Big 12: Reno 082

Harrell rebounds from early struggles with strong finish

September, 7, 2008

Posted by'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."

Tech defense turns in dominating performance

September, 7, 2008
Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Something unusual happened as the Texas Tech players left the field.

Instead of hearing cheers for the Red Raiders' vaunted offense, the Tech defense received the biggest acknowledgement. Fans stood and chanted their names and roared for the defensive performance Saturday in a 35-19 victory over Nevada.

"It was kind of cool to hear that," Tech linebacker Bront Bird said. "It was a team victory and our offense stepped up when we needed them to. But it was neat to hear our fans chanting for the defense. I've never heard that anywhere I've played."

Nevada advanced eight times inside Tech's 26 in the first three quarters, but was came away with only four field goals to show for it.

"We hear about offense this and that," Tech junior defensive end Brandon Williams said. "But we're a team and we're trying to make a point to the world that our defense can play."

The Red Raiders bent but did not break. And their biggest play came early in the third quarter when the Wolf Pack was poised to take the lead.

On a fourth-down play from the Tech 3-yard line, Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick appeared to have scored -- officials initially ruled a touchdown that would put them ahead. But after a delay of several minutes as replays were consulted, game officials ruled that Kaepernick had fumbled before crossing the plane.

"I didn't know if we would get that or not," Daniel Charbonnet said. "I knew I had gotten the fumble, but I didn't know if the camera was able to see it. I was kind of worried. I said a few prayers, and thankfully it worked out."

The defensive play was a huge improvement from last week when the Red Raiders were singed for 341 passing yards in a 49-24 victory over FCS power Eastern Washington. Those struggles made them seeking redemption when they got their chance.

"We came up with big plays when it really mattered," Charbonnet said. "That showed the character of our defense and how far we've grown."

And it left Tech coach Mike Leach with a unique description of his group's play Saturday night.

"They started out as a lightning strike, became a beetle and then became an ape," he said. "Now, I hope they don't evolve too far because they may lose their edge.

"I thought they were pretty good [Saturday]. They need to play smarter, but if you subtract five big plays, it was a huge performance. It was one of the most dominant performances in the country this week."

Leach laments botched gambles

September, 7, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Texas Tech coach Mike Leach sounded like a lot of losers who come to Nevada intent on knowing their limits but never quite budgeting for them as they leave.

But after two botched fourth-down gambles that came up short deep in his own territory, Leach said he felt fortunate to escape Mackay Stadium with a 35-19 victory over Nevada.

"I thought I gambled stupid and it was just dumb," Leach said. "Being in Reno, I guess I got the bug. I was stuck in a hotel where you don't have any clocks and they were pumping oxygen in there. I thought it was my lucky day, we won the game."

Leach twice went on fourth down plays inside his own 30. But Aaron Crawford and Graham Harrell were stopped short to set the stage for two Nevada field goals that kept the Wolf Pack in the game.

But the Tech defense stepped up both times, keeping Nevada out of the end zone until the end of the game.

It made Leach appreciative of the gambles of Hall of Fame Nevada coach Chris Ault, who converted a couple of big plays that made the Tech coach marvel after the game.

"Chris probably gambled and has more expertise," Leach said. "He knows what not to do and he's been at it for a long time. I felt like they made us squander at least the first half and our defense bailed us out."

The earlier misses didn't keep Leach from gambling a third time, which proved to, finally, be lucky. Harrell converted a fourth-and-2 situation from the Nevada 36. Three plays later, Shannon Woods added a clinching 21-yard run that accounted for Tech's final touchdown.

Ault wasn't as lucky later in the game, when he failed to convert an onside kick after a field goal had cut the Tech margin to 14-12 late in the game.

Tech's superior talent eventually won out. But it didn't keep Leach from sounding like many tourists who bust out at the casinos intent on hitting a big score.

Unlike them, however, Leach still won what he ultimately set out to do when he arrived in the Silver State.

"We did win the game, but I'm down a couple of hundred bucks," Leach said. "I feel fortunate we stepped up and we were able to win the game."

This one appears over

September, 7, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Shannon Woods' 21-yard TD run with 6:18 left has boosted Texas Tech to a 35-19 lead with 6:18 left and seemingly put the game away.

I'm headed down for some quotes after the game because this one appears over. The Red Raiders have dodged a bullet in the Sierras tonight.

Tech hanging on after three quarters

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Both coaches seem to be trying to outsmart themselves with understandable results as Texas Tech has extended its lead to 21-12 after three quarters.

Graham Harrell is struggling through one of the worst games of his career, completing 14 of 34 passes for 181 yards. He has repeatedly missed open receivers as the Tech offense has sputtered and produced only 230 yards.

Nevada has also done a good job of bottling up Tech's running game, limiting them to 49 yards after three quarters.

Tech is lucky to maintain the lead after a controversial call when Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick was ruled to have fumbled just before the end zone after appearing to score on a 3-yard run. Tech safety Daniel Charbonnet recovered in the Tech end zone.

For the second time in the game, Tech coach Mike Leach went for a fourth-and-short inside his own 30. After Aaron Crawford was stopped short, it set up Brett Jaekle's fourth field goal to trim the lead to 14-12.

Tech snatched momentum away on the next play when it recovered an onside kick, setting up Eric Morris' second TD of the game, a 13-yard run from the Red Raiders' "Emo" formation.

