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Archive for Saturday, November 1, 2008

Argh!: Tech-Texas a ‘big deal’

Red Raiders have chance to join national-title picture - if they beat Longhorns today

November 1, 2008

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— The eye patches will be out tonight in honor of Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

And yet, his No. 6 Red Raiders have a chance to turn their eccentric offensive wizard into something more than a conversation piece who has a penchant for pirates and a law degree.

If Graham Harrell and Co. can knock off top-ranked Texas and Heisman Trophy front-runner Colt McCoy, there will be some serious talk about a national championship in this West Texas city that's probably never hosted a bigger game.

"We all have an understanding that this is something special," Tech offensive lineman Rylan Reed said. "This isn't just something that's normal, you know. It's a big deal."

Big enough for a student group to buy 4,000 black eye patches to hand out before the game. Big enough for students to start camping out Monday so they could be in line five days later to get the best of the 12,000 unreserved seats set aside for them.

Raiderville, as the small tent city that nearly surrounds 53,000-seat AT&T Jones Stadium was dubbed, has grown to more than 2,000 people. Leach bought the whole bunch barbecue Thursday night and thanked the students for their support.

Don't expect him to treat this game any differently, though.

"No bigger than the eight that led up to it," Leach said Monday in his predictably understated way.

Both undefeated teams (8-0) are guided by their quarterbacks. McCoy has the Longhorns (4-0 Big 12) three-fourths of the way through a brutal stretch in which the lowest-ranked opponent was Missouri when it was 11th. The closest call was last weekend's 28-24 victory against then-No. 6 Oklahoma State.

The point spread in Lubbock is almost the same as the margin of victory against the Cowboys, but the last game in this "grinder," as McCoy called it, has the makings of the toughest because it's the first true road game.

"It's fun for us to be able to have the opportunity to try to knock off all of these teams," McCoy said. "We know that they're coming after us. We're No. 1, and that is something we can't focus on. We just have to go out and play every week."

McCoy is the No. 2 passer in the country with 2,285 yards, 21 touchdowns and an uncanny completion rate of 81 percent. Leach knows quarterbacks better than most because he's had some of the nation's best in nine seasons running the Red Raiders.

McCoy is up there in Leach's eyes, as are the Longhorns - "one of the best" teams he's seen over the years. McCoy's development has helped bring that about, Leach said.

"I thought he was good last year but I think he's improved," he said. "He's bigger and stronger looking than he has been in the past, and I think he's faster, too."

Harrell could improve his shot at the Heisman with a win against Texas. He leads the No. 2 offense in the country and has thrown 28 touchdowns, half to All-American receiver Michael Crabtree.

Now it's Harrell's turn to run a Texas-like gauntlet. The Red Raiders, tied atop the Big 12 South with the Longhorns, set up the Texas showdown with a 63-21 rout of then-No. 19 Kansas. Waiting for them are No. 9 Oklahoma State at home, a bye week and a trip to No. 4 Oklahoma.

Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller offered a blunt illustration of the challenge.

"We're not Kansas," he said.

This is the second time in four years the Red Raiders and Longhorns have reached their game undefeated. Texas won 52-17 in Austin in 2005 on the way to the national championship.

Leach's most recent trip to Austin was pretty unpleasant, too. Upset by two disallowed Texas Tech touchdowns in a crucial third quarter, Leach was fined a record $10,000 by the Big 12 Conference last year for his harsh criticism of game officials after the 59-43 loss.

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