Breaking it Down: Secondary

Over the course of the coming week, the Ole Miss Spirit will break down the key matchups of the 73rd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. Sunday's edition features the Texas Tech passing attack against the Ole Miss secondary. Read about it inside.

Oh, that Texas Tech offense.

Few teams in the country have presented such a tour de force as the Red Raiders this season, racking up a mind-boggling 6,434 yards for 535 points.

Leading the attack is quarterback Graham Harrell who completed 71 percent of his passes for 4,747 yards, 41 touchdowns and merely seven interceptions. A key target for Harrell was Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree, who has been on the receiving end of 93 passes for 1,135 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Obviously the Ole Miss secondary has their work cut out for them.

"A couple of things really stand out when you watch their film," head coach Houston Nutt said. "Their spacing of their personnel is precise and very good. Coach (Mike) Leach and his staff know what they are doing in creating chemistry between their quarterback and receivers. You just look at the yards and the touchdowns and they have put up ridiculous numbers.

"They are going to catch some balls. We have to make sure we tackle them after the catch and prevent the big play. They communicate well against all looks and adjust well."

While ranking fifth in the conference in total defense, the Rebel defensive backs have had their share of ups-and-downs in 2008. The unit finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference in passing defense, surrendering 209.8 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks.

Add to the fact that they will now face the No. 1 passing offense in the country and the challenge appears even more daunting.

"Congratulations to me, huh?" joked cornerbacks coach Chris Vaughn about facing the Red Raiders. "Texas Tech is very good at what they do. They obviously work on the passing game a lot because they make it look easy.

"But we are looking forward to the challenge. You have to go play fundamental football. It's not about scheming. It's about being physical, being in position, competing and making plays."

However, there is a silver-lining throughout this entire discussion.

The Rebel defense sits fourth in the conference in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game and fifth in total defense at 294.8 yards per game. Aided by intense pressure from the front-seven, the secondary finished fifth in the SEC for interceptions.

Cornerback Dustin Mouzon, who regained his rotation position against Louisiana-Monroe, compares the Red Raider offense to that of former opponents Missouri and Florida.

"They are a lot like Missouri we played a couple of years ago and some aspects of their game is like Florida," he stated. "We know more of the game is going to be on the shoulders of the secondary, so we have to get ready for the ultimate challenge.

"We know we are going to have to run and run and run some more and we can't tap out on any play, period. If it's a 12-play drive, we've got to go. It will take all 11 men doing their job on defense, but we know the pressure is going to be on us."

Vaughn said the Red Raider offense isn't overly-complicated. Rather, the attack is built around rhythm and chemistry.

"First, their quarterback knows where to go with the ball and it's coming out pretty quickly. Then, their receivers do a good job of knowing where to sit in zones. They are very well-coached. It's obvious they have a great chemistry. They are not complex, but they understand what they are doing," Vaughn added. "They try to stretch you horizontally and vertically. They'll throw some timing routes. When (Graham) Harrell has had time to throw, which he usually does, they are lethal.

"What we have to try to do is speed his clock up and make him throw before he wants to. We need to take him out of his comfort zone."

While the secondary is an area of concern, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix believes it will take a total team effort by the defense.

"It will be all 11, but it starts up front, like it does every week," Nix explained. "We have to stuff the run and pressure the pass, just like every week. Then it works back to the linebackers and the secondary and their responsibilities."

But if the Rebels are to have success against Tech, the defensive backfield will have to play a major part. Limiting big plays and continuing the progress made in the season's latter stages will be critical in stopping such a prolific passing game.

However, with a renewed sense of confidence through strong play during a five-game winning streak in November, the secondary will take any test that Texas Tech presents head on.

""I'm not worried about anything," Nix said. "Our kids just have to prepare. We'll see what happens in the game."

Advantage: Just from the raw numbers data, you'd have to give the Red Raiders the nod in this area, but this is not about stopping their passing game. Nobody has done that. It's about slowing it down, disrupting it and keeping the Texas Tech offense between the 20s. Those things can be acomplished and would go a long way in the Rebs winning the game.

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