And he's still improving as well."

Harrell's 55-yard scoring toss to Edward Britton that started the scoring binge enabled Harrell to move into fourth place in the NCAA career passing list past Phillip Rivers of North Carolina State.

When he came out of the game he had added to his total, and now has 13,829 passing yards. He is in line to move past Colt Brennan into third place with a big game next week against Texas.

Ah, yes. Texas. The team that Harrell still has never beaten and that remains in the driver's seat for the South Division title. That challenge will be the biggest test of Harrell's career and the kind of landmark game that could get him mentioned for the national awards at the end of the season.

If Tech plays like it did Saturday, Harrell likes his chances of finally taking down the Longhorns.

"If we play like we did today, we're tough to beat," Harrell said. "And if we do that, we've got a chance to be special and compete against anybody we're playing against."

Texas Tech cruising to easy victory

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
3:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- I'm headed down to the locker room to hear if Mike Leach has anything witty to say about the beatdown his team is delivering to Kansas. It's 63-21 with 3:42 left as the Red Raiders are steamrolling to their showdown with Texas next week in Lubbock.

Kansas is enduring its worst home beating since a 62-0 debacle against Kansas State in coach Mark Mangino's first season in 2002.

I'll check back after the game.

Third quarter: Texas Tech 56, Kansas 14

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Is there such a thing as a mercy rule in college football?

Rule makers might consider such an amendment as we enter play in the fourth quarter. Texas Tech has already proved the legitimacy of their top 10 ranking and is cruising with a 56-14 lead.

After getting a defensive lift to put them ahead in the second quarter, Texas Tech's offense provided the knockout punch as expected after the break. Graham Harrell had passed for 386 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for another.

The binge was fueled by three third-quarter interceptions by safety Darcel McBath. The Red Raiders have raced away on a 42-0 scoring binge since the end of the first quarter.

The beating has become so one-sided that a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium that was packed with Kansas fans has been streaming to the exits. The stadium is barely half-full as we begin play for the fourth quarter.

McBath's third-quarter production has continued a miserable day for Todd Reesing, who had thrown only five picks in 280 attempts coming into the game. Reesing had three in a period of less than 10 minutes in the third quarter to go with a fumble in the first half.

About the only encouragement for Kansas were back-to-back sacks late in the third quarter. Harrell had been sacked only once in more than 350 passing attempts.

I'm wondering how much longer Leach will keep Harrell in the game. Those last two plays should be a sign that maybe he should watch the rest of the game from the bench so he's ready for Texas next week.

Halftime update: Tech 35, KU 14

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
1:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The biggest question coming into the game was how Texas Tech's defense would play against a good offense.

After 30 minutes, defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill's unit has answered that question with ringing authority.

The Red Raiders have contributed three third-down stops and a critical fumble recovery to provide the difference in Tech's convincing 35-14 halftime advantage over sputtering Kansas.

Tech's defensive front has been able to pressure Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing with a four-man rush, contributing three third-down stops and a sack that turned into a fumble that was turned into the Red Raiders' final touchdown drive.

The Red Raiders have played offense with cold-blooded efficiency, scoring five touchdowns on their first five possessions in the half before failing on their final possession at the end of the half.

Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has barely been pressured. He's taken advantage of his pass blocking to complete 22 of 26 passes for 274 yards for four touchdowns, involving seven receivers in his mix.

And Tech's underrated running game has provided a lift with 87 rushing yards and 7.9 yards per carry to keep the Kansas defense off balance and keep Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen harried for an answer.

For good measure, Harrell even contributed a season-best 13-yard scramble that helped extend a scoring drive early in the second quarter.

Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams is quickly becoming a footnote -- literally and figuratively. His only action has been on five extra points and he's converted all of them without a problem.

1Q update: Texas Tech 14, Kansas 14

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
12:52
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Welcome to Memorial Stadium, where defensive stops will be as rare today as anywhere in the Big 12 this season.

Quarterbacks Graham Harrell and Todd Reesing are taking turns riddling opposing secondaries in a wild 14-14 shootout after one quarter.

The two teams have combined for 311 total yards, 15 first downs and 236 yards passing so far.

The difference in the game is Tech's opening "rise" as defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill likes to call them. That three-and-out was the only time that either offense failed to score on its possession and the only punt that has been forced so far.

And with Tech set to receive the ball to start the second half, it gives them the biggest advantage so far.

Kansas has attacked the Tech offense by trying to boost athleticism by switching wide receiver Daymond Patterson to cornerback. But it hasn't helped much yet.

