Frisbie -- Texas Tech media releases are billing Saturday's regionally televised (ABC) contest in Lubbock as perhaps the biggest of Red Raider head coach Mike Leach's career. For Texas, it's just another tough road game for a team that has a helluva lot more to lose.
Losing is a distinct possibility for the Horns based on the comments and emails I have received this week. Tech's quick-strike "air option" offense gobbles up real estate and has scored more this season than did the house manager in a college fraternity.
Some Orangebloods are worried. Frankly, I'd be more concerned if Tech ran a true option with a scrambling quarterback and all those dive plays up the gut. Texas has been far more susceptible to slippery signalcallers and 5-7 scatbacks this season than against teams with stellar passing games.
Of course, Texas has not faced a passing attack like Tech's all year. Led by the fifth-leading career passer in NCAA history, senior QB Kliff Kingsbury directs an air-raid offense to the tune of 386.2 yards per game (NCAA No. 3).
The first time we saw Kingsbury, Aaron Humphrey and friends slapped him around like a cheap piñata during that 55-7 thrashing in 1999. I'd never seen such a spindly kid get pummeled play after play after play, and still get up. Anyone who could look beyond the whuppin' he endured that night could see Kingsbury was one of the toughest competitors in the nation's most physical conference, and that he was going to re-write collegiate passing marks with Tech's quirky offense.
No sir, the Horns haven't seen an offense like Tech's all year. (In fact, they haven't seen one like it since they contained it 42-7 in Austin last season.) The Raiders, of course, always play Texas tougher at home and manage to win there about once every fours years, which means they're due. The good news for Orangebloods is that Tech hasn't faced a pass defense like Texas‘ (125.1 ypg, NCAA No. 2). I may be old-school but, all things being equal, the nod generally goes to the defense.
If Tech tries to avoid Thorpe Award semifinalist CB Rod Babers (Oklahoma State game savior), then they (tee hee!) run into CB Nathan Vasher (Nebraska game savior) on the other side of the field. Tech also has to contend with DE Cory Redding (Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award finalist, Lombardi Trophy finalist, team sack leader). Amazing sophomore Derrick Johnson is the Big 12's fastest linebacker (at least in his recovery speed) and is not over-pursuing as much as he did last year. Throw in free safeties Dakarai Pearson and Kendal Briles, and this is a defense that should bend-but-not-break under Kingsbury's rapid-fire assault.
Personally, Kingsbury is the kind of kid I like to see do well (perhaps because I once worked for the newspaper in New Braunfels, his hometown, but also because he is class act). I'd like to see him finally have that breakthrough game by pulling the upset against a storied program -- starting next week at Oklahoma.
Of course, QB Chris Simms is no slouch. The senior is playing his best ball as of late (just might have something to do with SE Roy Williams' return to full throttle). Simms is more of an emotional leader than fans realize and has unselfishly played within himself all season. (For a clear contrast, see Florida State's Chris Rix and Florida's Rex Grossman. These guys were preseason Heisman favorites but are not listed among the 14 semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award, as are Simms and Kingsbury.)
It's the last road game for Texas seniors who basically started the 12-game road winning streak after falling to a Ty Willingham-coached team at Stanford (September, 2000). They are not going to allow themselves to graduate knowing the streak ended with them. Besides, it's Redding's birthday.
The defense will need to come up with some turnovers and fourth-down stops; special teams will need to shorten the field. The offense will need to move the chains and run the ball, for cryin' out loud (especially with an explosive freshman RB Selvin Young late in the game). Save the tortillas for your tailgate parties, Raider fans. Texas 33, Texas Tech 20.
Ross -- I'll make this short but sweet. I expect this year's game in Lubbock to be similar to the one two years ago in the Hub City. A relatively close contest, but one in which the Horns' never are severely threatened. The Texas defense (and that includes DLs, LBs and DBs) should pressure Kliff Kingsbury -- just as it has done in four tries against the prolific passer -- into hurried throws (or it will simply sack him) and the Horns speed across the entire defense will prevent Tech's dink-pass offense from breaking huge gainers. The UT offense, meanwhile, will expose the Tech defense just as several far lesser offenses have already done this season. Texas 42, Texas Tech 20.
Gallagher -- This game worries me a little bit because Tech always plays well in Lubbock. Kliff Kingsbury and his gang of receivers will definitely make some plays on the Texas defense, but I also feel pretty confident that Rod Babers, Nathan Vasher, Dak Pearson & Co. will counter with some momentum-changing plays of their own. If you put the ball in the air 40-50 times on this Texas D, they are going to come down with at least two of those tosses.
The fact that Tech's offense spreads out the opposing defense to create space will actually help Texas in certain situations. That will allow Cory Redding, Rod Wright and D.J. to use their speed and make some big plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Kingsbury will spend a decent amount of time on his back Saturday.
Chris Simms and the Texas offense will take advantage of the opportunities the defense gives them. Simms has played very well since the Oklahoma game, and Tech does not have enough bodies in its secondary to slow down the Texas passing game. Cedric Benson will get at least 100 yards. He may start off slow, but as the games wears on he will wear down Tech's defense and help the Texas offense keep Kingsbury off the field.
When all is said and done, it will be a highly entertaining game with lots of big plays on both sides. And since Texas has a clear advantage in overall speed and talent, the Horns will make more big plays to win and set up a showdown with the Aggies for a BCS berth. Texas 38, Texas Tech 27.