Jayhawks Host Tech Today

For the second consecutive week, the Jayhawks will try to get a victory against a top-10 team.

And for the second consecutive week, the opponent is a Big 12 South team with big-time offensive weapons.

Credit Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach with the explosion of offenses in the Big 12. After Bob Stoops was hired on at Oklahoma, he brought over Leach from Kentucky with the goal of implementing a newfangled spread offense made to run up basketball-type numbers on the scoreboard. Under the direction of Leach and the guidance of quarterback Josh Heupel, the offense served its purpose and got a struggling OU program off the ground. Leach was off to Texas Tech just a year later and the run on spread offenses in the Big 12 began.

Still, nobody runs it like Leach, and the undefeated Red Raiders have a particularly nasty strain of offense this year because … wait for it … Texas Tech can run the ball.

No longer dead last in the league in running the football, Texas Tech boasts two excellent running backs in Baron Batch (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and Shannon Woods (5-11 194). Batch is the more explosive talent of the duo and leads the team with 491 yards of rushing, averaging 7.6 yards per carry. But Woods is no chopped liver, ringing up 402 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, with 5.2 yards per carry. What makes these backs especially dangerous is their contribution to the passing game. Both average about 12 yards per catch and have combined for 431 yards receiving.

But while the running backs are a definite point of strength, this offense has been, and will continue to be, about the aerial assault. And the Red Raiders have one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in senior Graham Harrell (6-3 205), Texas Tech’s all-time leading passer. Harrell is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, and has thrown for a conference high 2,761 yards. He also has 23 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

But it’s not too difficult when you’re playing pitch-and-catch with a receiver like Michael Crabtree (6-3 214). The sophomore has positioned himself for another outstanding year, already hauling in 51 catches for 724 yards and 12 touchdowns. Texas Tech thrives on its options, and they have some good other ones in Detron Lewis (6-0 209), Tramain Swindall (6-3 175), Edward Britton (6-0 174) and speedy Eric Morris (5-8 177). Morris also averages just under one carry per game, and has two rushing touchdowns on the year.

Despite winging the ball around like it’s going out of style, Harrell has only gone down with a sack once this season. That’s thanks to a couple of factors, first being the style of the Texas Tech quick passing game. But the second factor is a massive offensive line, led by left tackle Rylan Reed (6-7 314) and left guard Louis Vasquez (6-6 335). The right side boasts even more size with right guard Brandon Carter (6-7 354) playing alongside Marlon Winn (6-6 325). Center Stephen Hamby (6-3 287), the only starter under 310 pounds, rounds out the starters, which also pave the way for a running game that averages more than five yards per carry.

The defense has also been more successful in years past, thanks in large part to coaching by coordinator Ruffin McNeill and a solid defensive line that allows just three yards per carry. Defensive ends Brandon Williams (6-5 246) and McKinner Dixon (6-3 250) rank second and third in the Big 12, respectively, in terms of rushing the passer. Williams has seven sacks, while Dixon, a pass-rush specialist has six. Jake Ratliff (6-7 255) starts at the end spot opposite Williams and is solid against the run. Tech believes in smaller, quicker tackles with Richard Jones (6-1 272) and Colby Whitlock (6-2 281).

The linebackers typically clean up what the defensive line doesn’t get to, led by middle linebacker Brian Duncan (6-1 238), the team leader in tackles with 51. WILL linebacker Marlon Williams (6-0 224) has 43 stops and SAM linebacker Bront Bird (6-3 220) rounds out the trio.

The defensive backs haven’t been the point of strength that people thought they would be before the season. Cornerback Jamar Wall (5-10 195) was a popular All-Big 12 pick heading into the season, but he’s gotten burned a few times this year. He has been more effective than the players at the other cornerbacks spot, where Brent Nickerson (6-0 195) and L.A. Reed (6-2 212) will likely rotate. Free safety Darcel McBath (6-1 196) is one of the leaders in the secondary while strong safety Daniel Charbonnet (5-11 203) leads the league with four interceptions. The two safeties have combined for 78 tackles between them.

If the Texas Tech team has seen major struggles, they’ve been in the special teams area, where a walk-on kicker who won a “Kick for Rent” contest may wind up kicking extra points. Matt  Williams won the contest by booting a 30-yard field goal and was promptly chased up the tunnel by a Texas Tech assistant. They needed something after the performances by Donnie Carona, who is 3-7 on field goals and 33-37 on extra points and Cory Fowler, who had two extra points blocked last week. Carona will still handle kickoffs. Punting hasn’t been much better, where Jonathan LaCour averages 37.6 yards per punt. Britton and Lewis return the kickoffs, with Morris handling punt return duties.

Special teams could wind up making a difference –  in a game that could wind up being a shootout, every point will count.

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