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Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Harrell greets big game with silence


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has the opportunity to do something that's almost unprecedented in the annals of modern Heisman Trophy campaigns.

 
 Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
 Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has thrown 28 touchdown passes this season.

Despite breaking a slew of national passing records and leading his team to an 8-0 record for the first time in 32 seasons, Harrell's contact with the media has been almost non-existent this week as he prepares for the biggest game of his career.

So much for worrying about satellite shoots, radio shows or teleconferences with the national media. If Harrell wins the Heisman this season he'll do it the old-fashioned way -- by earning it on the field with a big performance over No. 1 Texas and during the rest of the season.

The lack of media attention this week was mandated by Tech coach Mike Leach, who decided that Harrell didn't need the distractions of facing the media. All interview requests have been turned down.

"I didn't know it would be as interview-intensive as it was, but I knew it would be a great deal," Leach said. "Graham's job first is to be the best quarterback he can and do interviews secondly. I guess that's a long way of me saying he's a key guy for us and I don't want him to be sidetracked by that stuff."

Leach's mandate comes with some risk. The Red Raiders have never had a player place higher than fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting when Donny Anderson was selected in 1965.

But the Tech coach said he has no second thoughts about shuttering Harrell and Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree out of the media spotlight this week. Even with the realization that national honors for both perhaps could spur recruiting efforts at the remote West Texas school and perhaps make attracting the next standout that much easier.

"I'm glad I did it and I can more than live with it," Leach said. "As you know, I'm not above keeping them all out of the interview room. My number one job is to coach these guys the best I can. To give interviews is entirely secondary."

Instead, Harrell will have his opportunity to make his biggest statement on the field Saturday night.

And maybe after the game, he can tell the media about growing up in Ennis, Texas, a town of about 20,000 about 30 minutes south of Dallas along Interstate 45. Before Harrell, the city's previous claim to fame was having the widest Main Street in the United States and as the home of the annual National Polka Festival each May.

Harrell finds more joy in operating the Red Raiders' explosive offense than talking too much about it.

"It's all about having fun," Harrell said after last week's victory at Kansas. "When we have fun, we're at our best."

The Red Raiders appear to have the most complete team that Texas coach Mack Brown has seen in his previous 10 teams he has faced.

But Brown said that Harrell's development is the biggest change he's seen in this Tech team from the previous ones he has beaten in eight of the last 10 seasons.

"I think he's probably the best they've had in running the offense," Brown said. "Every year Mike has a great quarterback. But Graham knows that system so well. We've played a lot of good quarterbacks. But not any of them has done as good as Graham Harrell."

Harrell has directed the Red Raiders' 8-0 record, taking them into November with a perfect record for the first time since 1938. He's moved into fourth place on the NCAA's all-time career passing yardage list after blistering Kansas for 386 yards and five TDs. It was his ninth career game with at least five TD passes.

Coming into the Texas game, Harrell needs 365 yards to pass Colt Brennan and move into third place on the NCAA's career passing list.

While Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is presumed to have a big lead in the Heisman, it is not absolute. If Harrell engineers an upset victory, it could help lead him on a late charge that will only gain more momentum with upcoming games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Leach has talked often about Harrell's intangibles and his leadership in directing his offense.

"He's pretty good," Leach said. "He finished second in the nation in passing as a sophomore and then was first and first the last two years. But the biggest place I see his improvement is his ability to run the unit. Graham operated the offensive unit really well. And that's the ultimate skill of a quarterback."

Texas defenders talk about him with reverence, particularly when they remember his performances against them in the past two seasons. Harrell completed 78 of 109 passes for 985 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions in two previous losses against the Longhorns.

"He really doesn't make a lot of mistakes and that will make it more of a challenge for us," Texas cornerback Ryan Palmer said. "He's really accurate and gets the ball out so quickly. That's a credit to his offensive line and for him getting the ball out quick. He reads blitzes so well that it will really be tough for us."