MSU To Face Tech Squad Divided By Firing

Texas Tech interim coach, Ruffin McNeill, a candidate to replace fired coach Mike Leach, is trying to rally the varied factions in his locker room. He needs a solid win over Michigan State to be considered over such notables as Tommy Tuberville, Art Briles of Baylor and Sonny Dykes of Arizona.

Michigan State is preparing to face a Texas Tech squad that was at least a touchdown favorite before yesterday's firing of head coach Mike Leach.

Once Leach's firing was announced in a Texas courtroom yesterday, two factions came out - one in support of Leach's firing, the other talking of walking out in protest.

Meanwhile in San Diego California last night, Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who's team was getting run in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, was believed to be a primary candidate to replace Leach on a permanent basis.

The Spartans are trying to keep their focus - not on what is going on with their opponents - but on their own gameplan. Still, a break from all the negative publicity of the "dormgate" incident, has to be a good thing for Mark Dantonio's squad.

While he is certainly aware of what is going on with his opponent, he also knows MSU will have to play one of its best games of the season to defeat a Tech squad that has more talent than the suspension-riddled Spartans.

Dantonio said the key is to treat the contest like a road game, not a bowl game.

"Yes, it's definitely a road game because we know the majority of fans there Saturday night will be there supporting Texas Tech. More importantly, it's more like an opening game because we've had such a long time to prepare.

We've kind of gone through the dog days of summer somewhat with those additional December practice dates prior to Christmas break, and we worked the players pretty hard.

We have tackled some over the last five weeks but not at game speed and in space against a quality opponent. So from my perspective, it closely resembles a season-opening road game."

He believes special teams, particularly the kicking game must be in the Spartans favor for them to pull off the upset.

"We feel good about Brett Swenson and Aaron Bates, but there's so much more to special teams play than just those two guys.

We have to attack and tackle in space. Texas Tech has excellent special teams. We've been very impressed with Texas Tech's kickoff returners Eric Stephens and Edward Britton. This is an opponent that plays with great energy and effort on special teams, and we have to be able to match that."

While the Spartans concentrate on trying to upset the Red Raiders, Tech is trying to clean up the mess left by former head coach Mike Leach.

Interim coach, Ruffin McNeill (pictured), a candidate to replace Leach, is trying to rally the varied factions in his locker room. He needs a solid win over Michigan State to be considered for the permanent position.

The brief talk of some players boycotting the game appears to have passed. Other players came out in support of Leach's firing. Mixed feelings remain and could pose a distraction for the Raiders.

Meanwhile former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, Baylor coach Art Briles and Dykes, the son of previous Tech head coach Spike Dykes are all considered serious candidates for the opening.


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