Preview: Which Raider Team Will Show up?

It's a Halloween weekend, of sorts, as Texas' two-week road-swing sojourns from Nebraska's Children of the Corn to Texas Tech's Jekyl-and-Hyde football team. But Longhorn coach Mack Brown is convinced which Red Raider squad will show up Saturday in Lubbock.

Former Tech coach Spike Dykes once gave Brown some unsolicited advice for breaking down game film prior to a trip to Lubbock. Speed up the film five times, Dykes said, and that will approximate the level of energy and productivity that the Red Raiders typically embody against Texas. Simply put, Texas gets Tech's best shot every time.

But it was a far cry from what current Raider coach Mike Leach saw when his team fell to TCU, 12-3, last month (marking just the second time in his six-year tenure that Tech was kept out of the end zone). That night, Leach said he coached "the worst offense in America." He questioned his team's toughness, ranging from front-line starters to the entire coaching staff. His players were "prima donnas" and "pretty boys"; Leach said, who stopped just short of accusing them of wearing their mother's dresses.

Challenged and motivated, Tech unloaded on Directional-Louisana and then escaped Aggieland with a 31-27 nail-biter in which Tech's only second-half TD came on their final series. Riding the momentum of their the Red Raiders lost to winless Colorado and Missouri on successive weekends. But this isn't the Tech team that Brown expects Saturday. Brown anticipates the five-times-faster Red Raiders that rolled Iowa State (42-27) on its own grass last weekend.

"Texas Tech is well," was Brown's prognosis.

The remedy included QB Graham Harrell's best outing of his young career. His team committed nine turnovers in losses to Colorado and Missouri, but Harrell was 31-of-40 for 368 yards against ISU, including six TDs and no INTs. Harrell is Texas' fifth QB in as many seasons; it's just that the others have all been fifth-year seniors. It could be that Harrell has finally worked through his growing pains. Or, it could be that an angry Texas Tech found the perfect patsy in battered Iowa State (the Cyclones had just come off a brutal stretch that included Nebraksa, plus Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa on the road).

But where Tech's Jekyl-and-Hyde football team has shown evidence of a split personality, its fan base has not.

"Nebraska fans have always treated us nice," Brown said. "Tech's won't. That hasn't changed."

Tech's Freak Show offense has re-written NCAA passing records since Leach's arrival but has unexpectedly endured extended scoring droughts against Colorado, TCU and Texas A&M. Other than forcing turnovers, opponents have contained Tech's aerial circus by "not letting people get behind their coverage" and playing "very physical", Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said.

While Tech's numbers are down, the stats are still eye-opening. The air Raiders are averaging 341.1 passing (NCAA No. 3) and 421.4 total yards (No. 13) per game. Harrell is 245-of-356 for 2,505 yards and, even with the intermittent scoring droughts, Harrell has passed for 25 TDs (against seven INTs) in eight games. He has completed 69 percent of his tosses in Tech's low-risk offense that tries to get the ball into the hands of any eligible receiver on quick hits in wide open spaces. Typically, this is not a passing attack that tries to burn you deep but rather spread defenses from sideline-to-sideline, starting with the w-i-d-e splits along the offensive line. The result, again, is that a low-percentage toss translates into a long run in a quick-strike offense. Tech has 15 TD drives that took less than two minutes off the game clock, which ranks second only to Louisville's 18 scores. The flip side is Tech has had trouble (relatively speaking) moving the ball during the second half this season; 149 of Tech's 238 points this year have come during the first 30 minutes of play.

Z receiver Joel Filani leads his team with 56 catches, good for 689 yards.

Tech's rushing offense is rated No. 107 (80.25 ypg) out of 119 D-I teams, but screens, draws and shovel passes are considered part of their ground game.

"They have so many high-percentage throws that it's just an extension of their running game," Akina said.

Sophomore RB Shannon Woods is second among Big 12 players (behind Adrian Peterson) with 145.9 all-purpose ypg. He is also Tech's second-leading receiver with 397 yards on the season (49.6 ypg). Woods has 577 rushing yards on 92 carries in eight games.

There are few Division-I teams that have attempted more than the 14 fourth down conversions that Tech has attempted this season. The Raiders have converted eight fourth-downs in eight games.

"It doesn't come out in NCAA stats but part of the take-away (stats) are winning on those fourth downs," Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said. "If you win those fourth downs, you get field position and momentum and the things you ordinarily get from a take-away."

Texas Tech is the only Big 12 school to go bowling in every post-season since the inception of the league in 1996. However, the program has maintained its second-tier status because it could never field a defense to complement its high-powered offense. That may be changing.

Tech's defense was woeful just three years ago but has shown signs of improvement. The unit went through a trial by fire during the 2003 and 2004 seasons when Leach began throwing freshmen into the fray, and now the experience is starting to pay dividends. The most seasoned Red Raider defenders are the front four who have combined for 101 career starts heading into the Texas game. The old man is senior NT Chris Hudler (37 starts). DE Keyunta Dawson is the sack-leader with five on the season. Yet, Tech's run defense remains mired in mediocrity, giving up 145.3 rushing ypg (NCAA No. 76).

The strength of Tech's defense has been its secondary, rated No. 9 nationally against the pass (147.8 ypg). The unit, which relies almost exclusively on zone defense, has given up just eight passing TDs in eight contests. Junior CB Chris Parker and sophomore FS Darcel McBath tie for the team lead with two INTs apiece. SS Joe Garcia leads the team in tackles with 54 stops.

Tech bases out of the 4-3 and rarely blitzes.

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