Big 12 Preview: Texas Tech

In conjunction with the Big 12 Football Media Days being held this week in Houston, Go Pokes will be publishing previews on each of the conference's schools.

Texas Tech Red Raiders
vs. OSU, Nov. 12, at Boone Pickens Stadium
Head coach: Mike Leach (6th year)
2004 record: 8-4, 5-3 in Big 12

The Texas Tech offense is obviously known for its high-flying aerial show. There's no reason to expect any changes this year from the offense ... as long as Mike Leach is at the helm. It does appear, however, that a running game will be featured more prominently than in years past. That also means that opposing defenses will have to stay honest.

Leach does have a lot of talent returning, though. Six starters return from last year's squad. The biggest names that are returning are junior receiver Jarrett Hicks and senior running back Taurean Henderson, who is well on pace to maintain partial qualifier status. These two players were some of the biggest playmakers on the field last year and figure to do the same this year.

Also returning is punt returner and wide receiver Danny Amendola. Also in the receiving corps, Joel Filani returns opposite of Jarrett Hicks. Lastly, the Red Raiders return two starters off of the offensive line. E.J. Whitley and Manny Ramirez look to anchor a very inexperienced unit, a unit which is crucial for success in the Tech offense.

Quarterback Cody Hodges finds himself as a fifth-year senior looking to lead the Tech offense. Competing with Hodges will be redshirt freshman Graham Harrell. Another one of the top newcomers will be Robert Johnson. Johnson, who had a disappointing first year at Tech, was redshirted as quarterback and now enters the lineup at the Y-receiver slot. Replacing Johnnie Mack in the backfield will be difficult, but both Shannon Woods and Taurance Rawls look forward to accepting that challenge. On the offensive line, there are three new faces in Bryan Kegans, Glenn January and Brandon Jones. Expect a freshman or two to step up, however, and relieve some stress on the depth chart.

All-in-all, the Red Raiders are going to be successful. How successful depends a lot on how the offensive line gels. If the offensive line can come together and give the new quarterback time to throw, Tech will put up points. Obviously, the ability of a new quarterback to step in will also be a huge factor. If the new quarterback can step in and command the troops, so to speak, then the offense should put up numbers as big, if not bigger than last year. The run game will also be key. If Tech can run the ball effectively, then that will be an added dimension to keep defenses honest. Defensive coordinators have nightmares about this scheme and will continue to do so in 2005.

It is no secret that the Red Raiders' defense has been the weak link for the past few years. However, the unit made some impressive strides last year, and looks to further improve their play this season. The Texas Tech defense seems to have put more of an emphasis on speed this year, especially at the linebacker positions. The newcomers here, Fletcher Session and Sylvester Brinkley, will likely see quite a bit of playing time since they provide some much-needed speed to help defend against running threats on the outside. Also, the addition of Dwayne Slay at the safety position will add intensity to further motivate the Red Raider defense.

The defensive units are led by a few key returning starters. Keyunta Dawson looks to be the anchor for an inexperienced defensive line. His leadership will be crucial to the line's success. As for the linebackers, the experience will come from John Saldi and Brock Stratton. The defensive backs may very well be the best defensive unit, having the leadership of Vincent Meeks and Antonio Huffman, and the explosive play of Dwayne Slay and Khalid Naziruddin.

The defense looks capable of surprising quite a few teams next year and could be a major difference in pulling off a few more victories this year. The defensive line is the biggest concern, as its constituents are relatively young and inexperienced. Their performance this season will be instrumental to Tech's defensive success. The linebackers should be greatly improved from last season considering their added quickness, and the defensive backs appear to be a force to be reckoned with. If the defensive line and linebackers can work together well enough to shut down the running game of teams such as Texas and Oklahoma, then the Red Raiders should easily be able to take some strain off of the offense next season.

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