It's looking like the Hatfields and the McCoys, Texas-sized, and somebody is about to lose the family spittoon.
All pre-game banter aside, this contest shapes up as a classic clash of styles, particularly with regard to the offenses. The Longhorn attack, which is rated number 16 in the country with an average of 442 yards per game, also sports the nation's second ranked ground attack, grinding out 294 yards a game on average. Leading the charge for Texas is Cedric Benson, the leading rusher in the country with 988 yards on the season, 165 yards per game, and 6.6 yards per carry.
Texas Tech safeties coach Carlos Mainord calls Benson "...one of the best, if not the best [back] in the country." He also fears the Midland native's breakaway ability.
"Against a good back like Benson, if he breaks the line of scrimmage, we can't miss a tackle because he's got the speed to go all the way."
The Longhorn passing attack has been a different story altogether. Led by quarterback Vince Young, who sat out the majority of the second half last week against Missouri due to ineffectiveness, Texas is averaging only 149 yards passing per game, good for number 104 in the nation. If Young sputters against Tech, look for Longhorn head coach Mack Brown to go to the hook early and bring in Chance Mock who is generally considered a more effective passer. Young, however, expects the aerial game to improve against Tech.
"The last two games the passing game didn't look too good, but right now we are working real hard in practice and I am ready to go out there and throw the ball a whole lot. I know they are going to try to put a lot of guys in the box, but last year I was able to throw the ball well against them."
Texas's leading receiver is Tony Jeffery who has 17 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Former Frenship star David Thomas is also a weapon for the Longhorns from his tight end position.
The Texas Tech offense, currently second best in the country, presents a photo-negative image of the Longhorn attack. The Raiders lead the nation in passing yardage with 428 yards per game and are 113th in the country in rushing yardage with 90 yards per game. Interestingly, however, Tech's 3.9 yards per carry is better than South Carolina's 41st ranked running game, which averages 3.8 yards per carry.
The triggerman for the Tech attack is senior quarterback Sonny Cumbie. The former walk-on from Snyder has thrown 2,520 yards on the season, completing 222 of 348 passes with 12 interceptions and 16 touchdowns in the process. His favorite targets are split end Jarrett Hicks and inside reciever Nehemiah Glover. Hicks leads the nation with 137 receiving yards per game, while Glover has snared 41 aerials for 401 yards on the season. Junior Taurean Henderson is Tech's leading ballcarrier with 431 yards on 81 carries, good for 5.3 yards a tote.
Benson is aware that the Longhorn defense will need some help if it is not to be swept off the field in a tsunami of Red Raider touchdowns.
"It will be key for us to keep our offense on the field as long as we can. I want to challenge the offense to help keep the defense off the field so they can rest because they'll probably be doing a lot of running around."
The defenses, incidentally, have flown largely under the radar in the runup to tomorrow's game, but both are very respectable units. Texas is number 29 in the country in total defense and number 11 in pass defense. Butkus award candidate Derrick Johnson of Waco heads up the Longhorn stonewallers. He has 76 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, an interception, 2 pass breakups, 5 quarterback hurries, and an amazing seven forced fumbles on the year.
The Red Raider defense has made an astounding turnaround under the direction of second-year defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich. After finishing the 2003 season ranked 106th in the country, the Raider defense has risen to the number 39 spot, and the pass defense is currently ranked number 34, giving up 183 yards per game. Derrick Johnson's opposite number on the Tech side is Mike Smith, a senior from Lubbock Coronado. He has 43 stops, four tackles for a loss, two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, and one fumble recovery.
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis is impressed with both the Tech turnaround and the play of Smith.
"They [the Tech defense] are much improved from last year. I think [Adell] Duckett is a really good player. Mike Smith, their backside linebacker, is really hard to get to. They funnel things to them and he does an excellent job. I've heard [John] Saldi's name for a long time. They do a lot of different things with him to make some space. Vincent Meeks has really settled in at free safety."
The game, which is set for a 6:10 p.m. kickoff, will be nationally televised by TBS. A sellout crowd was announced over two weeks ago, and there is a possibility that the game could set a school record for attendance.