Texas Tech Preview: Air Raid

The Longhorns have managed to come back in dramatic fashion the past two weeks, but have also given up a lot of yards, and points, in the process. Now, the beleaguered Texas pass defense must face the aerial show that is the Red Raiders of Texas Tech in a game that could decide the Horns' bowl, or even BCS, fate.

Heart and determination are two words that have been associated with the 2007 Texas Longhorns in recent weeks, but all that heart and determination won't matter one bit if the Horns don't start grounding their opponents.

The fourth quarter heroics of the past two weeks have been well-documented, as has the offensive explosion of running back Jamaal Charles. The endzone-to-endzone flying junior from Port Arthur has put up 341 yards and five TDs in just the fourth quarters of the past two games.

But a team can't come back if the opponent doesn't stop scoring. The Texas D, after getting abused all day in Stillwater, shut down Oklahoma State in the fourth. They'll face a taller task this Saturday when the Red Raiders roll into town.

Texas Tech's aerial assault is putting up 482.1 passing yards per game and has over a 1000 yards more than the next closest passing offense (4821 to 3676 by Hawai'i). According to the numbers, Tech will be facing a less than stellar...alright, bad pass defense.

The Texas Longhorns are 87th in the nation in pass defense (247.8). 87th! This stands in stark contrast to the Longhorn's strength, stopping the run. The Horns are 14th in the nation in run defense (101.1 ypg), but this is the one game where Texas won't be needing it.

Adding the mountainous stack of statistical warning signs that Texas will be facing, one of the primary reasons behind all of the yards given up recently is a rash of bad tackling. It's a rash that's only gone away in the fourth quarter, but for the first three frames of wins over Oklahoma State and Nebraska, short routes have turned into big gains. That could be a major problem against a team that relies almost exclusively on a quick-pass offense.

"You've got to try to keep these guys in front of you and then you've got to tackle them really well when they catch the ball," said Texas head coach Mack Brown. "You have to try to turn it into a physical football game, because if we tackle as poorly as we did last week, we'll have a lot of problems."

There are a lot reasons for Texas fans to be nervous about Saturday, but despite all that's been stacked against the Horns this season, they've made it work. They've snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and won games that, by all indications, they should have lost. Badly.

It's going to be senior day, the last home game of the season, for a team that has refused to go away. One thing will be certain: passion, energy and effort will not be an issue for the Texas Longhorns...well, at least not in the fourth quarter.

From a heart and effort standpoint, this may be the best time for the Horns to catch the Red Raiders, but not from a statistical standpoint. Texas had yielded more yards the past two games (1,041) than it has during any two-game stretch of the Mack Brown era.

The Red Raiders, meanwhile, are coming off a 38-7 mauling of Baylor, but in the two previous games, Tech suffered losses in which the vaunted offense sputtered, losing 41-10 at Missouri and 31-26 against Colorado. What caused the seemingly unstoppable offense to, well, stop?

The one statistic that stands out above the others is interceptions.

Quarterback Graham Harrell and his Raiders have tossed zero picks in half of their 10 games this season and only one in two games. But against the Buffalos and Tigers? Four picks.

The goal of the Texas defense is very, very clear: Get to Harrell. Force mistakes. Intercept the ball. But a pass rush and interceptions are something the Horns have struggled with this season. That'll have to change on Saturday.

There is little question of which player on the Tech offense is the man to watch. Freshman receiver Michael Crabtree, who will probably break every conceivable receiving record, is Harrell's top target and he'll be the go-to guy again against the Longhorns. Crabtree has a mind-numbing 1512 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns this season alone and the 6-3, 208 wideout will be a dangerous match-up in one-on-one coverage.

Across the field from him is senior receiver Danny Amendola. Amendola is Tech's second 1000-yard receiver and has especially been hurting teams that focus too much on Crabtree. Harrell himself has thrown for 4412 yards and 38 TDs to go with his 11 picks. He's also completing 73.5 percent of his passes.

When Texas Tech actually does run the ball, Aaron Crawford is the man who'll get the ball. Junior running back Shannon Woods leads the team in rushing, but he will once again be left back in Lubbock, having been myseriously displaced from even the traveling squad.

Needless to say, the Longhorn defensive backs will have their hands full.

The Texas Tech whosawhat? Oh, they have a defense too, don't they?

The Red Raiders haven't been known for defense and that's not just because of how prolific the offense has been. The D has just been awful for a long time now, but this season it's not bad, at least at stopping the pass.

While Tech has been throwing the ball with astounding success, it's also be stopping opponents from throwing it, ranking ninth in the country in pass D (178.3). The run defense, though, not so much. At 166. 3 ypg given up on the ground, the Raiders are near the bottom of the nation. As much as it may seem like the Texas defensive backs are catching Tech at the wrong time, it may also be a case of the Tech defense catching Charles at the wrong time.

The Longhorn's junior running back may very well be the key to game. Not only could he have a huge game against a weak run defense, but a successful running game is how a team keeps that ball out of Harrell's hands. It's looking like, if Texas wins, Charles will once again be the difference.

The first guy Charles will have to get past is linebacker Paul Williams. The senior leads the 'backers in tackles with 60 and has 6.5 tackles for loss to boot. Of course, Williams doesn't lead the team in tackles. Given how often opposing running backs have gotten to the second level on Tech, that honor goes to safety Joe Garcia with his 66.

The most dangerous player on the Red Raider defense, though, may be defensive end Brandon Williams. As just a sophomore, the 6-5, 253-pound Williams has been a beast for Texas Tech, leading the team in both tackles for loss with 11.5 and sacks with 5.0. The pass rush generated by Williams has been a big reason behind Tech's success in pass defense and the Texas O-line will need to keep him off of Colt McCoy's back.

Starting corner Jamar Wall has been the big play man for the Tech D, grabbing four interceptions. Flanking Wall is senior corner Chris Parker, who's tied with safety Darcel McBath for the team lead in pass break-ups with seven.

Texas Tech's defense is improved over recent years, but the path is quite clear. A weak run defense and an amped up Jamaal Charles adds up to one thing for the Texas Longhorns: Run the football.

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