Texas Braces For Kingsburys 'Air Raid'

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a tortilla!

The only thing that gets flung as often as tortillas at Texas Tech home games is the football. While Red Raider fans are playing with their food, senior QB Kliff Kingsbury is playing like a Heisman candidate.

With his 425 passing yards last Saturday against Oklahoma State, Kliff Kingsbury moved into fifth-place in NCAA career passing yards with 11,394. He is college football's all-time leader with 1,743 pass attempts and 2,000 offensive plays. This season, Kingsbury has surpassed Drew Brees (Purdue '97-'00) and Peyton Manning (Tennessee, '94-'97) and needs just 32 yards against Texas to move into fourth place ahead of Todd Santos (San Diego State, '84-'87).

"He stands in the pocket and will wait until the last second to throw the ball," UT head coach Mack Brown said. "He’s tough as nails. That probably goes back to being a coach’s son. He’s really fast and doesn’t take many sacks."

Freshman RB Taurean Henderson leads the Raiders in both rushing (124 carries for 660 yards) and receiving yards per game. His 489 yards on 81 receptions (a TTU freshman single-season record) is good for No. 7 nationally.

Junior receiver Wes Welker is a gritty overachiever whose 146.8 all-purpose yards ranks second in the Big 12 (NCAA No. 19). Welker has registered 827 yards on 66 catches, 159 yards on 20 carries, and 624 yards on 48 punt returns.

The Raiders employ a multiple offensive set predicated on a quick-hit, short-to-intermediate passing game. The Longhorns can expect a hodge-podge of screens, flares and draw-plays plus the occasional deep ball. Brown said it is like preparing for an option team, but that Tech’s version is executed through the air.

"Their offense is as unique as the option," Brown said. "It’s different, meaning that you don’t practice against it all the time. Their splits are so different. They have huge splits. They’ve got (receivers) spread out all over the field. Their rush angles are so different. The fact that they get yards by space is what the option does. So, it’s like the air-option. It puts them one-on-one with your guys."

"Your guys," in this case, are Nathan Vasher, Rod Babers, Derrick Johnson, Cory Redding and Co. And with all due respect to Kingsbury (who is arguably the most improved Big 12 senior relative to his freshmen season), he has not faced a defense like Texas’. And has never beaten the Horns in his otherwise dazzling career.

Even so, Brown said the Tech will come down to the wire much like the Nebraska and Kansas State contests, and it all starts with Kingsbury. This much is true: no national game this season has provided a better match-up of opposing strengths than Texas Tech’s passing attack (386.2 ypg, NCAA No. 3) and Texas’ pass defense (125.1 ypg, NCAA No. 2).

"They throw a lot of quick things," Brown said, "and then when you come after them, they throw the deep ball. You can’t just sit there and let them make the deep play. If you do, they’ll kill you."

So, how do you survive an air raid?

"Blitz," Brown said simply.

Oh, and tackle well. Disguise your coverage. Force the turnover. In short, play like the nation’s No. 5 unit in total defense. And play defense with your offense by controlling the ball and moving the chains. There is no more effective way to defend Kingsbury than to keep him on the bench.

"We can’t leave (the secondary) out to dry," Redding said. "The D-line’s got to make their job easier. If we take care of business, and they take care of business, we’re going to be straight."

The injury bug that bit the offense earlier this season has affected the defense as of late. But FS Kendal Briles played well enough for injured FS Dakarai Pearson that he shared with Vasher the team Defensive Player of the Game honors last Saturday. Although the trainers’ report won’t be released until Thursday, I expect freshman stud DT Rodrique Wright to start while DT Marcus Tubbs looked plenty mobile ambling toward the food line Monday at Belmont Hall.

"We’ve got a lot of depth on the defensive line so we’ll be rotating a lot of guys," Redding said. "We’ll need to get some fresh legs in there."

And Vasher may be fully recovered just in time for the air raid. And Babers continues to prove why he may be Texas’ first recipient of the Thorpe Award (nation’s outstanding defensive back).

"I thought Saturday (Nathan) was quick again for the first time in returning his punts," Brown said. "It was the first time we were able to get some plays from him. Rod is playing better every game he’s played. Rod is playing like an NFL cornerback. He’s catching the ball, he’s batting the ball down, he’s in a great position (on the ball). Those two guys are really key for this weekend."

Added Brown, "It will be great to watch Kliff Kingsbury and Chris Simms play. They’re two of the best quarterbacks in the country, and it will be fun to watch them. There will be a lot of balls thrown."

And, of course, a lot of tortillas.

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