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Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Resurgent Tech running game blasting through opponents


 
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 Shannon Woods, left, and Baron Batch have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Texas Tech's rushing game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mike Leach delights in the unconventional.

The quirky Texas Tech coach has become a YouTube staple by doing outlandish things like providing dating tips on his television show along with an occasional weather forecast.

In another break with the ordinary, the Red Raiders are developing a consistent rushing game to go along with their typically prolific passing attack.

After four games, the Tech running game is averaging 146.5 yards per game, the most ever for a team coached by Leach. It's boosted some life into a ground game that was ranked last in the nation last season.

"It's all the better that we're running the ball as well as we are now so that it really gives some people some problems," Leach told reporters. "We don't care what [defenses] do. We just want to recognize it and be able to exploit it."

The renewed Texas Tech running game has produced at least 100 rushing yards in each game this season -- a four-game trend that's never happened before in Leach's coaching tenure. And it's enabled the Red Raiders to lead the nation in total offense when their typically potent aerial game is combined with the rushing attack.

Baron Batch and Shannon Woods have emerged as a prolific one-two punch to key Tech's rushing game. The duo has combined for 516 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 20 receptions for 278 yards.

"We have two good players who have a lot of yards on the air and on the ground," Leach said. "In our case, we're a little overdefended on the pass and that opens up our running game. And with Shannon and Baron back there, we really don't mind it. Those guys have been outstanding for us."

The balance has helped boost the Red Raiders to a 4-0 start and a No. 7 ranking in the Associated Press media poll heading into Saturday's conference opener at Kansas State. It's Texas Tech's highest national ranking in more than 30 years.

Both Batch and Woods have rebounded from adversity to earn their playing time. Batch overcame an ankle injury that nearly ended his career. And Woods has battled out of Leach's doghouse after he was benched for four games late last season and then sent home from the Gator Bowl in a disciplinary matter.

"We put in the work, so it's not a surprise at all the production we've had this season," Batch said. "We know we have the running backs and the offensive line to be able to do this. It might be a surprise to some of the people outside our facility because they might not see how hard we work. But it's not for us. We knew what we were capable of doing."

Woods rushed for a team-high 108 yards and three touchdowns in Tech's 56-14 victory over Massachusetts, while Batch chipped in with 55 rushing yards and a team-best 68 receiving yards against the Minutemen.

The new emphasis in the running game is prompting a culture change for Texas Tech offensive linemen, who typically have worked with pass blocking first and little with the drive-blocking techniques employed on running plays.

"Since I've been here, run blocking wasn't a thing for us. If we needed it, we would do it," junior guard Brandon Carter said. "Now the fact that we can do that is a huge credit to everybody. We've been working hard. And those guys back there in the backfield do all that they can to get every yard they can."

The Red Raiders' rushing game will attack the weakest part of Kansas State's defense. The Wildcats have been gashed for 300 yards rushing in back-to-back games, allowing 303 against Louisville and 335 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Those tackling difficulties incensed Kansas State coach Ron Prince so much after the Louisville loss that he made the defense run a series of 38 50-yard sprints -- one for each point the Wildcats allowed -- when the Wildcats returned in the middle of the night from Louisville.

Despite the recent struggles, the Wildcats gained some confidence by salting away their victory with a defensive stop that wrapped up a 45-37 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

And while critics may harp on what the Wildcats didn't do most of the game defensively, Wildcat defensive players say the victory represents a building block as they start conference play.

"I was very happy to go out and do what we did," Kansas State defensive end Ian Campbell said. "I didn't want there to be a big question hanging over us. We put a nail in the coffin and wrapped up the victory. We showed what we were capable of doing and that was good for our defense. Despite whether the fans are happy or not, we wanted to finish like that."

Texas Tech will be a different story. And the Red Raiders' newfound confidence running the ball assuredly will test Kansas State's biggest defensive weakness.

"We faced some challenges and were able to overcome them," Campbell said. "All of the rushing yards and statistics say we didn't play very well, but I'm looking at the positives. We had two sacks and shut them out on the last drive. That's all that matters to me and we're excited to show what we can do against Tech."