Halftime: Texas Tech 14, Nevada 9

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- The promised offensive battle between two of the nation's four most prolific offenses hasn't materialized after one half as Texas Tech maintains a 14-9 halftime lead.

Both teams have struggled with mistakes. Tech was stopped on downs on its own 30 on its first possession and Graham Harrell was intercepted on the next drive.

Nevada struggled with three holding penalties, a blocked punt late in the first half and a critical sack that cost after they had a second-and-one at the Tech 4.

Here are some other items that caught my attention in the first half.

Nevada's offense has been more proficient than Tech's rolling up 243 yards on 95 yards rushing and 148 passing.

Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick might be one of the most underrated college quarterbacks. He reminds me of the poor man's Randall Cunningham the way he can run and roll out. He's kept the Red Raiders flummoxed by his rushing and passing skills, completing 15 of his first 19 attempts.

Nevada's own mistakes are the biggest reason the Wolf Pack are behind. Three holding calls bogged them down in the first half. They were forced to settle for a field goal after Tech DE Bront Bird's sack after they advanced to the Tech 4 midway through the second quarter.

Tech was struggling getting its passing game going. Harrell had several uncharacteristic bad passes and struggled hitting open receivers throughout the half. He finished the half by missing his final three passes as he hit only 10 of 25 passes for 119 yards.

Leaching Nevada rushing Luke Lippincott was carted off the field with his left knee injury early in the second quarter. That injury placed Vai Taua into the featured back, although Kaepernick became the focal point of the rushing attack with 42 yards on six carries.

Game officials had their own gaffe late in the first half after Lance Fuller had blocked a punt by Nevada's Brad Langley. Referee Jon Bible, a Big 12 official, originally ruled that Fuller had roughed the punter on the play before reversing his call.

Tech freshman kicker Donnie Carona struggles continued after his first two games. His 28-yard field goal attempt was blocked late in the first half. It was third blocked kick - two field goals and an extra point - in his short college career.

Morris' punt return pumps life into sleepy Red Raiders

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- A huge punt return by Eric Morris pumped some life into a lethargic Texas Tech offense, boosting the Red Raiders to a 7-3 lead over Nevada after one quarter.

Morris, known by his teammates as "The Elf," cooked up a big play as tasty as anything the cookie makers of Keebler could have done.

Morris' big return helped after Tech was outplayed by Nevada through most of the first quarter. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick completed 7 of 8 passes for 77 yards to help Nevada dominate offensively.

Nevada looked quicker as it outgained Tech, 101-49 in the first quarter. The Wolf Pack were victimized by three holding penalties that kept them bottled up in long yardage situations and kept them from scoring more than a field goal.

Tech QB Graham Harrell struggled operating the offense, which was bogged down on its first two possessions. The Red Raiders were stopped on downs on the first possession at their own 30 and Harrell was intercepted on the second drive.

Just a guess, but I'm betting that Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is getting tired of hearing the "Wolf yell" that punctuates each Nevada first down.

Bracing for a shootout in the Sierras

September, 6, 2008

Posted by's Tim Griffin

RENO, Nev. -- Hopefully the statisticians at Mackay Stadium have a couple of calculators in reserve.

The matchup between Texas Tech and Nevada will pit two of the nation's top four offensive attacks. Before the game is over, we could very well see at least 1,000 yards and more than 100 points if both offenses play up to potential.

A crowd of about 24,000 is expected tonight -- about 6,000 short of capacity -- for the visit by the No. 12 Red Raiders and their high-powered aerial attack keyed by QB Graham Harrell.

A hot, almost cloudless day with temperatures in the low 90s will remind the Red Raiders of West Texas. And the scenery at the stadium is reminiscent of the Sun Bowl in El Paso with nearby mountains ringing the facility.

Playing at altitude could affect the Red Raiders' no-huddle attack.

"It's just something you don't mention," Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. "You just play with the hand that you're dealt. It's not something we're making a big deal about."

Saturday's game is one that Tech needs to win to prove its national credibility. It will be the toughest game the Red Raiders will have before Big 12 play begins.

Tech has led the nation in passing four of the last five seasons and leads the nation after the first week of the season after torching FCS opponent Eastern Washington for 536 yards. And it will be facing a defense in Nevada that features two starting cornerbacks with no FBS experience before last week's game.

Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree started the season quietly for him with "only" 73 yards on nine catches. He was bracketed more with double coverage and Harrell opted to throw to other receivers when he had the opportunity.

The extra attention for Crabtree opened receiving options for Eric Morris and Detron Lewis, who produced 164 and 163 yards, respectively. It wouldn't be a surprise if Crabtree faces similar coverage, leaving the other receivers open.

But the Red Raiders will face their own challenges against Nevada coach Chris Ault's vaunted Pistol offense that rolled up 629 yards, including 426 yards rushing, in the opener against Grambling.

Tech's biggest challenge will be to contain multi-faceted Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, who Tech coach Mike Leach has said could be the best quarterback that the Red Raiders will face this season. He rushed for three TDs and passed for 122 yards last week in the blowout victory.

This game also could test the limits of the new clock rules set by the NCAA's rules committee. Don't be surprised if this game lasts nearly four hours if both offenses are humming.

So we're all waiting in the press box expecting big numbers.