'Tackling 101' (With Professor Muschamp)

There is a proven tactic for slowing the kind of point-a-minute, record-breaking spread offenses that Texas Tech has been running to near perfection. And Texas coordinator Will Muschamp is giving his defense another crash course in it Tuesday.

After all, why should this week be different just because the Horns are facing the NCAA's top passing attack with national title implications for both programs? The key to defending the spread is "tackling well in space," Muschamp said. Same as it's always been. Otherwise, a defense can quickly get lost in space against teams that stretch the field from sideline-to-sideline and are as adept at hitting the home run ball as the inside screens.

"Any time you play these spread teams," Muschamp said, "a key part of the game is making sure every time you have opportunities to get them on the ground you do that."

It would be a euphemism to say Texas missed some of those opportunities Saturday. The Horns' missed 12 tackles in the white-knuckler against Oklahoma State, coaches estimate. It was an uncharacteristically high number for what had been an improving unit. Further evidence that Saturday's defensive production was sub-par is the fact that the team chose not to bestow its weekly award for the 'biggest hit' because (in their estimation) there was not one worthy of consideration.

Now, the Horns prepare for the high-flying Red Raiders that lead the nation with 418.4 passing yards per game. 2007 Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree is enjoying another All-American caliber season, averaging 99.2 receiving yards and 10.5 points-per-game.

"You've got to account for Crabtree," Muschamp noted, "but they've got a good supporting cast around him. You look at all their guys who, vertically, have been down the field to make plays for them. Tech is running the ball more than they have in the past. They have two quick and elusive guys (Shannon Woods, Baron Batch) who can get in the open field. You can get so concerned with handling things in the throwing lanes that you have to make sure you're disciplined in the run lanes. Again -- you've got to tackle well in space."

Texas players take Mondays off following a light workout and film session each Sunday. The hitting resumes Tuesday and, on Muschamp's side of the field, begins with a couple of five-minute sessions emphasizing full-throttled tackling.

"It's a four-station drill," Muschamp explained, "and we make sure everybody gets at least three pops at each station."

Texas typically uses a 'thud-tempo' approach when not going helmet-to-helmet against the offense. It's a tactic that Muschamp embraced as a Miami Dolphins assistant.

"It's a good tackling teacher. It teaches you to bring your feet, it teaches you to wrap, it teaches you to go chest-to-chest in the open field. It helps you become a better tackling team. At this point in the season, you can't afford injuries. You can't afford to go low. That's why we don't cut in practice. That's why we don't tackle and sling guys to the ground in practice because that's generally when you get an injury. We have a lot of contact throughout the week, but we use a tackling circuit every Tuesday to start practice."

To be sure, it all starts up front with getting pressure on QB Graham Harrell. Texas' pass-rush managed to knock Missouri QB Chase Daniel out of his comfort zone for the first 30 minutes of play two weekends ago. By that time, the damage was done after Texas jumped to a 35-3 halftime lead.

"There's no question that you've got to disrupt timing in the throwing game," Muschamp said. "It's something we were able to do against Missouri and it's something we'll work on this week, to disrupt that timing a little bit so (Harrell) isn't as pinpoint with his accuracy. He's very accurate throwing the deep ball and all of the intermediate throws and he just does a good job of executing what they do."

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