I've been thinking waaayyyy too much about the Texas Tech - Texas game this week. I guess it's a good thing my boss went to Tech as well. It occurs to me that writing keys to the game may make it sound like Tech is over-matched. I don't think that is the case. But I am counting on Texas not giving anything. The team that wins will have to play their very best football. So here are 3 things on offense and 3 things on defense that I think Texas Tech will have to nail to counter the punches that I think Texas will throw at them.
Don't let Texas play their dime defense all night.
Texas has a very good defensive line. They have been 30% more efficient at stopping the run than Tech (69 ypg v. 101 ypg) against some pretty stiff competition. They also have a couple of good pass rushers. They lead the conference in sacks per game and sack yards. Texas would love to line up with 3 lineman, a stand-up rusher, and a MLB in the box with 6 DBs all night long. Tech needs to make good use of the screen to take advantage of the aggressive pass rush. Tech also needs to be patient with the running game. If Batch can pick up at least 3.4 yards per carry, Harrell should check to the run and keep moving the sticks and make Texas play the run honestly. Some running plays out of the 2 TE set should do the trick. Eventually, this will wear Texas down. I think Muschamp himself has said that when the big guys are done, they're done, so he will make adjustments to stop it and keep his guys fresh.
If Texas can get pressure with the their dime package and only 3 lineman, they may concede a lot to the run as long as Tech isn't marching down the field and scoring. The Tech OL needs to communicate well and recognize where the blitz is coming from. From what I have read, I think Texas will try to move their stand-up pass rusher around and bring the pressure though the gaps in the middle versus around the outside. Though I foresee problems if they overload the outside against Reed, as he will have his hands full with Orakpo, and that is Harrell's blind side. If Tech is able to run the ball and protect Harrell with Texas in dime, Texas will make adjustments and it will open other things up.
Don't pull a Mizzou.
In their game against Texas, Missouri tried to run the ball first and then pass. Texas crammed it down their throats. I think our OL is better than Mizzou's, but we have to set up the run with the pass. I know that sounds counter to what I wrote above. Tech should look for Texas to double Crabtree with their best CB and a safety and to man up on the other receivers with the other safety playing center field. We need Britton going deep to draw the help of the other safety. With the exception of Morris, I think that the Tech receivers have a significant size advantage, which should be good for some short stuff over the middle. I'd also like to see James in as H-back instead of Morris in any situation where we need less than 7 yards. Texas is going to be physical, and we could use James's size when we need to move the chains. Good use of the screen and the 2 back set (dedfisher at Tortilla Retort has an excellent article on this) could also force Texas to bring in an extra LB as Mackelroy will be stretched thin trying to watch the run and help out over the middle. This will open up the run later in drives and in the second half. We still need Batch and Woods to pick up at least 100 yards on the ground to keep the Texas D honest, but we need to be careful to not put ourselves in a hole like Mizzou did.
Get rid of the ball
Graham needs to trust his gut and make sure he is getting rid of the ball quickly versus waiting for plays to develop. At the same time, if Tech can get Texas to commit 4 down lineman and move to a nickel or 4-3 set, we will need a Woods or Batch to help pick up the blitzing LB to make sure Graham has time to get rid of it. If the OL is picking everything up or there is no blitz, whoever is back there becomes the safety valve. As I mentioned above, the Texas defensive line is good. If Harrell is taking more than about 3 seconds to make a decision, Tech will be prone to some holding calls that will bring anything he completes back.
Force McCoy to throw to someone besides Shipley or Cosby
Forget that we've ever heard of zone defense. Texas Tech has shown that it can be very effective using its nickel defense, playing man-under. Our DBs need to hitch a ride in Shipley's and Cosby's jocks if they have to and force McCoy to go to his other receivers. He is not as comfortable with them, and Tech needs to take advantage of miscues that will result in drops and incompletions. Tech won't be able to hang with Texas if they allow McCoy to continue to throw to Shipley and Cosby almost exclusively and keep up his 80% completion rate. Texas will also come out with 4 wide a few times. Our base 4-3 personnel can't handle that set. Put the nickel D in the game and either force McCoy to make amazing throws into man under Cover 1 or force Texas to try and run the ball. Whittiker is potentially back this week, so Texas may do just that (run), but I trust our DL to plug some holes and our two LBs + McBath to clean up. Texas will be trading at least a couple of FGs for TDs if they are forced to run.
Keep McCoy in the backfield
This Texas team is different from any that Tech has played. They don't have a go-to running back this year. So far they have been reliant on the pass and Colt's ability to scramble for yards. Kind of like Kansas. Tech was very effective with its nickel defense, keeping a LB home to shadow Reesing. As I said earlier, Colt is in a whole other league, but this is our best option for keeping him from scrambling for 8-10 yards a play. The Dixon and Williams will have to be disciplined to contain first at defensive end and then rush the pass and trust the coverage to give time to get to McCoy without taking too many chances. I think bringing Sesay in as the Joker would be good as it will give Whitlock the chance to be one on one instead of double teamed and we can try to get to McCoy up them middle. But first we have to contain.
Contain the Option
Honestly, this is the thing that scares me the most. Last week we allowed Kansas to move the ball pretty effectively with the option. Colt McCoy is a good running QB. With a pitch man in the backfield, Texas running the option could be dangerous. The containment by our ends will be key. I expect McCoy to go to his right, which means it will be Dixon's job to get off of his blocker and force McCoy to pitch the ball. Last week, the LB was forced to take Reesing, and the corner was off covering a receiver. So when the pitch was made, there was a lot of running room before someone could pull of their pass coverage and get to the running back.