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October 27, 2008Five days out, and Raiderland is already in a frenzy, excited about Saturday's matchup of No. 6 Texas Tech and No. 1 Texas. With the two teams accounting for the highest combined ranking in Jones AT&T Stadium history, a visit from ESPN GameDay and many local and national pundits declaring this upcoming game the "biggest" in the program's history, it's virtually impossible for the Red Raiders to escape the hype.
"Everybody's excited [on campus]," explained senior safety Darcel McBath. "Everybody's patting on our back, telling us to beat Texas and everything else. We just say 'thank you' and keep walking. Just like the previous seven or eight games, we're just taking it one week at a time and trying to get better as a team."
The mantra of "taking it one week at a time" has often been repeated by football players on all levels of the sport, but living by it and not looking ahead is something that is much easier said than done.
"Everybody tries to keep their nose out of the newspaper," said senior defensive end Jake Ratliff. "But years before we've always lost one we shouldn't have, but I think we've done a decent job so far of keeping our eyes on the prize."
The prize this week, of course, is a win against the top-ranked Longhorns.
"The main thing for us is to stay focused during football time and eliminate as many distractions as we can," said senior offensive tackle Rylan Reed. "It's going to be fun for the whole city, university, football program, everything. We're just going out there and making sure that our best shows up on Saturday.
"I think our best is good enough to beat anyone in the country. And I'm sure Texas thinks that their best is good enough to beat anyone in the country. We've just got to make sure our best shows up."
The Red Raiders' best effort seems to be showing up more often than not this season, having avoided letdowns and upsets that have plagued this program in the past.
"I think they're a focused group," said head coach Mike Leach. "They do a pretty good job of that, they're a focused group. They're a group that spends a lot of time together, so I think they might be more on the same page than some of the other groups I've had."
And with the top team in the country coming to town on Saturday, everyone knows that this team has a chance to differentiate themselves from previous Tech squads.
"I think there's a vibe," added Reed. "We all have an understanding that this is something special. This isn't something normal. We have a big opportunity ahead of us and we're just ready to make the most of it."
NIGHT GAME WELCOMED
"It's kind of weird," laughed Reed. "The last two weeks it's been 11 o'clock, everything's been bam-bam, getting up at six-thirty in the morning. Now we have to sit around all day and stuff. It's going to be a little different but I like it. I think we play better at night." Reed wasn't the only Red Raider to express his affection for night games.
"I love them," said McBath. "I get a nap in the middle of the day. We're used to playing six and seven o'clock games in Lubbock, we love the night games."
Unsurprisingly, Leach summed up the situation succinctly.
"It's an hour different than our six o'clock [games], which we have an abundance of around here," he remarked. "It's nothing we're not used to."
RED RAIDERS IMPRESSED WITH MCCOY
Texas Tech may have two Heisman hopefuls on their roster, but Texas is lead the unquestioned frontrunner for the award, junior quarterback Colt McCoy. The talented signal caller has completed an astonishing 81.8% of his passes this season for 2,285 yards and 21 touchdowns to only four interceptions.
To put his accuracy in perspective, in eight games this season, McCoy has completed less than 75% of his passes only once, on the road against UTEP when he "only" connected on 69% of his throws.
"I thought he was good last year, but I think he's improved." explained Leach. "He's better physically, as it appears to me. I guess he went in there with Mad Dog and did some push-ups and ran some lap. I don't know. He's bigger and stronger than he's looked in the past and he's faster too."
"He's a great quarterback," added Ratliff. "He can beat you with his arm or he can beat you running. He proved that against us last year. Containing him is going to be a tough task."
While Ratliff and the defensive line will be tasked with getting pressure on McCoy, the defensive backfield will be trying to prevent or limit the damage he does.
"We've just got to stay disciplined," said McBath. "He's not like any quarterback we've played this year, he's so versatile. We have to stay disciplined in our game plan and do our jobs this week."
DIXON, WILLIAMS MAKING PLAYS
Through eight games this season, the defensive end tandem of Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon have accounted for 14 solo sacks, more than any other duo in the Big 12 Conference.
"They've got to be accounted for," McBath said during Monday's press conference. "They come off the edge so fast, and when you get the push in the middle, and with them coming of the edge, it'll force any quarterback to move around.
"They've been doing a great job of containing the pocket and holding guys in the pocket and squeezing it down and not letting them get out and run for a bunch of yards. That's their job and they're doing it well."
Ratliff echoed his teammate's sentiments.
"McKinner's always been a player, since he was a Freshman All-American here," he said. "He knows when it's game time and he knows how to flip a switch and turn it on and come play. Brandon has worked harder than anybody I've seen in the weight room and in the offseason. It's really paying off for him this year and you can tell with the results."
Stop me if you've heard this before. Texas Tech's Rylan Reed will be facing off against one of the nation's premier pass rushers and someone projected to be a first-round draft pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Sound familiar? It should. Reed matched up against Virginia's Chris Long in the 2008 Gator Bowl and prevented the second overall pick from registering a sack in the contest.
Reed will likely see a healthy dose of Texas' Brian Orakpo, who is tied with Brandon Williams for the most solo sacks in the Big 12.
"He's an unbelievable athlete, a great player," said Reed of Orakpo. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity to play him.
"I think it's the fact that he's got a bit of everything in him. He's fast, he's athletic. He benches, what? 510-pounds? That's not normal. He kind of possesses everything. You've got to watch speed, bull rush, spin moves, you've got to watch everything."
Orakpo, much like Reed, is known as a warrior in the weight room. And though he is not as big as Long, Orakpo is just as explosive.
"It's going to be a good little matchup," laughed Reed. "There's going to be a lot of muscle out there on the field. We'll see what happens. To be 260-pounds benching 510, that's amazing.
"I tell you what, when this is all done and the season's over, I think I may have found a workout partner. That's for sure."
QUOTABLE QUICK HITS
"I'm not really allowed to comment on officiating, as you well know from the experience last year. Well, I guess you can but you just have to check your bank account and select your moments." ? Mike Leach, when asked about his comments about the officiating immediately after last season's 59-43 loss to Texas.
"The last time I watched [ESPN College GameDay], we were up in Austin and it didn't turn out pretty. I'm probably just going to sleep all day, have my iPod on, and not watch too much TV." ? Darcel McBath, when asked whether or not he was planning to watch GameDay
"Usually we're the only ones with the dress code in the game, but if they want to have one too that's great with me." ? Mike Leach, when asked about the student-organized "Black Out" effort.