Kansas' pass rush has been slowed after freshman defensive tackle Richard Johnson went down with an injury to his left knee. Johnson hobbled off the field and hasn't been back yet. His injury is critical because he's replacing starter Caleb Blakesley at the position.

Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams has shown no jitters, converting both extra points with plenty of room to spare.

Pre-game report from Lawrence

October, 25, 2008
10/25/08
11:07
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Welcome to Memorial Stadium, where Mike Leach's grand experiment about special teams will be played out today.

Texas Tech walk-on kicker Matt Williams, who less than a month ago won an in-game kicking contest at Jones AT&T Stadium for a month of free rent, will get his shot today at an even bigger prize. Williams will start the day kicking extra points for the Red Raiders in what should be an offensive shootout.

After missing six extra points and four field goals this season, Leach decided he needed a change for today's game against Kansas. It will mark Leach's third different kicker for extra points in three weeks, as he benched scholarship kicker Donnie Carona after struggles against Nebraska two weeks ago and Cory Fowler after he had two kicks blocked last week against Texas A&M.

Leach told me earlier this week that he's confident in Williams, but still might consider going for two points after each touchdown, depending on how the Red Raiders' kicking game progresses.

"I'm thinking it might not be such a bad idea," Leach said. "I guarantee you that you would make it more than half the time if you work enough on those plays. All you are doing is getting the ball from the 3-yard line. We do that all the time."

That confidence provides Leach with assurance that his teams would convert a two-point play at least 50 percent of the time. And that would equal the points that would accrue with kicks after touchdowns.

"If you could put up with the streaks, it would be the big thing," Leach said. "You might not hit two or three in a row. But I'm thinking you'd be more successful than not. And the ultimate idea is putting more points on the board, isn't it?"

Sometimes, I'm not sure when Leach is having a stream-of-consciousness thought and when he's pulling my leg. So it will be interesting to see how the Red Raiders approach their kicking game today.

I have no idea what would happen if the Red Raiders need a crucial conversion in a potentially tight contest later this afternoon.

Here are some other things I'm watching for:

Kansas' patience running the ball: The Jayhawks had much offensive success with Jake Sharp running against Oklahoma last week. After pulling within 31-24 on a drive early in the third quarter after Sharp was featured prominently, he was pulled from the game because of his blocking deficiencies. Oklahoma blew the game open at that point. Kansas coach Mark Mangino must be more patient than that today.

Tech's running game: The Red Raiders are averaging 5.5 yards per carry and have a nice two-back rotation in Shannon Woods and Baron Batch. But Tech hasn't run against a Big 12 defense that figures to be as stout as Kansas will be, making this challenge even more pressing. The Red Raiders last five opponents have ranked 109th (SMU), 98th (Massachusetts, FBS), 100th (Kansas State), 48th (Nebraska) and 106th (Texas A&M) against the rush. So it will be much tougher for them today.

Improved Kansas tackling: The Jayhawks noticeably tired last week when they played Oklahoma. After a full week of contact in practice, Kansas players say they are better suited for what will be a similarly tough offense challenge against the Red Raiders.

Something's got to give: Tech has a nine-game winning streak that is tied for the longest in the nation along with Penn State and Utah. The Red Raiders' most recent loss came last Nov. 10 at Texas.

Kansas comes into the game with a 13-game home winning streak. That streak includes six Big 12 foes during that period, although none have been ranked. The Jayhawks' most recent home loss came on Nov. 13, 2004, when Vince Young and Texas pulled out a miraculous 27-23 triumph.

The Series: Saturday's game will match two coaching protégés of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Mangino and Leach were on Stoops' first coaching staff at Oklahoma, where Leach was the passing game coordinator and Mangino directed the offensive line.

Leach is 2-0 in his previous games against Mangino. And Tech is 9-1 against Kansas in the history of the series, including all five previous games in Lawrence.

Injuries: Today's game will match two of the most secretive programs in the Big 12 in terms of releasing injuries. But a few notable players have been dinged up in recent games. The biggest concern is Tech All-American wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who sprained his ankle while returning a kickoff last week against Texas A&M. He played through the injury and is expected to play today. Starting defensive tackle Rajon Henley has missed the last two games with a knee injury and is considered questionable.

Kansas defensive tackle Caleb Blakesley is considered questionable with a leg injury.

Weather: It's an almost perfect day without a cloud in the sky. I finally felt my first cold snap coming into the stadium this season and it was great. Temperatures should be in the high 40s at kickoff and rise into the low 60s as the game progresses. Wind could be a factor with gusts of up to 20 mph from the west throughout the day. There is no chance of rain.

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