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2009 Aug 10

Big 12 Breakdown: No. 6 Texas Tech

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By HuskerLocker

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Husker Locker will be counting down and breaking down each of the teams in the conference. We hope you view this series as more interesting, comprehensive and definitive than what you may find elsewhere. Where we can make strong takes – we will.

We rank the teams 12 to 1 in overall strength. Then we’ll provide for you the North/South breakdown – and the preseason All Big 12 team, as well.

Enjoy!

Today: Texas Tech

Coach: Mike Leach
2008 Record: 11-2

What’s Changed Since 2008: Leach and Red Raider brass settled their differences and agreed to a long-term contract; Tech lost record setting quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and also lost the two best defensive backs in recent program history in Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet. The two top pass rushers, too, in McKinner Dixon (who simply left Tech after falling into Leach’s doghouse) and Brandon Williams.

2009 Non-Conference Schedule:The usual buffet of non-major conference teams, but a trip to Houston, in front what should be a decent home crowd, will be a test. Don’t be surprised if Houston is a slight favorite. The Cougars might have the better team. Otherwise, it’s home games against Rice, New Mexico and North Dakota, all of which will be routs.

2009 Conference Schedule: The Red Raiders foolishly agreed to move a game at Texas up to Sept. 19; that’s an invitation to slaughter for a defense that won’t even have its sea legs. Two more difficult road trips to Nebraska and Oklahoma State. Tech hosts Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Kansas State, while playing Baylor in the JerryDome in Arlington.

Offense: Air Raid/Spread

Coordinator: Leach, essentially. Year after year, this offense works in all but a few games. Defenses are now so fearful of the short crossing and flat patterns that Leach likes to run that downfield routes, especially for running backs, have opened up. Tech became much more vertical in 2007 and 2008 with Crabtree drawing double teams, and guys like Edward Britton and Tremain Swindoll zooming through the deep seam. The question now, of course, is whether Tech most go back to the short stuff now that Crabtree has left for the NFL.

Strength: The running game, if you can believe it. Returning starter Baron Batch, and redshirt freshman Harrison Jeffers should be the best 1-2 punch Leach has had in his tenure at Tech. The line is huge and reasonably experienced. The receivers are still pretty good, despite the absence of Crabtree. Detron Lewis and Edward Britton. We do not expect the offense to experience much drop off. Maybe in that early game vs. Texas; not much otherwise.

Weakness: New quarterback Taylor Potts is the biggest, strongest of all the Leach quarterbacks. He also has a beard and long hair, looking like a lawman out of the 1970s. But traditional size and strength doesn’t make a great Leach quarterback. Intelligence, and the ability to hit receivers running short routes in stride, does. It’s going to take Potts a month to really find the rhythm, and, by then, Tech may have two losses.

Defense: 4-3

Coordinator: Ruffin McNeill, who took over midway through 2007 and has amped up the pressure and tenacity of the front four. That said, Tech’s pass defense last year wasn’t anything special – even with two all-league safeties.

Strength: Tech returns all three starters at linebacker, and all three were reasonably productive, active players in 2008. It’s a place to start.

Weakness: Two new safeties and, essentially, a brand new defensive line (senior nose tackle Rajon Henley returns after injury) doesn’t bode well for Tech’s pass defense. Look for teams to test the Red Raiders deep, and often.

Special Teams Not great. Punter Jonathan LaCour has been suspended for the first month and kicker Donnie Carona might as well be, considering he went 4-9 in field goals last year. Tech turned to a guy out of the stands halfway through last season, if that tells you anything. The return game is OK. It’s not like Wes Welker is back there or anything.

Intangibles: Jones Stadium works some kind of magic at night, as it’s become a difficult place for the best teams in the Big 12 South to play. During the day, though, it’s perfectly ordinary. Weird, huh?

And Leach himself is an intangible. He’s a good coach, a gambling coach, a coach who plays the “Moneyball” percentages better than most, if you will. But once or twice each year, it backfires spectacularly on him. Last year’s 65-21 loss was a poster child for what happens when Leach rolls craps again and again. His approach invariably wins Tech more games than the talent level in Lubbock has any right to win. But that same approach makes an undefeated season almost impossible to achieve.

Best-Case Scenario: 10-2, with losses to Texas and Oklahoma State, and upset wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska. Could happen.

Worst-Case Scenario: Potts can’t continue the string of Tech QB magic, the defense can’t defend the pass, and Tech falls to 6-6 or 5-7. It’s highly possible, especially if the Red Raiders drop games to cagey Houston and upstart Baylor.

Our Take: 8-4, with a thrilling loss to Houston, and losses in every other true road game.

See other Big 12 Breakdowns: No. 12 ISU, No. 11 A&M, No. 10 CU, No. 9 BU, No. 8 KU, No. 7 KSU, No. 6 Texas Tech
Agree? Disagree? Tell us about it.

Tags: texas tech, mike leach, taylor potts, harrison jeffers, big 12, big 12 breakdown, ruffin mcneill

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