September 8, 2007

Red Raiders try to remain consistent

The Texas Tech Red Raiders obviously answered some questions in their 49-9 trouncing of the SMU Mustangs: they are a 24-point favorite over the UTEP Miners whereas they were favored by only eight going into the SMU contest. It is thus pretty evident that the bottom hasn't dropped out of Mike Leach's program just because some receivers and linemen graduated. The Red Raiders are as dangerous as ever.

Now Tech faces the test of consistency. And consistency is the hobgoblin of mediocre football teams.

Will the Red Raiders Play on an Even Keel? The UTEP Miners may actually be a pretty good test-case for this question. They are a team of similar caliber as SMU-a little better on defense, a little worse on offense-and, therefore, should present a template similar to last week. The biggest difference, perhaps, is that this one is in Lubbock rather than on the road. Now consistency is not only a serious hurdle for mediocre football teams, it is also a difficult achievement for young teams like Tech to attain. Hopefully, the Red Raiders will demonstrate the same sort of focus and ability to execute against UTEP that they showed against SMU. If they do, look for a final score similar to the one in Dallas.

Will Kobey Lewis Get His Shots? Like most offensive systems, Mike Leach's Air Raid functions best when it has a variety of playmakers on the field. As expected, Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell proved to be playmakers in the opener at SMU. And it was not terribly shocking to see Danny Amendola incise the Pony gluteus, thereby affording new excretory egress as well. But whereas three playmakers are nice, four is even better. And backup tailback Kobey Lewis gave serious promise of being the fourth member of the quartet. He will need many touches in order to do the damage he is capable of, however, and there are numerous skill players clamoring for the ball. It will be interesting to see how Leach utilizes his smallest packet of dyn-o-mite against UTEP.

Will Ed Britton Reemerge? Speaking of playmakers, it would be more than welcome to see Edward Britton, the fleet wideout from El Paso, do what he gave evidence of being able to do in the spring. And that is stretch the defense vertically with his speed. Before Britton can do that, however, he will have to show he can hang onto the football. He dropped two passes against SMU and was not a factor at all in that game. Seeing as how Britton is locked in a battle with L.A. Reed for reps at the X receiver position, he can ill afford to squander the opportunities he gets if he wants to see the field. Expect the Red Raiders to try to establish Britton early. Whether or not Britton takes advantage is up to him.

Will the Defense Tackle? Despite holding a very solid SMU offense to 270 total yards and three field goals, the Red Raider defense hardly put on a tackling clinic. Attempted arm-tackles, butt-downs and plain old whiffs were frequent. All too often Mustang ball-carriers ran over and through Tech defenders. Yes, the Red Raiders slowly improved in this area as the game progressed, but will they continue to improve or revert to the limp-wristed ways of the first half? For the sake of the success of the 2007 team, the defense had better starting planting opposing ball-carriers, beginning with the Miners.

Are the Young Guns For Real? Defensive coordinator Lyle Setencichgave voice to the obvious when he noted the big plays made by his younger defenders in the second half of the SMU contest. He also suggested that competition for playing time at numerous positions is open. The UTEP game will be another opportunity to see the talented youngsters and the extent to which Setencich is serious about giving them an opportunity to show what they can do. We should thus pay very close attention to personnel-usage in this game. Will Colby Whitlock, Marlon Williams, Ryan Hale, Blake Collier, Brian Duncan and Anthony Hines see the field early and often against the Miners? Will any of them actually start? If they do, will they continue to make plays against UTEP, or will they prove to be too inconsistent? The defensive drama will continue to unfold Saturday evening.

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