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October 22, 2008

Football Mailbag: Is Tech a mirage?

RedRaiderSports.com subscribers are not only some of the best informed, most sports-savvy individuals on the Internet, they are also some of the most curious. Subscribers constantly level questions at the staff, some of which, regrettably, do not get answered. With this series, we attempt to partially remedy that situation by answering some of the most interesting questions submitted to us. We can only hope that the answers do justice to the questions.

1. Is the defense that shows up in the second half of the Texas A&M game the one that we heard about during spring and fall practices? Are we going to see a performance like that against Kansas, or a repeat of Nebraska?

The bottom line is that Tech's pass defense has been inconsistent all season, and I'm not sure we were able to pick up on that during spring and fall workouts. Hence, when the back seven is going against Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree and the rest of the Air Raid, you tend to give them a bit of a free pass - so to speak. But maybe the passing game in practice masked real problems in the secondary.

My sense is that Kansas will throw the ball effectively against Tech. They won't be able to run it, and Todd Reesing will take his lumps from Tech's defensive line, but the Jayhawks will complete some passes and roll up some yards. There's precious little to suggest otherwise. But I don't think Tech's pass defense woes will prevent the Red Raiders from winning this game.

2. Is this team a mirage - a product of a weak schedule and some lucky breaks - like all the national pundits are saying?

Absolutely not. The Tech program has earned it lofty ranking through consistent winning and improvement throughout the Mike Leach era. Tech's ranking at the beginning of the year was the logical terminus of the program's winning trajectory, coupled with a slew of talented returning starters. Then - and unlike many more heralded programs - the Red Raiders went out and beat the teams they were supposed to beat. There's nothing to be ashamed of in that. Now the competition becomes significantly more difficult and I expect this team to rise to the occasion and shut the naysayers up. When this team is challenged, it will play its best football. The A&M game suggested that. Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will prove it. And they won't enjoy it.

3. What worries you about Kansas? Or, out of consideration for your time, what doesn't worry you about Kansas?

The obvious concern with the Jayhawks is their passing game. On the whole, it will be the best passing attack the Red Raiders have seen so far, and Todd Reesing will be the best quarterback they've encountered. But Kansas' superiority to Kansas State in this area is not too great and Tech fared well against the Wildcats. So there is some comfort in that.

But Reesing is a scary guy, make no mistake about it. He's one of those sneaky, crafty quarterback who's got a bit of magic in him. Think Jake Plummer, Koy Detmer or even Doug Flutie. And because Reesing can unleash thunderbolts in a heartbeat, no lead will be safe. I could see the Red Raiders jumping out to a big lead in this one only for Reesing to stage a rousing comeback. In fact, this game could be resemble the 2005 Nebraska contest, which means you'd better stock up on your Maalox.

4. Obviously the four-game stretch ahead of Texas Tech is brutal. What record in those four games would you consider a success? Would you be satisfied with a split?

In all honesty, I would not be satisfied with a split unless the Red Raiders managed to parlay it into a BCS berth, and there's no guarantee that that would be possible. But more important, I believe Tech is a bit better than three of the four teams in this death march, and, therefore, it would be a shame to lose to two of them. Now beating Texas will be a tall order. They are the best team in the land right now and Mack Brown's teams always play well on the road, including in Lubbock. But I really believe the Red Raiders should be able to take Kansas and OU on the road and Oklahoma State in The Jones. Thus, I'm really banking on 3-1.

5. Who are four or five guys on either side of the ball that have surprised you or surpassed your expectations? Who has not performed like you thought they would?

It is difficult for any player on the Tech roster to exceed my expectations because I had sky-high hopes going into the season. I pretty much thought all of these guys would be darned good. That said, Brian Duncan has been even more solid than I expected. He's really been a rock in the middle of the defense and has proved a bit more physical than I thought he'd be. I'm also slightly surprised with the play of safeties Daniel Charbonnet and Darcel McBath. Charbonnet was arguably the defensive MVP early on, and McBath has really come on the last few games. Charbonnet needs to pick it back up, however.

On the negative tip, I certainly didn't expect Donnie Carona to struggle this badly, nor did I expect mediocrity from Jonathan LaCour. Jamar Wall has been less consistently stellar than I would have imagined, and Bront Bird has made fewer plays than I expected he would

6. Do you think that the increased role the running game has taken on this year has more to do with having two guys like Shannon Woods and Baron Batch back there at RB? Or do you think it marks a philosophical shift for Mike Leach?

I fully believe the emergence of the ground game is a personnel issue rather than a philosophical one. Leach has discovered that he has two salty running backs and an offensive line that can block for them. He would have been foolish not to use these weapons, and Mike Leach is nobody's fool. Having said this, if the Red Raiders are able to ride Baron Batch, Shannon Woods and the road graders to a BCS game, Leach may well change his thinking on running the ball. He may become enamored with it and recruit for the running game a bit more. We could see the Air Raid evolve into something a bit more balanced.

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