A subtle change has taken place within the Texas Tech football program, and it is probably a change for the better.
Back in 2004, following Tech's epochal 70-10 thrashing of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and prior to the arrival of Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns, I interviewed cornerback Antonio Huffman and cornerbacks coach, Dave Brown. Huffman spoke freely of scoring 100 points, while Brown discoursed with supreme confidence about the Red Raiders and the likelihood that they would play well against the Horns.
Tech fell to Texas by a 51-21 count, and the game was probably not as close as the score indicated.
Now, following impressive back-to-back routs of Northwest Louisiana and Iowa State, and preceding the arrival of arch-enemy Texas A&M, the attitude in the Red Raider camp is very different. Despite repeated provocations from Aggie players and certain media types who shall remain nameless, Tech coaches and players are remaining all business. They are not making bold predictions, nor are they trading jabs with the Aggies. Rather, they are turning the other cheek and killing their erstwhile tormentors with kindness.
Interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is a classic case in point. Essentially, he has nothing but praise for the Texas A&M offensive attack.
"Not many weaknesses in their offense," McNeill declares.
"The one thing you first notice is they're very multiple. They have multiple formations, multiple personnel groupings. With the option game, you have to prepare for that, as well as play action pass off of that, as well as them being able to spread you with empty, no backs, that type of formation."
"So I don't see many weaknesses in their offense. They have skilled running backs, receivers, an experienced, skilled quarterback. So it'll be a tough test."
If the Aggie offense is to cause the Red Raiders trouble, many observers feel it will come from the option attack featuring hard-running quarterback Stephen McGee and speedy tailback Mike Goodson. Periodically, the Tech defense has been vulnerable to such offenses, and according to McNeill, it will all come down to playing disciplined football.
"Playing against any option attack, you've got to be assignment-oriented, assignment-conscious. That's the big thing, so playing against an option team you have to make sure every responsibility is taken care of-the dive, the quarterback, the pitch. So we're just trying to make sure we handle those deals, those responsibilities, and that's with any option team."
That sort of discipline also applies to the coaches and players shutting out the carnival atmosphere that has descended on the state of Texas as the clash with A&M approaches. It would be very easy for the Red Raider camp get caught up in the madness. Indeed, previous Tech teams would have done exactly that. McNeill, however, plays the company tune with regard to the surrounding mania.
"They [the games] all are special here with Coach Leach and with us, from whoever we're playing," McNeill states when asked about the atmosphere surrounding the contest with the Aggies.
"This game is a rivalry; it's been there for a lotta years. I mean, that's gonna be natural with it."
"Right now, we're just trying to worry about how we can prepare, play our best game on Saturday, and what we can do in practice to make sure we get better."
"And the outside influences provide the intensity and extracurricular stuff, but as coaches we try to focus on what we can control, and that's preparation and practice."
McNeill's words may not be as exciting as those emanating from College Station, but they suggest an approach that will keep the Red Raider from getting too high and burning themselves out before the game even starts. And given the pomp and circumstance surrounding this one, nothing could be better than that.
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